Manuel Balce Ceneta  /  AP
In this April 2, 2006, file photo, cherry blossoms line the Tidal Basin in Washington near the Jefferson Memorial, seen in the background.
updated 3/9/2007 11:39:46 AM ET 2007-03-09T16:39:46

After an unusually warm December rattled the nerves of anyone eagerly anticipating Washington's grand rite of spring, the National Park Service predicted the cherry blossoms will bloom in time for the two-week National Cherry Blossom Festival.

A majority of the 3,700 trees lining the Tidal Basin will be in bloom from April 1-7 "barring the advent of an ice age or rapid acceleration of global warming," Robert DeFeo, the park service's chief horticulturist, said Thursday.

Winter temperatures that climbed into the 70s sparked concern the trees would bloom prematurely, with none of the pink and white blossoms left for the annual festival that brings 1 million visitors and $150 million in tourism money to the city.

"I was a little nervous too, but fortunately for all of us, the cherry trees, I'd say, are the most reliable living species in our nation's capital," DeFeo said.

Some cherry trees did bloom in December, but they weren't the Yoshino variety that were presented to the United States by Japan in 1912.

DeFeo said his predictions, which have been fairly accurate in past years, come from a combination of weather forecasts and close observation of the trees and their buds.

Thursday's announcement was part of an event previewing the festival, which will run from March 31 to April 15.

The city will be treated to more than 90 events and 200 cultural performances and presentations, most highlighting Japanese culture, said Diana Mayhew, the festival's executive director.

Highlights include the opening ceremony, fireworks, and a parade featuring kimono-wearing Mickey and Minnie Mouse as grand marshals. For the first time, a District of Columbia all-star marching band will participate in the parade, with 250 students chosen from the city's public schools.

Events in all neighborhoods of the city will include sake and sushi tasting, Japanese flower arranging and Zen garden presentations, a seminar on Japanese pop culture and a downtown street fair.

Minister Mitsuro Kitano from the Japanese Embassy spoke of his pride in being from Japan as Washington celebrates his culture, and of his country's love of the cherry blossom.

"With the coming of the cherry blossoms, we feel that now spring has come. We look at the cherry blossom as a lot of things. When it blossoms, it is like we are seeing life," Kitano said.

The city plans to host the 90-year-old daughter and other family of former Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki, who initially gave the trees to Washington in 1912 as a symbol of Japanese and American friendship.

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