Mar 24, 2024 - News

How to help save D.C.'s sinking cherry trees

Stumpy the cherry blossom tree in the sand around the Tidal Basin with the Washington Monument in the distance

Waters rising around Stumpy, one of many trees due for removal. Photo: Celal Gunes, Anadolu via Getty Images

It's a unique year for D.C.'s cherry blossoms, which not only tied for their second-earliest peak bloom on record but now face upheaval from restoration efforts to stop them from sinking.

👀 Why it matters: Cherry blossoms are such a big part of our identity — besides being a huge economic driver — and next year's bloom around the Tidal Basin will likely look different.

Zoom in: Sinking land, Tidal Basin flooding, and wear and tear from millions of tourists have taken a toll on the trees, originally planted in 1912.

  • The National Park Service announced they'll cut down more than 150 cherry blossoms later this spring, including beloved "Stumpy," for a $113 million seawall restoration project around the Tidal Basin that's expected to take two years.
  • Typically only 90 trees need replacing annually.

NPS will then plant 455 new trees, including 274 sakura (potentially little Stumpies). Park Service spokesperson Mike Litterst told the Washington Post to expect flux at next year's cherry blossom festival and in the years to come: "Construction fencing, paths being rerouted and things like that."

🫶 The intrigue: NPS' nonprofit partner The Trust for the National Mall has ramped up their Adopt-A-Cherry-Tree fundraising campaign to help cover costs for the trees' maintenance beyond what's in the Park Service budget.

  • People can donate online, "adopt" a tree (upwards of $1,000), or organize fundraisers to help preserve the trees for future generations — often done in memory of late cherry blossom lovers.
  • So far, the Trust has raised $600,000 of its $3.7 million goal.

Zoom out: Climate change is impacting cherry blossoms worldwide. And while earlier blooms aren't necessarily a bad thing — colder temperatures this week could even prolong the peak — increasingly unpredictable spring weather can be dire. (In 2017, warm weather followed by an Arctic blast killed off half of our blossoms.)

  • Plus, early blooms have put a damper on some Cherry Blossom Festival events, which run through mid-April … when there sometimes aren't any blossoms to see.
  • Organizers of the annual Cherry Blossom Ten Mile, which traditionally happens the first weekend of April, tell Axios they're paying attention "and will continue to monitor those trends as we plan for future editions of the race."

The bottom line: "We can all do our part to create a long-term, sustainable future for the cherry blossoms," Julie Moore, vice president of communications at the Trust, tells Axios. And while you can't "adopt" Stumpy, per se, they're encouraging donations "in Stumpy's honor."

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