Checking Out D.c.'s Other Cherry Blossoms (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Want To See Washington's Cherry Blossoms Without The Crowds?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we here at the show are celebrating because guess what's coming up dear listeners, spring.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:20
Yep, the first day of spring is March 20th. And here at MC HQ we are pretty excited about that fact. So we're calling today's show, Spring Fling, and bringing you stories about getting outdoors, getting our hands dirty, getting some sun, even a bit of all three.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:40
We'll get a jump on the growing season with a guy who's been gardening since he was just a sprout.

MR. KENNETH MOORE

00:00:45
I have this gardener's haze, where I see something really interesting and I have to get it. And then I get it and then I say, oh, no, what do I do with it now.

SHEIR

00:00:53
We'll head out on a local waterway to study a vanishing fish.

MR. FRED PINKNEY

00:00:56
This is female, very swollen belly there. So she has not spawned yet.

SHEIR

00:01:00
And we'll travel to Jamaica, without leaving the D.C. region, with a new children's show featuring the songs of Bob Marley.

MR. NICK OLCOTT

00:01:08
A children's musical using Bob Marley music? I thought, are you out of your mind?

SHEIR

00:01:21
But first, since we're talking about spring, in less than a week, the District will be launching the big, blowout celebration of the season, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, commemorating the 3,000 cherry trees the mayor of Tokyo gave to Washington, D.C. back in 1912. From March 20 through April 14, visitors will encounter all sorts of cherry related cheer, from cherry inspired foods to cherry-blossom yoga.

SHEIR

00:01:45
Now, traditionally you might associate D.C.'s infamous cherry blossoms with the Tidal Basin. After all, that's where you'll find more than 3,700 Yoshino Cherry trees, with their delicate pink-white blossoms surrounding the 107-acre reservoir. But the Tidal Basin isn't the only place to see flowering cherries this season. Among other spots in town, the U.S. National Arboretum has about 1,600 cherry trees, representing around 450 varieties.

SHEIR

00:02:11
And starting this Monday, the Arboretum is offering visitors a self-guided tour of those trees. It's called, "Beyond the Tidal Basin: Introducing Other Great Flowering Cherry Trees." I recently met up with Margaret Pooler, who's been breeding plants at the Arboretum for 16 years. And she gave me a sneak preview of some of the tour's sights.

SHEIR

00:02:30
So exactly what kind of flowering cherry is this?

MS. MARGARET POOLER

00:02:34
This tree is an Okami cherry tree. And this one is special because it's one of the earliest blooming ones that we have. You can see today it's not even mid-March and it's almost in full bloom now. Everything else is still brown, but here they are, giving us this hint that spring is just around the corner.

SHEIR

00:02:50
Can you describe this shade of pink? I'm not sure really how to describe it.

POOLER

00:02:55
Well, the Okami and some of the other ones are a blossoms are kind of a darker pink than what we're used to seeing in, like for example, the Tidal Basin cherries. And part of that is because one of their parents, it's a species called Prunus Companulata, the Taiwan Cherry, that has a really dark, deep pink.

SHEIR

00:03:11
Should we move on to the next spot?

POOLER

00:03:14
Yeah.

SHEIR

00:03:17
All right. So which tree are we looking at now?

POOLER

00:03:19
So this tree is kind of an interesting one. It's called Autumnalis Rosea. And it's special because it blooms in the spring, with all the rest of the flowering cherries, and you can see it's got lots and lots of flower buds on it right now. They're still pretty tight because it's not an early one. But what's neat about it is that it also flowers in the fall, not nearly as big of a bloom as the spring bloom, but it does give a pretty decent fall display. So it's kind of nice. One year, I think it was in full bloom at Thanksgiving, so visitors who happened to come by here then got to see a Thanksgiving flowering cherry.

SHEIR

00:03:53
Not something you'd expect.

POOLER

00:03:55
Definitely not.

SHEIR

00:03:56
Once it does bloom what do the blossoms look like?

POOLER

00:04:00
The blossoms are a kind of light pink, whitish with pink tinge, semi-double. That means they have somewhere around maybe 20 petals per flower, as opposed to the true doubles, which are like the Kwanzan that you see, the popular Kwanzan cherry. That's a true double, where it's got, you know, upwards of 25 or more petals per flower, versus the single blooms, which are only five petals. Yoshino cherries are a good example of that.

SHEIR

00:04:27
I suspect that when most people or when a lot of people think about flowering cherries they have one particular image in their head. So this is just amazing for me to hear about and see so many different varieties.

POOLER

00:04:38
It is. It's pretty amazing. I think if you walk by research collection, which is also one of our stops on the tour, you really can see all in one place, that diversity of flowering cherries. Because any time during the month-and-a-half that we have this tour going on, you'll see things that are just coming into bloom, things are in full bloom, that have finished bloom and are already starting to set seed. So you'll see every stage of bloom, plus different habits, everything from short, shrubby plants to tall tree types. Different colors, from white to deep pink that we talked about. So, yeah, I think this is a great way to just really come to appreciate all that flowering cherries have.

POOLER

00:05:19
Okay. Well, I'll show you one more. It's a weeping cherry that when you come to the Arboretum you really can't miss if it's in full bloom because everyone's going to be flocked around it.

SHEIR

00:05:27
So kind of like a weeping willow, but with the cherry blossoms?

POOLER

00:05:29
Exactly. Exactly.

SHEIR

00:05:31
All right. Let's go. Okay. There aren't any blossoms on these yet, but they are stunning.

POOLER

00:05:38
Yeah, even without being in bloom, even when all you see are branches, just the silhouettes of these trees are absolutely amazing. When they're in full bloom they're just beautiful, white cascading petals that when you're standing under there, you know, you can imagine the effect. And a few blossoms fall around your head and it really is kind of magical.

SHEIR

00:05:57
What's the tree's official name?

POOLER

00:06:00
Officially, it's Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula', meaning pendulous, the weeping.

SHEIR

00:06:06
So, Margaret, given that you've been working with the cherry trees for so long here at the Arboretum, what would you say is the significance of the cherry tree to D.C.?

POOLER

00:06:14
Well, I think that cherry trees are special, especially in Washington, D.C. for a couple of reasons. One, I think they're so constant and predictable. So in Washington, you know, for example this year we've got sequestration and we have continuing resolutions and all these things that no one knows what's going to happen. But we do know those cherry trees are going to bloom, no matter what. So I think that's kind of a comfort to a lot of us.

POOLER

00:06:37
And I think also in D.C., we tend to get so busy and so overscheduled and go-go-go, that the cherries, you know, they're only in bloom for a week or maybe ten days and so it kind of forces you to just pause, take a break from all that and stop and enjoy them, because they're not going to be there very long.

SHEIR

00:06:55
That was Margaret Pooler of the U.S. National Arboretum. You can check out the self-guided tour, Beyond the Tidal Basin: Introducing Other Great Flowering Cherry Trees, staring this Monday. For more information and to see photos of many varieties of flowering cherries, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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