National Cherry Blossom Festival: What You Need to Know

PHOTO: Cherry blossoms are seen on a tree in front of the Washington Monument, Jan. 2, 2016, in Washington.Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
Cherry blossoms are seen on a tree in front of the Washington Monument, Jan. 2, 2016, in Washington.

It's one of Washington's most iconic events: the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Each year, thousands arrive in the nation's capital to see the pink and white blossoms in bloom.

The 2016 festival kicks off this weekend and here's what you need to know about the "nation’s greatest springtime celebration."

The History

DC's cherry blossom trees are a gift from Japan. The initial 2,000 trees were donated in 1910. The trees became infested with insects and were burnt down by order of President William Howard Taft. In 1912, Japan donated an additional 3,000 trees--two of which were planted in a ceremony with First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador. The Cherry Blossom Festival grew out of this ceremony. In 1927, school children re-enacted the initial planting, holding the first "festival." The celebration was greatly expanded in 1935. Today, the festival commemorates those gifts and the friendship between the two nations.

The Festival

The 2016 festival opens with a fundraiser event on March 18 and continues through April 17. The three weeks of the festival are filled with events meant to highlight "traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty and the environment," according to festival organizers. These events are held throughout the city and include an indoor kite festival, daily performances and the annual Cherry Blossom Parade. In honor of the festival, a number of local businesses are offering special products including cherry blossom flavored teas, ice cream, cocktails, and doughnuts. Festival organizers told ABC News they are expecting more than 1.5 million attendees this year.

The Blossoms

The stars of the festival, however, are the trees themselves. Most of them are Yoshino cherry trees and are planted in three locations throughout the city: the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, in East Potomac Park (Hains Point), and on the Washington Monument grounds. According to the National Park Service, the iconic flowers are expected to enter peak bloom--when 70 percent of the Yoshino cherry blossoms are open--on March 23 or 24. Once the blossoms are open, they can last four to ten days.