Spring has been rescheduled to the middle of October — at least for Japan’s iconic cherry blossom trees.
The pink and white flowers, which draw visitors from all over the world, usually make their appearance in March or April as the weather warms, indicating a new season. However, extreme weather and unusually warm temperatures have confused the blossoms and triggered them into blooming about six months earlier than expected, Quartz reports.
The trees’ leaves release a hormone most of the year that prevents the buds from blooming. In the spring, the tree stops releasing the hormone, signaling the flowers to bloom. The views of the blossoms in full bloom are stunning, but the trees only bloom once a year, meaning visitors who planned on viewing the flowers in the spring will be disappointed.
Expert Hiroyuki Wada of the Flower Association of Japan told a local broadcaster that the strong typhoons, which recently struck Japan, caused many trees to lose a significant number of leaves, so they may not have released the hormone that prevents the flowers from blooming.
Scientists suggest that higher-than-usual temperatures due to climate change may also have tricked the cherry blossoms into blooming during the off-season. Japan’s recent typhoons, including Typhoon Jebi, have been followed by warmer weather, which may have contributed as well.
Jebi hit Japan in early September, killing 10 people and causing extensive damage. It was the strongest typhoon to strike Japan’s mainland in 25 years, CNN reports.
While it’s not unusual for some cherry blossom trees to get a head start on the blooming season, what’s unusual is how widespread the early blooms are this month.
"We get reports every year of cherry blossom blooming early, but those are confined to specific areas. This time we are hearing about it from all over the country," Toru Koyama, a senior official with the Flower Association of Japan, told Reuters.
More than 350 people reported seeing cherry blossoms in their neighborhoods this month.
“This has happened in the past, but I don’t remember seeing something of this scale,” Wada, of the Flower Association, said.
Despite their early arrival, the cherry blossoms — or “sakura” — are still being celebrated. They traditionally mark a new season in Japan filled with festivals, picnics, and activities.
Every year people across the world travel to enjoy Japan’s hanami, or flower viewing. The viewings are believed to derive from Emperor Saga’s tradition in the 8th century, when the emperor would hold picnics in Kyoto surrounded by the budding flowers.
Park-goers can still enjoy the cherry blossoms, but concerns about climate change may put a damper on the usual festivities.