Cherry blossom trees burst forth with white and pink flowers in New York’s Central Park for a brief moment in time every spring.
Dreamy. Magical. Ethereal. Luminous. Ephemeral. These are all words that convey the temporary yet overwhelming beauty of cherry blossoms at full bloom.
Through mid to late April and May, two species of cherry trees that dot the landscape of the park bloom: the white or pale pink blossoms of the Yoshino Cherry and the deep pink blossoms of the Kwanzan Cherry.
The Yoshino Cherry trees bloom first – in mid to late April – before other trees and flowers. These are the trees in most of the photos in this post, taken during my trip to New York on April 20-22, 2018.
The Yoshino trees, known as sakura, were a gift of friendship from the Japanese government in 1912. In Japan, the blossoms are seen as reflecting the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Life is beautiful, but short.
As the flowers bloom and create a fairy tale setting in the park, the hustle and bustle of New York City continues to churn on all around.
Runners, cyclists and horse-drawn carriages hurl through the park at breakneck speed.
But some people pause to admire the beauty, and to lift their cell phone cameras in admiration to capture the scenery.
Couples embrace under the flowers. People grasp at branches, pulling the flowers closer to their faces. Families and couples recline on blankets and picnic under the blooming trees. This mirrors the Japanese tradition of hanami, in which people enjoy the blossoms and celebrate the arrival of spring by gathering in parks to socialize, eat and drink amidst the trees.
People sit on park benches beneath the billowing blooms above.
As I walked through the park, one woman turned to me and told me that she rushed over as soon as she heard about the blooms. A young family of four and then a group of friends asked me to take a few photos of them. Another woman paused to admire the beauty, and asked if I knew the variety of flower. A young woman sped past on roller blades, only to pause and turn to ask me for a photo in front of the trees.
By pausing to appreciate and photograph the blossoms, I also communicated with far more strangers than I typically do in the city. The flowers offered a social connection as well.
A man paused to take a shot of the blossoming trees along a path along the reservoir. As I stopped to do the same, he turned to me to smile and comment on the perfect beauty of the scene unfolding before us.
I have not felt so moved by a cherry blossom bloom since visiting Japan several years ago, where sakura season is revered and celebrated.
The cherry blossoms in New York seem to offer pure joy and peace amidst a pace of daily life that proceeds at an overwhelmingly relentless and chaotic fast pace. The juxtaposition of such serenity with velocity is striking.
Look up on a bright blue sky day, and the contrast between flowers and the sky is striking.
I tried to pick out a few ways to frame the photos in a way that made it clear they were taken in New York City – establishing a sense of place against the beauty, and contrasting the dreamy scenery with the bustle of the city.
I also wanted to also grab some shots of buildings in the background of photos. My favorite image that I captured was one of a woman running along the reservoir below blooming cherry blossoms, with the city skyline in the distance behind her.
I attempted to capture the essence of people rushing quickly past the blossoms. There are so many people in New York, how could I not capture some photos of their interaction with nature?
I sought to capture the iconic carriages that have hauled tourists around Central Park for generations.
I spotted a squirrel enjoying a snack on the branch of a blossoming tree.
Unintentionally and somewhat humorously, I ended up catching people on their cell phones apparently not appreciating the beautiful nature around them.
A few sites really caught my eye as good places to photograph and appreciate the blossoms and other flowers.
The Central Park Reservoir
The trails along the reservoir offered a steady corridor of pink and white blooms. According to NYC Parks, there are 35 Yoshino Cherry trees planted on the east side of the Central Park Reservoir that were part of a gift from Japan in 1912. They can be viewed by walkers and runners along the reservoir path.
Pilgrim Hill (between 72nd and 73rd Streets) is named for a statue of a pilgrim that has stood at the site since 1885. It also is a popular spot for relaxing and taking selfies with blossoming trees.
I spotted many families congregating around the hill. I tried to capture the pilgrim from as many angles as possible!
Behind the Met
Behind The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I discovered a mix of cherry blossoms and blooming pink magnolia blossoms. Along the bike path, the huge pink magnolia blossoms offered an enveloping backdrop for photos.
The Saucer Magnolia has large flowers that bloom in March to April in white and pink shades.
The huge magnolia blossoms also seemed to be a popular site for photo opportunities.
When trees are blooming around the bridge, they truly add to the picturesque scene. I captured the image below in May a few years ago.
After wandering through the park and soaking in such outdoor beauty for a few hours, it felt fitting that I would come across the oil painting below by Claude Monet once I stepped inside The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Titled “Spring (Fruit Trees in Bloom)” from 1873, the painting depicts trees with white blossoms. The painting reflects a departure for an artist better known for his depictions of water lilies.
How fitting that The Met summary notes that this was the first Monet painting acquired by The Met, way back in 1926.
The cherry blossom itself may be fleeting, but art can freeze time and capture its essence forever.
- “The best places to see cherry blossoms in NYC,” Time Out New York
- “Where to Find Spring Blooms in Central Park,” Central Park Conservancy
- Central Park Bloom Guide, Central Park Conservancy
- “Cherry Blossom Trees in Central Park,” Central Park
- “Flowering Trees in Spring at NYC Parks,” NYC Parks
- “For Hundreds of Years, Cherry Blossoms Are Matter of Life and Death,” PBS