- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Visitors to the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival downtown may be disappointed this year because most of the cherry blossoms won't bloom until after the festival ends.
The winter's low temperatures are predicted to persist throughout the festival, which will be held March 22 to April 7, pushing the peak bloom period for the cherry blossoms back to April 8-14, according to National Park Service horticulturalist Robert DeFeo.
The festival's 250 entertainment and sporting events will be over by the time the peak bloom arrives, but festival director Diana Mayhew said she isn't worried about the delayed blossoms damaging attendance or the quality of the festival. The festival typically attracts about 700,000 to a million people.
"I'm not concerned about the blossoms being late. Anytime you're dealing with Mother Nature, there's no guarantees," said Mrs. Mayhew. She said she was looking at the bright side.
"It's part of the anticipation and the whole mystery of the cherry blossoms. I think it will be a positive focus on the city for a little while longer," she said.
"You're always going to disappoint somebody, but they will still bloom and they will be beautiful."
Mr. DeFeo said that the pink-and-white cherry blossom buds formed in December but will need two to three days of warm weather and nighttime temperatures in the mid- to upper 40s to begin blooming.
"The buds are just sitting, waiting for the temperature to warm up so they can do their thing," he said.
The peak period is when 70 percent of the trees are in bloom. There are 3,700 of the Japanese cherry trees planted around the Potomac Tidal Basin, 100 of which are from the original stock presented to the United States by the Japanese government in 1912. This year's festival recognizes 150 years of formal relations between the United States and Japan.
Mrs. Mayhew also said that concern about terrorism may keep tourists from visiting the festival, especially with a war in Iraq looming.
"If the festival started today, people are still downtown and visiting, but who knows what the next week will bring. We're not really sure at this point. Hopefully, we can lead our lives as usual," she said.
"You can't worry about things you can't control."
There is one form of cherry blossom that traditionally blooms early and will be in bloom during the festival: the weeping blossom.

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