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Bloomin’ Science!

Bloomin’ Science!

VISTA is all about connecting science to real life.  And what’s more real than the cherry blossom frenzy that descends on the region every spring?

One of the perennial local news stories involves predicting the peak blossom period of the fluffy pink flowers that ring the Tidal Basin for a fleeting period of glory every spring. According to the National Park Service (NPS), this year’s peak bloom period is expected to be April 11 – 14.

The horticultural prediction is based on weather conditions and can vary wildly until about 10 days before peak bloom. NPS scientists monitor five distinct phases of bud development to forecast and update the predictions. A Washington Post video illustrates biological process the five stages beginning with green color in the buds, to visible florets, to extension of the florets, to peduncle elongation, to puffy white.

In the final, spectacularly fluffy, puffy stage, the peak bloom date is considered to be when 70 percent of the blossoms are open. The peak blooming period begins before that and can be cut short by a late frost, unseasonable high temperatures, a driving windstorm or hard rain.

But even without typical weather variables, the peak has shifted about five days earlier since 1921, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA tracks the blossom schedule as part of a bigger effort to monitor climate change indicators.

Because the cherry blossoms are so famous, their blooming schedule is a great way to involve people with community science projects like Cherry Blossom Blitz, another climate change study. The Blitz is part of a bigger effort at Project BudBurst to engage people across the country in collecting observation data used in scientific research.

To participate, just download a report form, visit a cherry tree any day until April 30, note your observations and submit! It’s easy, fun – and important to science.

Live outside the DC metro area? There are other communities that host cherry blossom festivals as well, including San Francisco; Philadelphia; Macon, Georgia; and Salem, Oregon. You can collect observations from those locations – or from any cherry tree anywhere.

Check it out! Celebrate Spring!

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