Stumpy faces axe along with dozens of Washington’s Tidal Basin cherry trees

The sun is setting on Stumpy, the gnarled old cherry tree that has become a social media phenomenon.

This year’s cherry blossom festivities in Washington DC will be the last for Stumpy and more than 100 other cherry trees that will be cut down as part of a multi-year restoration of their Tidal Basin home.

Starting in early summer, crews will begin working to replace the crumbling sea wall around the Tidal Basin, the area around the Jefferson Memorial with the highest concentration of cherry trees.

The work has been long overdue, as the deterioration, combined with rising sea levels, has resulted in Potomac waters regularly surging over the barriers.

The twice-daily floods at high tide not only cover some of the pedestrian paths, they also regularly soak some of the cherry trees’ roots. The 133 million dollar (£104 million) project to rebuild and reinforce the sea wall will take about three years, said Mike Litterst, National Park Service spokesman for the National Mall.

Washington tree
The Washington Monument is visible behind a cherry tree affectionally nicknamed ‘Stumpy’ (AP)

“But most of all, it’s going to benefit the cherry trees, who right now are every day, twice a day, seeing their roots inundated with the brackish water of the Tidal Basin.”

Mr Litterst said entire stretches of trees to the water, as wide as 100 yards, or 90 meters, have been lost and can’t be replaced “until we fix the underlying cause of what killed them in the first place.”

Stumpy remains alive, if in rough shape.

Plans call for 140 cherry trees – and 300 trees in total – to be removed and turned into mulch. When the project is concluded, 277 cherry trees will be planted as replacements.

The mulch will protect the roots of surviving trees from foot traffic and break down over time into nutrient-rich soil, “so it’s a good second life” for the trees being cut down, Mr Litterst said.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is widely considered to be the start of the tourist season in the American capital.

Organisers expect 1.5 million people to view the pink and white blossoms this year, the most since the pandemic. Already, large numbers of cherry blossom fans are being drawn to the area as the trees approach peak bloom.

Stumpy became a social media star during the pandemic fever dream of 2020. Its legacy has spawned T-shirts, a calendar and a fanbase.

News of Stumpy’s final spring has prompted people to leave flowers and bourbon and had one Reddit user threatening to chain themselves to the trunk to save the tree.

Cherry Blossoms Washington
The trees are being removed for a renovation project that will rebuild seawalls around Tidal Basin and West Potomac Park (AP)

The regular flooding at the Tidal Basin – sea levels have risen about a foot since the the seawall was built in the early 1990s – is just one of the ways climate change has affected the cherry trees. Rising global temperatures and warmer winters have caused peak bloom to creep earlier in the calendar.

This year’s peak bloom, when 70% of the city’s 3,700 cherry trees will be flowering, should start between Saturday and Tuesday. By comparison, the 2013 peak bloom began on April 9.

Leslie Frattaroli, national resources programme manager for the Park Service, told The Associated Press in February that peak bloom could come in the middle of March by 2050.

“All the timing is off.” he said. “It’s a huge cascading effect.”

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