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It’s Cherry Blossom Time!

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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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Naonobu Noda/NARO
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science
Japanese Scientists Engineer 'True Blue' Chrysanthemums
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Naonobu Noda/NARO

The land of the square watermelon has done it again: Japanese scientists have created the world's first blue chrysanthemums. They described their process and results in the journal Science Advances.

Nature doesn't make a whole lot of blue things. Out of the 280,000 species of flowering plants on Earth, less than 10 percent make blue flowers. But these are hipster flowers, flying low under the public radar. There's no real market for them. Blue roses, carnations, lilies, or chrysanthemums, though: now those are products florists could take to the bank.

Or they could, if scientists could get them to work. Flower experts have been trying to breed blue flowers for centuries, to no avail. The horticultural societies of Britain and Belgium even put up a cash prize in the 1800s for the first person to breed a true blue rose. Nobody won.

But bioengineering is a lot more sophisticated than it used to be. Today's plant experts can tinker with an organism's genetic code to coax it into doing things nature never intended it to do. By 2005, scientists sponsored by the Japanese company Suntory had that blue rose—although "blue" may be a generous term.

Next up for researchers was the chrysanthemum, a species that may be even more significant than the rose in Japan. Chrysanthemums are everywhere there, appearing on coins, passports, clothing, and art. They symbolize autumn, but also the monarchy, the imperial throne, and the nation of Japan itself. Making a blue mum would be a huge cultural achievement (not to mention a potential goldmine).

Researchers from Suntory and Japan's National Agriculture and Food Research Organization decided to swipe a few tricks from two preexisting blue flower species, Canterbury bells and the butterfly pea. Both species owe their color to pigments called anthocyanins. These pigments appear in chrysanthemums, too, but a slightly different molecular structure means that they make red and purple petals, not blue ones.

By swiping multiple genes from the two blue species and adding them to the mum's genetic blueprint, the scientists were able to reshape the chrysanthemum anthocyanins to make what botanists call "true blue."

Blue color swatches among blue chrysanthemum flowers.
Naonobu Noda / NARO

Once again, "blue" may be a generous term.

"Their flowers are like a cool lavender at best," artist and biohacker Sebastian Cocioba, who is trying to genetically engineer a blue rose, told Gizmodo. "I could never feel comfortable calling that blue."

The researchers acknowledge that they've got more work to do, and say they have ideas for how to create a bluer flower. "However," lead author Naonobu Noda noted to Gizmodo, "as there is no [single] gene to realize it, it may be difficult."

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This Is What Flowers Look Like When Photographed With an X-Ray Machine
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Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “Peruvian Daffodil” (1938)

Many plant photographers choose to showcase the vibrant colors and physical details of exotic flora. For his work with flowers, Dr. Dain L. Tasker took a more bare-bones approach. The radiologist’s ghostly floral images were recorded using only an X-ray machine, according to Hyperallergic.

Tasker snapped his pictures of botanical life while he was working at Los Angeles’s Wilshire Hospital in the 1930s. He had minimal experience photographing landscapes and portraits in his spare time, but it wasn’t until he saw an X-ray of an amaryllis, taken by a colleague, that he felt inspired to swap his camera for the medical tool. He took black-and-white radiographs of everything from roses and daffodils to eucalypti and holly berries. The otherworldly artwork was featured in magazines and art shows during Tasker’s lifetime.

Selections from Tasker's body of work have been seen around the world, including as part of the Floral Studies exhibition at the Joseph Bellows Gallery in San Diego in 2016. Prints of his work are also available for purchase from the Stinehour Wemyss Editions and Howard Greenberg Gallery.

Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “Philodendron” (1938)
Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “Philodendron” (1938)

X-ray image of a rose.
Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “A Rose” (1936)

All images courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery.

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