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Why is the flowering of Japanese cherry trees exceptional this year?

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Like every spring, Japan has recently been magnified by the so symbolic colors of cherry blossoms. A spectacle offered by nature and whose current season reminds us that it also carries with it an undoubtedly darker message.

The annual flowering of cherry trees occupies an important place in Japanese culture. Named Sakura, this spectacular display of flowers in pink and white tones also attracts many visitors from all over the world. Indeed, various festivities are organized in the country in order to contemplate and appreciate nature. This ancestral tradition called hanimi symbolizes the arrival of spring and dates back to at least the year 812. Since then, the dates of flowering began to be recorded in registers.

Now it turns out that this year the trees have reaches full flowering with unmatched precocity. In the city of Kyoto, the phenomenon peaked on March 26 latest. A record date in over 1,200 years of data, the previous one going back to 1409 when the imperial court records reported a bloom on March 27. Moreover, unlike the astonishing precocity observed in 1409, that of 2021 is not an isolated event. It is part of a consistent trend with an ever earlier onset of spring conditions.

Date of full bloom of cherry trees in Kyoto – calculated as the number of days after the start of the year. The record of precocity (March 26, 2021) and the record of tardiness (May 5, 1323) are also indicated. Credits: Davide Faranda / @DaviFaranda.

Cherry blossoms, an indicator of climate change

While in Kyoto the average date of full flowering of cherry trees was historically around April 17, it has advanced until April 5 in the last century. An increasingly precocious unfolding of flowers that scientists link to global warming and increasing urbanization. In this regard, the trends can be generalized to all cherry tree species in the country. By working on a group of 17 taxa, researchers have for example shown that trees were flowering on average 6 days earlier than 25 years ago.

Our studies have shown that the start of the cherry blossom season is closely related to the average temperature in February and March. »Says Shunji Ambe, researcher at the Japanese meteorological agency. ” Our observations of plant life show that spring phenomena – such as cherry blossoms and plum blossoms – tend to occur earlier, while fall phenomena are delayed. “.

Time of appearance of the first flowers in Kyoto since the year 800. Note the clear tendency for the dates to advance. Credits: Osaka Prefecture University.

In Tokyo, too, the flowers bloomed very early, tying the record set last year on 12th of March – 12 days earlier than the average date. Changes which not only have the value of climatic indicators but which also question the good keeping of traditions. Indeed, with temperatures continuing to rise at the current rate, cherry blossoms are expected to start dropping even before the spring festivities begin. A disturbing message delivered to us by nature through the paradoxical beauty of cherry blossoms.


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