Stumpy’s last bloom: A beloved Tidal Basin cherry tree faces the ax

Author: By Kevin Ambrose
Source: Visit Site
Stumpy’s last bloom: A beloved Tidal Basin cherry tree faces the ax

Stumpy, a beloved hollow cherry tree located on the south bank of the Tidal Basin in Washington, will be removed later this year alongside hundreds of other trees that will be cut down for a sea-wall-rebuilding effort led by the National Park Service.

The name was given to the stump-shaped cherry tree in 2020 by a Reddit user who joked that the tree was as dead as his love life. Since then, the tree’s popularity has only grown, and its resilience celebrated. The tree has survived years of flooding tides from the Potomac River and beavers browsing for bark.

“Stumpy is such a unique and well-loved tree because it’s small and deals with Tidal Basin flooding daily,” said Dave Lyons, a D.C.-area photographer. “Yet it’s full of beautiful cherry blossoms. Everyone cheers for the little guy.”

(Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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Still, the tree’s days are numbered as a $113 million multiyear repair of Tidal Basin and West Potomac Park sea walls nears. About 300 trees overall, including more than 150 of the iconic cherry trees, will be removed.

Human-caused climate change, which is driving a rise in sea levels in tidal waters, is partially to blame for Stumpy’s fate.

“Portions of the seawalls have settled as much as five feet since their initial construction from the late 1800s to the early 1900s,” the Park Service said. “As a result of the settling and sea level rise, water flows over portions of the seawalls twice a day during normal tidal conditions.”

Mike Litterst, communications chief for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said the announcement of the sea wall repair and tree removal was purposely made before the cherry blossom bloom this year so people could travel to the Tidal Basin and visit Stumpy one last time during peak bloom. He expects huge crowds at peak bloom next week.

Mike Litterst, communications chief for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, at the Tidal Basin on Thursday. (Kevin Ambrose)

The Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-mile and 5K will commemorate the beloved tree next month with its image on race T-shirts and race medals, and a full-size Stumpy mascot.

“This news [from the NPS] makes 2024 the perfect year for us to celebrate Stumpy,” Phil Stewart, director of the cherry blossom races, said in a news release.

Litterst said that the sea wall project will begin in May and that Stumpy and the rest of the trees will likely be cut down in June. Replanting mature trees is too costly and challenging, he said, particularly given the number of trees. Thus, removal is necessary.

Clippings from Stumpy will be sent to the National Arboretum to create genetic matches. The hope is to plant little Stumpy clones on the National Mall or nearby parks. The rest of Stumpy and the other trees will be ground into mulch and spread around the remaining cherry tree bases to protect their roots and provide nutrients to the soil. It’s the “circle of life,” Litterst said.

As of Thursday, Stumpy was at bloom stage 4 of 6, “peduncle elongation.” (Kevin Ambrose)
Stumpy, seen here in August 2022, is often flooded during high tide. (Kevin Ambrose)

On a sunny Thursday morning on the Tidal Basin, three news crews filmed the tree, and many tourists stopped to take photos. Litterst laughed as he noted that while the National Mall has so much to offer — with its impressive memorials, monuments, trees and history — people continually ask where they can find Stumpy, one of the Tidal Basin’s smallest and most distressed trees.

If you’re looking for Stumpy yourself, you can find it about a one-minute walk just to the west of the Jefferson Memorial. But you can also look for the crowd.

Stumpy with fall foliage in October 2022. (Kevin Ambrose)
Stumpy in the snow this past January. (Kevin Ambrose)