Green-Wood Cemetery’s Cherry Blossom Season Is Nearly Here

By Isabel Song Beer, Brooklyn Paper

With spring just around the corner, Brooklyn is gearing up for a spectacular display of cherry blossoms, including at the borough’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery.

The landmark burial ground was founded in 1838 and serves as the final resting place of 570,000 people — including Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Louis Comfort Tiffany, among other famous Brooklynites.

The cemetery is also widely renowned for its natural beauty, operating its distinctive and expansive arboretum which houses 172 cherry blossom trees dating back to the early 1920s. Japanese cherry blossoms gained particular popularity in the U.S. following the trees being planted in Washington D.C. as a gift from the people of Japan to the people of America in 1912 meant to symbolize friendship between the two nations.

spring tree blooming next to a masoleum

The largest concentration of cherry blossom trees in the cemetery are found at Battle Hill and Valley Water where the 1776 “Battle of Brooklyn” is commemorated — speaking to the expansive symbolism of the trees, which are also seen in Japanese culture to reflect both life and death.

“They were planted along the alley of an avenue called ‘Battle Avenue’– the symbolism is really abundant in terms of the gestures of warfare,” Green-Wood Director of Living Collections and Curator Sara Evans told Brooklyn Paper. “One of the symbols of that cherry specifically is that the blossoms are so ephemeral in nature and sort of when the petals are falling it [looks like] it’s raining which is symbolic of fallen soldiers during warfare.”

Green-Wood has two species of cherry blossom trees on its grounds, the Yoshino Cherry and the Kanzan Japanese Flowering Cherry. Both are known for their distinctive pink and cream blossoms, which reach their peak at approximately the same time.

It is often difficult to precisely determine when cherry blossoms are set to flower and bloom, as a multitude of environmental factors can interfere with growth, but it is generally estimated that these two particular species bloom in late March through early April, with the blossoms lasting 10 to 14 days.

cherry blossoms on a sidewalk

“The timing of the blossoms is so unpredictable, and with environmental variations in the years lately — you know, this spring seems very wet, last spring wasn’t, and it has been a very warm winter in all — we are kind of anticipating the trees to bloom earlier than they did last year,” said Evans.

Mature trees like the ones found in Green-Wood require intense and specialized maintenance and care. The arboretum team at the cemetery has taken traditional measures to ensure the trees’ health.

“The trees are really old and definitely in the twilight of their lives, so we are taking care of them as best we can,” Evans explained. “We actually just propped a couple of the trees’ limbs since [cherry blossom trees] have lateral limbs that hang pretty low, pretty far out. So we offer them some structural support and tree propping also originates in Japanese gardens.”

The display of the delicate pink and white cherry blossoms makes for a visually stunning welcome to the spring season before other plants join in.

“It normally ushers in longer days and warmer weather, which is really nice,” said Evans. “And they are also obviously really, really beautiful.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.

[Photos by Susan De Vries]

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