When do you know that spring’s sprung? Is it when you catch the first glimpse of daffodils? Or perhaps it’s when a baby bunny appears in your yard. For New Yorkers, spring officially arrives when the cherry blossom trees begin to bloom around the city. And where’s a great place to see them? New York’s playground – Central Park!
NY’s Playground for the People – Central Park
The creation of New York’s Central Park began in 1857 to give the city’s residents a place to escape. Most people at that time lived in crowded, unsanitary tenements and they’d head to neighborhood cemeteries for picnics. The natural feel of the park’s 840 acres was envisioned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux who won a design competition. Today, the maintenance of the park is the responsibility of the Central Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organization.
The History of Central Park’s Cherry Trees
Imagine getting a gift that still sparks joy after a hundred years. Japan presented New York with Yoshino cherry trees in 1912. The 3000 trees were originally supposed to arrive in 1909 but the ship carrying them was lost at sea. The ones that line the Potomac Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. arrived the same year.
It’s believed that a few of the 35 trees along the Reservoir’s bridle path in Central Park are survivors from that original batch. Look for the ones with broad gnarly trunks.
When’s the Best Time to See the Cherry Trees in Bloom
The Yoshino trees produce their fragrant pale pink blooms in mid-April. During that time, the Central Park Conservancy hosts 1 1/2 hour tours, if you’re interested in learning about the history of the Park, the blooms and the Reservoir. It’s a very affordable $15.
Near the end of April, the Kwanzan cherry trees, the very showy sisters of the Yoshino, strut their stuff. Kwanzan blooms are a rich pink color with lush blossoms. Although you might think they look more like what a cherry tree should look like, the delicate grace of the Yoshino blooms truly capture the traditional Japanese aesthetic.
The Best Spot to See the Cherry Blossoms in Central Park?
Enter Central Park at the “gate” located at 90th Street and 5th Avenue. There are 20 gates in Central Park but none of them lock. The gates are the formal entrances to the Park and they’re named after the groups of New Yorkers who made the city great. This particular one is called Engineers’ Gate and features a gold bust of former NYC Mayor John Purroy Mitchel. He opened Water Tunnel 1 in 1917 and this tunnel still provides NYC with its drinking water.
Read More: Want More NYC Cherry Blossoms?
There are Yoshino cherry trees lining the bridle path to the left and right of the gate. There are also people. Lots and lots of people, runners and dogs. If your goal is to capture the trees or to pose for blossom-filled selfies, I highly recommend sacrificing some sleep and getting to Central Park shortly after dawn.
Other Spring Sights in Central Park
After passing the initial cluster of Yoshino trees, our tour passed what’s believed to be the oldest tree in Central Park. London Plane trees are the most common street trees in New York City. The one in Central Park has a massive – 60′ – trunk covered in bark that resembles camouflage.
The tour concluded near Bridge No. 28. Technically, it’s not a bridge; it’s an arch. Bridges cross water and arches cross paths. There are 36 bridges and arches in the park and none of them are the same. Made of cast iron, Bridge No. 28 is called Gothic Bridge because of its design. It’s a great spot to take a photo and finish your tour. Or continue around the Reservoir to complete the 1..5 mile loop.
The cherry blossoms come and go quickly, so don’t procrastinate!