The blooming of cherry blossoms is a renowned national event in Japan. There’s even a Japanese term for “flower viewing”: hanami.
Every spring, people across the country have picnics and parties to celebrate the blooming of the blossoms.
But this time, the celebrations occurred ahead of schedule. The flowers unexpectedly bloomed in autumn!
Tracking Flower Blooms
The story of Japanese cherry blossoms stretches back all the way to 801 AD. It turns out that the blooming schedule has been documented for over a thousand years, buried in the diaries and chronicles of emperors, monks, and aristocrats.
Yasuyuki Aono, a professor at Osaka Prefecture University, used these sources to cobble together a record of cherry blossom flowering dates. This dataset was consistently reliable for quite a while. But in 1850, the actual blooming dates began to diverge from the documented ones - the trees began flowering earlier than expected.
This year had the earliest blooming yet. But why?
An Unusual Bloom
According to tree surgeon Hiroyuki Wada, "this year's storms affected wide regions and the strong winds may have caused the blooming."
He explained that a hormone in the tree’s leaves prevents the flower buds from blooming. This year, extreme weather and a series of recent typhoons (like Typhoon Jebi in September) stripped the trees of their leaves. Without the leaves and the hormones in them, the buds had nothing to prevent them from blooming. This was the first factor for the shift in schedule.
The second factor was warm temperatures. These were caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that created urban heat islands, according to meteorologist Jason Samenow.
The early blooming of cherry blossoms is a pleasant surprise. But it’s important to note that nature is responsible just as much as humans are. The storms are one of the factors for this event. The higher temperatures are a result of the greenhouse gases that humans produce. As fascinating as this event is, it’s also a warning, a reminder of the way that we humans are impacting our environment.
Sources: CNN, Forbes, Washington Post, The Japan Times