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Early Bloomers

CRISTINA MACAYA, HOST: Every year, thousands of cherry blossoms open around New York City, attracting throngs of people looking for a photo in front of the pale pink buds. The trees also herald in the spring. But due to warming temperatures, the last few years they’ve been flowering sooner, and their peak is less predictable. Claire Davenport went to Brooklyn Botanic Garden to learn more about these early bloomers. 

CLAIRE DAVENPORT, BYLINE: It’s a chilly and windy morning, a little over 30 degrees. But that hasn’t stopped visitors to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Last week, the garden reported its first bloom, and flower enthusiasts wander over for a photo in front of the blush-colored trees. 

I spoke with Maggie Liu, who lives in the neighborhood. She came to beat the crowds. 

LIU: it's nice, especially on a kind of random weekday morning when theres not as many people here. Like on the weekends, it gets pretty crowded, so it's nice and peaceful right now. It’s kinda fun to see the early bloomers (laughter).  

DAVENPORT: Yesterday was the first full day of Spring, and for many New Yorkers, the cherry tree blossoms are a sign that the seasons are changing. 

LIU: I feel like spring felt like it should have come earlier this year.  So I’m hoping, once they start coming up in full bloom it will really mean, okay, the bad weather’s over.

DAVENPORT: Liu isn’t alone. According to Shauna Moore, the director of Horticulture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, cherry blossoms have been an important marker of the season’s changing since the garden opened.

MOORE: The cherry tree and the cherry esplanade are just really kind of our trademark plant.

You know, I think we’ve had cherry blossoms here since the beginning of the garden. It's sort of the right to spring here. 

DAVENPORT: Each tree only flowers for a week or so, and there’s no moment when all are blooming at once. According to Moore, it’s a quick life cycle. 

MOORE: About a six-week season. And so it starts very slowly. And right now we've got three in the collection that are blooming. And then, in about weeks, I think we'll probably hit a lot more. 

DAVENPORT: Cherry blossoms require at least a month of winter temperatures to fully bloom. And other environmental factors can also impact their ability to thrive.

MOORE: Depending on the weather. If the weather is warm and or rainy or windy, those blossoms don't last as long as they would if the nights were a little cooler and the flowers would persist a lot longer on the tree that way.

DAVENPORT: Bloom calendars posted in the garden’s visitor’s center still name April and May as peak bloom seasons for the cherry trees. But as the winter season in New York becomes shorter and shorter, this poster is becoming outdated. For example, last week, temperatures jumped to the low 70s, atypical for this time of year. 

MOORE: You know, our winters have been much milder, and we're warming. We, we all know that. And and the climate is changing. So everything is shifting and we're seeing that in it with mother nature here too, in the garden.

DAVENPORT: I asked Moore if rising temperatures could mean that one day, cherry blossoms would stop flowering in Brooklyn.

MOORE: I don't think so. You know, I think cherry blossoms are pretty, they're pretty hardy. They are pretty resilient. I think that would be very sad, wouldn't it?

DAVENPORT: Indeed, it would be sad. 

Claire Davenport, Columbia Radio News.

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