Update: Unfortunately, the trees won’t have a peak bloom this spring. The wet and snowy conditions in April and May were too stressful for the cherry blossoms, the Park District said. Some of the bud did open this spring, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the previous year.
Another week has passed and Jackson Park’s cherry blossom buds haven’t given up those sweet pink and white flowers. The Park District is on a blossom watch and keeping a close eye on the trees around the Columbia Basin behind the Museum of Science and Industry.
The most recent bud status reports “still closed” which means the buds are small and leaves are emerging. While the peak bloom came in D.C. has already happened, the Chicago cherry blossom trees are taking their time.
“The anticipation is killing me,” said Karen Szyjka, Park District Cultural and Natural Resources manager.
Chicago springs have crazy weather, and the two bouts of late snow and recent unrelenting rain have caused the buds to stay closed, said Szyjka. Last year the weather was similarly cold and wet, and that makes it really hard to predict when the blossoms will open. The forecast this weekend is partly sunny and low 50s, so Szyjka thinks flowers might appear Monday or early next week.
When the trees are at their peak, visitors will experience a fragrant “pink haze.” After a couple of years, all of the trees are finally mature enough to produce an impressive show this season. Unlike the hundreds of trees which attract millions of visitors, Chicago’s modest grove is tucked away and secluded. “You are really completely enveloped in the trees,” said Szyjka.
Beginning in 2013, a total of 160 trees were planted over three years to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Fair and the 50th anniversary of Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Chicago.
The park consulted a grower to find out what kind of trees would do well in the area. The trees are planted around a body of water and near Wooded Island, so it has its own mini-climate, Szyjka said. When the trees were first planted, she was nervous about how they’d do since the trees are uncommon for the city. But they’re doing great and have a special caretaker that checks in daily.
There are over a hundred different types of cherry trees, the majority of what’s planted will bloom pale pink, almost white, and deep pink. There are a few weeping trees which are delicate and have long, drooping branches. Planting different types of trees potentially allows for a longer blooming period if the trees open up at different times.
The area has a lot more than just the cherry trees. There are crabapple trees, magnolia trees, and azalea shrubs. Some flowers on Wooded Island are even from the original planting over a hundred years ago, like the Virginia bluebells, scillas, and violas that blanket the area. In the Japanese garden, visitors can see Yoko Ono’s Skylanding sculpture. It’s also an amazing site for birdwatching, and purple martins are already fluttering around the birdhouses.
Admiring cherry blossoms is a special tradition in Japan known as “hanami” and Szyjka hopes that Chicagoans will embrace this spring tradition. She recommends visiting at the beginning of the bloom when there might be fewer people, and you can lay out a blanket or set up a picnic. Although, every part of the short-lived bloom is incredible to see, even the end when all the pink and white petals completely cover the ground.
If you decide to visit the trees during peak bloom, remember that the Clarence Darrow Bridge closed in 2009 which means you can’t cross there to get to the other side of Columbia Basin. There’s a parking lot for the Museum of Science and Industry or street parking around the Hyde Park neighborhood if you decide to drive.