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What The Cherry Blossom Bloom Can Tell Us About Climate Change

What The Cherry Blossom Bloom Can Tell Us About Climate Change

Canopies of pink and white flowers are blanketing Washington, D.C., after the city's cherry trees hit full bloom last week.

D.C.'s first cherry trees were a gift to the United States from Japan in 1912. In Kyoto, Japan, the cherry trees' peak bloom this year was the earliest on record in 1,200 years. This follows a pattern of earlier and earlier blooms since the 1800s. This year's blossoms in D.C. peaked several days ahead of the 30-year average, according to The Washington Post.

Scientists warn that the blooms are just one sign of the greater looming climate crisis; earlier blooms can mean warmer springtime temperatures.

Cherry trees need a full month of chilly weather below 41 degrees to properly blossom when it gets warmer, according to Naoko Abe, author of The Sakura Obsession. If they don't get that chilly weather, they blossom later because "they can't wake up properly," Abe says.

"The impact from climate change is indisputable, I think," Abe tells NPR's All Things Considered. "However, the decisive factors for the cherry blossoms is the winter temperature."

And while early blooms are caused by warm springs, delayed blooms could also be the result of warming winters — which is also troubling. Southern Japan has already seen some of these delayed blooms.

Abe tells NPR that if winter temperatures continue to rise, the delays may grow to the point where trees don't blossom at all.

The trees planted in D.C. are Yoshino cherry trees, a variety that makes up about 70% of all cherry trees in Japan. They're easy to propagate and can start to blossom after only five years.

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