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It’s Cherry Blossom Time!

No matter how hard you are working, or how rushed you are, you need to take just a few minutes today to go outside and look at the cherry trees. If you’ve looked and cannot find any cherry trees where you are, feast your eyes on the beautiful pictures of blooming cherries from the far corners of the world.

Photograph by Miya.m.

In Japan, the arrival of cherry blossoms begins in February in Okinawa and spreads north to Hokkaido by May. The blossoming of sakura is tracked nationwide the way the U.S. tracks peak fall colors. The tradition of hanami, or “flower viewing” often includes picnics and festivals to welcome spring.

Photograph by Mike Powell and Jeurgen Horn.

Jeurgen Horn and Mike Powell, travel bloggers who are living in Tokyo temporarily, are excited about the sakura, or cherry blossoms. Parks, paths, cemeteries, river banks, and anywhere a tree can grow you’ll see beautiful delicate flowers. It’s a signal for everyone in Tokyo to get out and enjoy the nice spring weather -and take pictures of the beauty!

Photograph by Mike Powell and Jeurgen Horn.

For a short period at the beginning of April, the word “sakura” was a prominent noun in approximately 75% of the sentences I heard. Because when Tokyo’s cherry trees bloom, there’s no talking about anything else. You’re either chatting about the blossoms, planning your picnic in the park, sitting in a rowboat on a pond ringed by cherry trees, or strolling along a path while the petals flutter to the ground around you like the sweetest, most fragrant snowfall imaginable. In any case, “sakura” is the topic of conversation.

Photograph by Mike Powell and Jeurgen Horn.

The trees of Tokyo even look awesome lit up at night. You can see videos and many more pictures at For 91 Days.

When you think of cherry trees in America, you probably think about the beautiful trees planted along the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. The National Park Service has declared that they have reached their peak bloom today, but they will continue to look glorious for the next few days. If you can get to Washington this weekend, you’re in for a real treat.

In 1885, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore returned from a visit to Japan and tried to convince officials in Washington that there should be cherry trees in the nation’s capital. Her plan got nowhere at first, but she kept it up for decades. Dr. David Fairchild planted cherry trees on his own property near Washington as an experiment, and also gave away tree seedlings. By 1909, First Lady Helen Taft was open to the idea of planting cherry trees along the roadway, and initiated the first plantings. Japanese consul Mr. Midzuno heard about the plan and offered 2,000 trees as a gift from the city of Tokyo. The first trees that arrived in 1910 were infested and had to be destroyed. Officials from both nations were embarrassed, but the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, was determined to make it right, and sent over 3,000 new trees to Washington. They were planted in the spring of 1912. Over the years, more cherry trees have been added for genetic diversity, but branches from the original 1912 planting are still being grafted and propagated.

Photograph by Estoymuybueno.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival continues through this Sunday in Washington. The Japanese Street Festival is Saturday as well as the National Cherry Blossom Parade and other events.

Photograph by Flickr user myllissa.

Another cherry blossom festival is happening now in Jinhae, South Korea. The town on the southern coast is estimated to have 340,000 cherry trees, the largest number in one city on earth! The Jinhae Gunhangje Festival concludes today.

Here is where I was going to put a picture of my own lone cherry tree, but it’s not fully bloomed yet, and I cannot find a picture from previous years. Oh, I know I have some, but my files are bulging with uncategorized pictures, just like a set of shoeboxes full of prints. So instead, I’ll just go outside and enjoy the spring flowers.

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Afternoon Map
A New NASA Map Shows Spring Is Coming Earlier Each Year
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Climate change is shifting Earth’s seasons. Winters are getting shorter, and the warmth of spring has started to arrive earlier and earlier, messing with the timing of processes like animal migrations and the budding of new plant growth. In a series of graphics spotted by Flowing Data, the NASA Earth Observatory shows how much earlier new leaves are arriving in some parts of the U.S., and how much earlier they reach full bloom.

The data comes from a 2016 study of U.S. national parks, so the maps only cover seasonal changes within the park system. But since there are so many parks spread across the U.S., it’s a pretty good snapshot of how climate change is affecting the timing of spring across the country. The map in green shows the difference in “first leaf” arrival, or when the first leaves emerge from tree buds, and the map in purple shows the arrival of the first blooms.

A map of the U.S. with a colored grid showing where leaves are coming earlier
Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

Around 75 percent of the 276 parks analyzed in the study have been experiencing earlier springs, and half had recently seen the earliest springs recorded in 112 years. In Olympic National Park in Washington, the first leaves are now appearing 23 days earlier than they did a century ago, while the Grand Canyon is seeing leaves appear about 11 days earlier. National parks in the Sierras and in Utah are seeing leaves appear five to 10 days earlier, as are areas along the Appalachian Trail. Some parks, however, particularly in the South, are actually seeing a later arrival of spring leaves, shown in dark gray in the graphic.

A map of the U.S. with a colored grid showing where blooms are coming earlier
Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

The places that are witnessing earlier first blooms aren't always the ones with extra-early first leaves. The Appalachian Trail is blooming earlier, even though the first leaves aren't arriving any earlier. But in other places, like Olympic National Park, both the first leaves and the first blooms are arriving far earlier than they used to.

“Changes in leaf and flowering dates have broad ramifications for nature,” National Park Service ecologist John Gross explained in the Earth Observatory’s blog. “Pollinators, migratory birds, hibernating species, elk, and caribou all rely on food sources that need to be available at the right time.” When temperatures get out of sync with usual seasonal changes, those species suffer.

[h/t Flowing Data]

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These Fake Flowers Could Help Scientists Study At-Risk Bees
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If you haven't heard, the world's bees are having a crisis. According to one recent study, bee populations in some areas have plummeted by 75 percent in a quarter of a century. Some countries have introduced legislation banning certain pesticides in response to the news, but solving the complicated problem will likely require much more research. In order to gather better data on bee behavior, one new media artist has developed a machine that can give scientists a bug's-eye view.

As Co.Design reports, Michael Candy's Synthetic Pollenizer is designed to blend into a bee's natural environment. Yellow circles bolted around the opening of the device imitate the petals on a flower. Tubes pump real nectar and pollen into the center of the fake flower, so when bees land on it to feed, they're collecting real reproductive materials they can spread to the next plant they visit.

Candy, who's based in Brisbane, Australia, originally conceived the apparatus as a way for scientists to track the pollinating behaviors of bees. The synthetic flower is outfitted with cameras and dyes, and with enough of them distributed in the wild, researchers could see which bees travel to certain places and how long they stay.

After his concept reached the final round of the Bio Art and Design awards in the Netherlands, Candy decided to create his own prototype with help from an urban beekeeper in Melbourne, Australia. The invention worked: Bees mistook it for real flora and carried pollen from it to their next destination. But to use it for tracking and studying bees on a larger scale, Candy would need to build a lot more of them. The pollinators would also need to be scattered throughout the bees' natural habitats, and since they would each come equipped with a camera, privacy (for nearby residents, not the bees) could become a concern.

Even if the concept never gets the funding it needs to expand, Candy says it could still be used in smaller applications. Fake flowers designed to look like real orchids, for example, could encourage the pollination of endangered orchid species. But for people studying dwindling bee populations, orchids are low on the list of concerns: 30 percent of all the world's crops are pollinated by bees [PDF].

[h/t Co.Design]

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