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Look | Cherry Blossom Trees Flourish in Newark

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A cherry blossom tree in Newark's Branch Brook Park, March 2012. A cherry blossom tree in Newark's Branch Brook Park, March 2012. (Photo by Kate Hinds)

Washington D.C. may be famous for its cherry blossom trees — but Branch Brook Park in Newark, N.J. has more of the flowering pink trees that are the harbingers of spring.

Branch Brook Park, the nation's first county park, was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. The jewel in its crown is its 4,300 cherry blossom trees — that’s 600 more than D.C. has.

"There's nowhere else that has a single site collection with more cherry blossom trees than we do," said Kate Hartwyk, who is the director of cultural and historic affairs for Essex County.

New Jersey resident Caroline Bamberger Fuld, who lived nearby the park and was the sister of department store magnate Louis Bamberger, was inspired by the cherry blossoms ringing the Tidal Basin in D.C., and gave 2,050 trees to Branch Brook Park in 1926.

She nurtured them at her New Jersey estate until they were healthy enough to be planted in Branch Brook. Since then, through careful propagation and planting of new trees, the collection has more than doubled.

And in recent years, the trees are blooming earlier. New Jersey's plant hardiness zone was changed last year to reflect the warmer winters. This year, Hartwyk said, they've bloomed earlier than ever — around March 5. She said it's part of a trend.

"Two years ago we had a very warm spell the last week of March, first week of April, and we had many of the trees bloom by April 1st," she said.

The warming trend means the county may move up future cherry blossom festivals.

"I could see next year us trying to gear the festival more toward the beginning of April rather than the middle," Hartwyk said. This year's festival begins April 7.

(The National Park Service reported this week that DC's cherry blossoms peaked on March 20th -- the third earliest since record keeping began in 1921.)

There are 14 varieties of cherry blossoms, meaning they don't all bloom at once. Right now, the pale pink single blossoms are bursting open, and they'll be followed by the darker double blossomed trees. But by mid-April, the season will likely be over.

The park is free and open to the public, and it's easily accessible by public transit. Take the PATH train to Newark-Penn Station, then take the city's light rail to the Branch Brook Park station. (More information on how to visit the park can be found here.)

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