Spring has arrived in the nation’s capital and with it, the annual obsession with the beloved cherry blossom. The National Cherry Blossom Festival kicked off March 20, the first day of spring, and has already drawn legions of people from all corners of the United States and around the world. The three-week celebration, which will end this year on April 13, centers around the Japanese cherry trees, also known as sakura trees, initially gifted to the United States in 1912 by Yukio Ozaki, then the mayor of Tokyo.

“The National Cherry Blossom Festival marks spring across the country, and we really want people to step into spring with us and actively participate,” said Danielle Davis, communications manager for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. “Each year, we celebrate the gift of trees from Japan. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal and we really want people to embrace the new season and take part in all of the wonderful events – which are mostly free and open to the public – with us.”

The annual festival is a fun time, but also a time when cherry trees and their history are highlighted. The trees bloom for only for a short period of time – up to about two weeks – because the climate in the United States is not conducive to the pedals lasting longer, experts said. Japan is the only location on earth where the variety of cherry trees that adorn the Tidal Basin grow naturally.

Like many plants, the trees bloom based on weather conditions. Peak bloom is the time when 70 percent or more of the blossoms are open. This date varies annually depending on weather conditions at the start of spring. According to the National Park Service, calm weather keeps the blossoms in bloom for longer periods of time, while rain and wind can cause them to wilt quickly, and snow or frost can completely prevent blooming.

With the current back-and-forth state of the weather, the National Park Service has predicted that peak bloom will be April 8-12, more than a week later than the average peak bloom start date of March 31.

On a recent afternoon, Shela Waterson and her 9-year-old son, Everett, stopped to look at the cherry blossom buds as they walked along the Tidal Basin in the snow.

“This was spring break for him, so we came to Washington,” said Waterson, of Denver. “This is one of our favorite vacation spots. We have been here three times during the cherry blossom festival. It’s always fun. It’s better when the blossoms are out, but it’s fun anyway.”

Last year, the average peak bloom happened around April 9, one of the latest peaks ever recorded. The average peak bloom for 2012 was on March 20, one of the earliest ever recorded, according to the website.

This year’s festivities include a variety of events, including the spectacular National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, which is scheduled for April 12.

Terri Jordan and her mother, Robin, of Richmond, said they come up to D.C. every year to look at the cherry blossoms. “It’s like our first rite of summer,” said Terri Jordan. “I go home and put up my winter clothes and get ready for the warm weather.”

For a schedule of National Cherry Blossom Festival events, visit www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/category/events.

Zachary Lester

AFRO Staff Writer