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Why Japan’s Cherry Blossoms Are Blooming Earlier Than Expected

Kyoto’s cherry blossoms are in early bloom due to the human-caused warming of the planet

Credit: Nullumayulife/Flickr

Kyoto’s cherry blossom trees bloomed last week, making them the earliest to bloom in over 1,200 years.

Cherry blossom trees hold off blooming until warmer weather arrives, a process controlled by hormones in the leaves. By mid-April, these hormones taper off, signaling the trees to burst into a breathtaking array of pink and white flowers. This annual spectacle not only welcomes spring but also beckons visitors worldwide to marvel at nature’s vibrant renewal.

Cherry Blossoms Shift Over The Years

Japanese records meticulously document the dates of the first cherry blossoms since 812 AD, providing a rich historical perspective. Over the centuries, there has been a noticeable trend towards earlier blooms, reflecting the gradual impact of changing climate conditions. This data not only honors Japan’s cultural heritage but also informs us about climate change’s broader impact on ecosystems.

In 2015, scientists at the John Innes Centre studied how flowers bloom in warmer climates. They found that increased temperatures stimulate seed development, promoting healthier growth and enhancing plant reproductive success. These insights are crucial for understanding how environmental changes impact plant life cycles.

Researcher Dr. Steven Penfield noted that plants flower when optimal temperatures for seed set approach, adjusting their timing as the climate warms.

“The Kyoto cherry blossom trees record reflects the length and sensitivity of flowering to springtime temperatures,” Benjamin Cook, Columbia University Research Scientist.

He also told The Washington Post that:

‘Since the 1800s, warming has led to a steady trend toward earlier flowering that continues to the present day. Some of this warming is due to climate change, but some is also likely from an enhanced heat island effect due to increased urbanisation of the environment over the last couple of centuries,’ he said.

The Post links Kyoto’s earlier blooms directly to an average temperature rise of approximately 3.4°C.

Michael Mann, a climate science professor at Pennsylvania State University, cites cherry blossom trees’ timing as historical proxy evidence for climate reconstruction.

“In this case, that ‘proxy’ is telling us something that quantitative, rigorous long-term climate reconstructions have already told us – that the human-caused warming of the planet we’re witnessing today is unprecedented going back millennia.”

To experience seeing cherry blossoms in Japan, check out this guide!

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