March 22, 2012

Cherry blossom watch 2012: Any bloomin’ day now

News and Information

The Quad's famous cherry blossoms are the subject of inquires all through March: 'Are they blooming yet?'

Kathy Sauber

The Quad’s famous cherry blossoms are the subject of inquires all through March: “Are they blooming yet?”

The answer is: Any day now — probably by the weekend — and for about three weeks, depending on the weather. And dont worry, they’ll be spectacular.

And of course the question is: When, and for how long, will the University of Washington’s cherry trees reach their full, beautiful bloom?

Every year at this time, as winter grudgingly gives way to a blustery, wet Northwest spring, attention turns to the 31 Yoshino cherry trees lining the Quad. When they bloom they create a canopy of soft pink that attracts tourists, picnickers, loyal alumni, swoony sweethearts and just about every wedding photographer in the state.

Cherry blossom enthusiasts plan vacations to Seattle from across the country and abroad to be here when the blooms are at their fullest. But when exactly that takes place is, of course, subject to the whims of ever-changeable Northwest weather.

Few know this as well as Linda Hanlon, manager of the UW Information and Visitors Center on the ground floor of Odegaard Undergraduate Library. Hanlon is pretty much ground zero for cherry blossom inquiries and fields questions phoned in, emailed and posted on her office’s Facebook page.

That Facebook page also has a daily stream of blossom photos and updates. “Like” the page to follow the progress of the blooms. The UW has a Pinterest site as well — visit online to see cherry blossom photos and upload your own, as well as on News and Information’s Community Photos page.

As campus arborist, Sara Shores is also on the front lines for cherry questions, and has answers ready.

“The third week in March. It’s almost always spring break,” said Shores. “They bloom for about three weeks. A gardener told me the colder it is the longer the blooms last.” She said that, historically, “We usually can at least get two weekends when they are in full bloom.”

The Quad is not the only UW location for cherry blossoms. The UW’s online Brockman Memorial Tree Tour shows Kwansan cherry trees along Rainier Vista near Stevens Way and Hisakura cherry Trees just off Red Square among the 480-some varieties of trees on campus.

The Quad’s Yoshino Cherry trees were purchased and planted at Washington Park Arboretum in or around 1939. They were brought to the UW campus proper in the early 1960s when State Route 520 was built.

After questions about the timing of blooms come inquiries about the health of the trees. Are they OK? Do they need replacing?

“They’re healthy and growing,” Shores said. “They still look fantastic and are blooming fantastically. They have typical problems every fruit tree has — they get brown rot and cherry bark tortix but we had good control with a spray about three years ago.”

Still, nothing lasts forever, and replacements will ultimately be needed. Shores said, “They’re healthy, but their life expectancy is 60 to 100 years and they’re getting to a very mature phase of their life.”

Shores said based on the trunk sizes — documentation here is incomplete —  that only two trees have been replaced, and neither of those in the last 10 years.

Kristine Kenney, UW landscape architect, said it was her predecessor, Bill Talley, who determined the trees were in danger of decline and had them grafted for future replacement.

Those replacement trees growing at a nursery in Mount Vernon, about an hour to the north (an area that knows about bloom timing because of its popular annual Tulip Festival.) The UW Class of 1959 raised money and created an endowment to pay for tree replacements, and members of that class remain interested and involved in the process.

“The grafted cherries being grown in Mount Vernon are doing well,” Shores said. “We were planning on replacing the trees as they declined. These trees (luckily) have not been declining as quickly as anticipated.” In the meantime, she said, new root grafts may need to be done, “as the original replacements may become too large to transplant.”

Shores, not only arborist but also clearly a fan of the blossoms, offered a tip that all the callers, emailers and Facebook-posters seeking blossom beauty might want to follow.

“I see the trees during the week, but it’s really fantastic to see them on a weekend, when it’s like a park and everybody’s happy … Come on by on a weekend and spend some time. It really is enchanting.”

When their two- to three-week run has ended, the Yoshino cherry tree blossoms will drop in flurries and decorate the Quad grounds for days afterward — a gentle and fitting end to the annual display.

And then? Springtime — we hope.