Those famous pink and white flowers in Washington are expected to bloom on schedule on trees around the nation's capital as soon as the end of March, the National Park Service predicted Thursday.
Horticulturalist Rob DeFeo, who keeps a close eye on the city's cherry blossom trees for the park service, said they likely will bloom from March 31 through April 11. He predicted the peak period will be April 3 to April 8 when 70 percent of the trees will be in full blossom.
"If we get another 2 feet of snow, I may have to change things," DeFeo said of the region's record-breaking snowfall last month. "But I think I'm right this year."
The blizzard's effects won't be noticeable, though, as the trees start to bloom, he said. As many as five trees are being removed because of damage from the heavy snow. But DeFeo said that's normal for an area of 3,700 trees where arborists expect to replace between 50 and 100 each year.
"A few branches broke off — nothing we haven't seen in the last 90-plus years," he said.
The 2010 National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled to run from March 27 to April 11. This year marks the 98th anniversary of Japan's gift of the cherry blossom trees to the nation's capital. If the forecast holds, it will be the 10th year in a row when the trees have blossomed on target during the festival.
The latest the trees have bloomed was April 18 in 1958, and the earliest blooms came March 15 once in the 1980s, DeFeo said.
"Cherries need a certain amount of cold in order to bloom," he said. So a warm December will delay the flowers.
The 16-day cherry blossom festival attracts about 1 million visitors to Washington each year, spanning three weekends. Hotels offer cherry blossom packages, museums plan special exhibits and the city hosts the largest Japanese street festival in the United States, along with dozens of performances.
This year the Corcoran Gallery of Art will hold a cherry blossom photography contest for young photographers.
"In these economic times, the festival is just what people are looking for: A great value," said festival president Diana Mayhew.