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SciTech Tuesday: The Biology of Cherry Blossoms

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Three WAVES stand by the north side of the Tidal Basin during the springtime cherry blossom season with the Jefferson Memorial in the distance, c. 1943 - 45. Official US Navy Photograph, National Archives.

Washington D.C. is gearing up for the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.  The Yoshino variety cherry blossoms are notably late this year due to cold temperatures during March, thwarting tourists’ plans to see the pale pink blossoms along the tidal pools over the Easter holiday.  By monitoring the five distinct stages of bud development, National Park Service horticulturists forecast the peak bloom date about 10 days in advance.  Defined as the day when 70% of the blossoms are open, the peak bloom date is set for this Thursday, April 4.

3,020 cherry trees, descendants of the famous grove along the Arakawa River near Tokyo, were given to the People of the United States as a gift of friendship from the People of Japan in 1912.  The Yoshino cherry varietal, Prunus x yedoensis, is a popular hybrid which grows well in temperate zones around the world.  The small cherry produced is minimally sweet and while it is not palatable to humans, the Yoshino fruit is desired by many small birds and mammals.

On December 11, 1941, four Washington cherry trees were cut down in an act of suspected retaliation, following Japan’s attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.  To prevent additional acts of vandalism, the trees were called “Oriental” flowering cherry trees during the war years.  The health of the famous Arakawa grove, parent stock for the Washington trees, declined in health during World War II.  In 1952 cuttings from the descendant trees were shipped by the National Park Service to Tokyo in an effort to restore the health of the original grove.

Post by Annie Tête, STEM Education Coordinator

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