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Screwy weather throws Garden out of whack - High temps force cherry blossoms to bloom in the dead of winter

There’s been no snow on Brooklyn’s tree branches, but a thick crop of pink-tinged cherry blossoms has left a frosting on trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) that, from a distance, may mimic the white stuff for those who miss it during this warmer-than-usual winter. According to the BBG, five of the garden’s 220-plus cherry trees are in bloom, all belonging to the species Prunus Fudan-Zakura, the ever-blooming cherry. The trees, bedecked with literally thousands of blossoms, are starring in an extraordinary horticultural show in different corners of the botanical garden, including the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, an area near the administration building, and another area north of there. While ever-blooming cherries normally flower as late as the end of November, this wintertime surge of blossoming is as unusual as it is delightful, coming more than three months prior to the garden’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival, Sakura Matsuri, which is scheduled for the weekend of April 28th and 29th. The cherry blossom viewing season, Hanami, a rite taken very seriously in Japan, also begins in the garden in April, on the 7th, continuing until the 6th of May. “The circumstances of weather,” created the unusual phenomenon of early blooming, said Patrick Cullina, the vice president of horticulture and facilities at BBG. Normally, explained Cullina, the ever-blooming cherry, “Blooms sporadically, a few branches with blossoms here and there,” from spring through fall. However, “Because it was persistently mild through December,” he noted, “it created a scenario where they have bloomed fully for the first time in anyone’s memory here.” “Even a bigger surprise,” added Cullina, is that the flowers, “Hung on for so long. What began in mid-December was still hanging on earlier this week,” he remarked, though, Cullina acknowledged, the burst of blossoming had largely disappeared by Tuesday. Nor are the cherry blossoms the only early arrivals at the garden. “There are a few things that are certainly early,” noted Cullina, “some mild surprises and some large surprises.” Among the latter are two Japanese apricot trees that are in bloom – one near the administration building and another outside the garden’s bonsai museum. These trees, enthused Cullina, “Have large pink, saucer-like blossoms with a cinnamon fragrance. You’d normally expect to see them bloom in April, so to see them bloom at the end of the first week of January is a bit of a surprise.” In addition, early bloomers such as winter jasmine, the evergreen shrub mahonia (which Cullina said has fragrant yellow flowers), witch hazel, crocuses, and two different species of snowdrops have also responded to the generally warmer weather with floral displays for garden strollers. The unexpected horticultural show has had some not-terribly-unexpected consequences, namely a rise in the number of garden visitors, who came to enjoy both the unseasonably warm weather and the teasing hints of spring to come. Said Cullina, a whopping 6,100 people went to the garden during the weekend of January 8th through 9th, including 4,100 on Saturday alone. Another consequence, according to Cullina, is that those trees and plants that have already bloomed are unlikely to do so again this year, short of a few buds here and there that did not open this time around. But, Cullina stressed that the early blossoming of five cherry trees, “No way inhibits the cherry mania that takes place here in spring.” Thanks to over 200 other cherry trees that have not blossomed early, “We are still anticipating an April display,” Cullina added. There is a certain degree of irony in the continuous blossoming of the cherry trees. In Japan, the blooms are symbolic of life’s transitory nature.

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