- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

After an unusually warm December rattled the nerves of anyone eagerly awaiting the District’s grand ushering-in of spring, the National Park Service predicts the cherry blossoms will bloom on time — during 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 to 7 “barring the advent of an ice age or rapid acceleration of global warming,” said Robert DeFeo, the park service’s chief horticulturist.

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

“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,” Mr. DeFeo said.

Some cherry trees bloomed in December, but they weren’t the Yoshino variety that were presented to the U.S. by Japan in 1912.

Mr. DeFeo said he bases his predictions, which have been accurate in past years, on a combination of weather forecasts and close observation of the trees and their buds.

The announcement yesterday was part of a preview of the festival, which will run from March 31 to April 15.

Visitors 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 D.C. 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.

Organizers plan to erect signs depicting beavers holding paddles with messages not to pick the blossoms, a crime that nevertheless happens occasionally with the daily battalions of tourists.

Mr. DeFeo said that unlike annual plants, the blossoms flower on older wood and “when you break that off, you’re breaking off the spur that could possibly have flowered for 15 years and may flower for 15 more. You’ve also created a wound.”

Minister Mitsuro Kitano from the Japanese Embassy spoke of his pride in being from Japan as the District 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,” Mr. Kitano said.

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

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