Send a shell-pink flare into the sky, for the time of our erubescence is upon us.
Cherry blossom trees around the city have started to bloom, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has officially declared the start of their cherry blossom viewing season. So make yourself a Cosmo, turn the lights down low, cue up Air's classic "Cherry Blossom Girl," and let your mind wander through the salmon-toned fields of Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the video below.
"I love this time of year," said Jennifer Greenfeld, the assistant commissioner for forestry, horticulture, and natural resources for the city's parks department. "I love when the city is waking up, and [now] it's waking up in more ways than one. This spring, cherry trees are so meaningful to New Yorkers because it's just so symbolic of waking up after a long winter."
There are more than 100 varieties of ornamental cherry trees, but the three most common ones that can be found in parks all across the city are the Okame, which are usually the first to bloom around the last two weeks of March, and then the Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry trees, which will start to bloom in April.
According to the Parks Department, there are 6,700 cherry trees to be found within city parks, and more than 34,000 street cherry trees planted around the city (the highest concentration is in Queens, which has more than 15,000 of them). Those street trees represent about 5% of the 700,000+ street trees of all varieties in New York City.
Greenfeld said there is a long history of different kinds of cherry trees in NYC, dating back all the way to the 1700s, when cherry orchards were cultivated by Dutch colonial families like the Dyckman family. The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum, which is located in Inwood, still has a historic cherry tree growing there, which will start flowering in mid-April and produce small tart cherries in June.
But as for the popular ornamental cherry trees which bloom every spring, they were first brought over to the U.S. from Japan in 1912, with many going to D.C. and some to Central Park, where they still stand today. Throughout the last century, Greenfeld said more and more of these ornamental trees have been sent to New York from the Tokyo government as a way to cement the relationship between the two cities.
As for their popularity, Greenfeld said it makes total sense why people are so entranced by them.
"It's one of the only things blooming at this time of year," she said. "They really do make you think of springtime. And they often are planted in masses, like the masses of trees in Flushing Meadows Corona Park around the Unisphere, or in Riverside Park or along the Harlem River."
The fact that they are only around for a very short time—the blooming cycle only lasts for around two weeks, depending on temperature, rain and wind conditions—also adds to the elusive beauty.
"It's almost like a little treasure hunt — you have to find them and you have to find them quickly," Greenfeld said. "And you have to see them while they're in full bloom. So I think something that is short-lived is more precious."
With well over 40,000 ornamental cherry trees spread throughout the city, there are obviously a lot of places to go to check them out (don't sleep on Roosevelt Island's offering). But there's also no doubt that Brooklyn Botanic Garden has become arguably the most popular destination for flamingo-colored flower sightseeing every April.
"When peak bloom happens, the Cherry Esplanade is like the number one spot for people to go," said Rowan Blaik, vice president of Horticulture at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
The garden was literally made for this: when the Olmsted brothers first started designing it in the 1910s, Blaik said they intended the Esplanade to be "in alignment with the back of the Brooklyn Museum" as part of a massive "grand avenue" of trees that would have connected the museum and garden. Plans were changed, but the Cherry Esplanade still became one of the foundational parts of the landscape.
Altogether, they now have more than 200 flowering ornamental cherry trees on the Cherry Esplanade, made up of more than 20 varieties of trees, with some of them dating back to the early 20th century.
"Brooklyn Botanic Garden was also one of the first public gardens to feature an authentic Japanese garden as well," Blaik said. "So the connection with the cherries, Japanese cultivars of cherries, the cherry blossoms, bonsai, that's something that's woven all the way through [our] history."
The month-long tradition of going to see cherry blossoms is called hanami (which literally means “flower viewing"), and at BBG, it usually culminates in the annual Sakura Matsuri festival. The festival will not be taking place this year for pandemic-related reasons, but they are celebrating the cherry season with extended morning and evening hours, and all-day performances on April 23rd, 30th, and May 7th.
Although there's no way to tell exactly when the flowers might peak, BBG tracks the cherry blossom season on their Cherrywatch page, so visitors can get some sense of when to go visit. Even if you go early, you won't be disappointed now that the bloom has begun.
"They're stunning trees," Blaik said. "They're beautiful colors that are so much warmer than the colors we associate with winter. It's these delicate pinks and whites. They flower before the leaves open out, and so you see the full majesty of the tree in its flowers. It's like an explosion of color when it happens. It's the herald of spring really."
Gigi Altarejos, who has been taking photographs while doing nature walks around the city for about a decade now, was excited to capture the initial bloom happening last weekend at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
"I walk in the parks on weekends and you can’t miss these beauties," she said. "We only have two weeks to enjoy each variety so I try to find time to go to the different parks."
Altarejos offered some practical tips on where to spot the trees. After the Okame petals drop, she noted you can find the Yoshino variety in Hunters Point South Park, Sakura Park, Flushing Meadows at the Unisphere, and the southern end of Roosevelt Island cherry walk.
The Kwanzan, which are fluffy pink ones, can be found at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the northern part of the Roosevelt Island cherry walk, and in Riverside Park.
"The Cherry Walk north of Riverside Park has a mix of Yoshino and Kwanzan," she said. "There’s also several trees along the walkway leading to the Peter Sharp Boathouse. The Central Park cherry walk along the west side of the reservoir are Kwanzan too. And there's a lot of them in Green-Wood [in Brooklyn] and other cemeteries."
Greenfeld, the Parks Department assistant commissioner, added that there are native black cherry trees growing in NYC forests and woodlands which are "not quite the same as the flashy ornamental trees, but they've been growing there before we imported trees from Japan, and they're great food for birds."
You can check out a few more photos below of how things are looking around the city right now: