Farewell Stumpy the Cherry Blossom Tree

Back in 2019, we noticed a rather unique cherry blossom tree in DC at the Tidal Basin. It was by itself, right on the edge of the water, and looked like it shouldn’t be alive but somehow was. This tree has become known as Stumpy! Unfortunately, 2024 is the last year we’ll ever be able to see Stumpy in bloom as he is going to be removed in order to repair this area of the Tidal Basin.

Is it fitting that we first saw Stumpy on April Fool’s Day in 2019? While the path around the Tidal Basin has plenty of large clusters of cherry blossom trees, Stumpy stood by himself. It seems he was a bigger tree at one point but has been worn down to just a few branches. No one paid any attention to him, everyone just walked by.

Peak bloom in 2020 occurred just after the pandemic shutdowns started in the US. We visited at sunrise on March 21st, right before the National Park Service essentially shut down the Tidal Basin. We only visited a small area near the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial as we wanted to minimize our proximity to people.

In 2021, we again didn’t see Stumpy as we only walked around the north side of the Tidal Basin. We once again went early to avoid any potential crowds.

Apparently, Stumpy became famous during those pandemic years. An article on the Washingtonian’s website cites a Reddit post as being the initial catalyst to Stumpy’s rise to fame but does not actually link the post. The earliest mention of Stumpy as a name for this tree seems to be in a post titled Progress on Stumpy from March 19th, 2020.

We did photograph Stumpy, or at least his upper half, in 2022. He seemed to be doing well, or at least, he didn’t seem to get any smaller!

The Tidal Basin floods at high tide, particularly the area where Stumpy lives on the south side of the Tidal Basin near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. We saw him again last year during high tide. He, once again, seemed to be doing OK.

This flooding is why Stumpy is going to be removed as the National Park Service is going to rebuild this area so that it does not flood at high tide. There are plenty of news stories about Stumpy’s final bloom as everyone who is anyone seems to have written about him. Of course, there are calls to Save Stumpy but he is too far gone to be saved due to his extremely poor condition. He, along with other trees that must be removed, will be turned into mulch. But, Stumpy will live on as his clippings will be used to create new trees which will be planted here once the project is complete.

So, we made sure to get one final look at Stumpy in all his glory this year! The National Park Service has put up a fence around him which is, unfortunately, a bit too close on the right side! There has never been a fence in previous years.

We happened to arrive at high tide.

Many people were taking photos of Stumpy. Definitely way more attention than we’ve seen in previous years!

A sign placed by the NPS next to Stumpy reads:

Age and rising sea levels have taken a toll on the Tidal Basin seawalls.  A $113-million, three-year project to rebuild them will begin soon. When complete, the seawalls will be higher, stronger, and able to protect the Japanese flowering cherry trees for at least the next 100 years.

The work will require the removal of 140 of the approximately 1,700 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, including the popular tree known as "Stumpy."  A victim of daily flooding, sun scalding, compacted soil, and fungi, Stumpy would not survive relocation due to its loss of structural integrity and weakened condition.  The National Arboretum will propagate clippings to create genetically matching trees that will be planted on the Tidal Basin when the construction is complete.

We look forward to completing the new seawall in 2027 and not only replanting more than 220 new cherry trees on the Tidal Basin, but creating conditions where the trees can thrive for generations to come.

Stumpy isn’t particularly easy to find from afar. This was from about a 600 feet away on the southwestern side of the Tidal Basin. He is right at the center of the frame. The fence helps in locating him!

While we often will walk the full route around the Tidal Basin during peak bloom, we did not this year as we had just arrived at Dulles from Honolulu.

There are many cherry trees in the IAD Economy Lot! We noticed them on our way out last week as they were in full bloom. When we returned this morning, we were happy to see that most of the blossoms were still on the trees, though the leaves were starting to grow in.

We normally take the Metro in during peak bloom as the area gets ridiculously busy. Today, we drove in hoping we’d be early enough for easy parking, particularly as it is a weekday. And we were! There were tons of available spaces on Ohio Dr. just to the west of the bridge where the Tidal Basin meets the Potomac.

At the Tidal Basin, most of the trees were in peak bloom. Very few flowers have fallen to the ground.

Some leaves were starting to grow out but nothing like what we saw earlier at IAD yet.

We mostly stayed on the southwestern shore of the Tidal Basin where we had a clear view of the Washington Monument.

Stumpy has a nice view of the MLK Memorial. The area wasn’t too busy as it was still relatively early in the morning for tourists.

The Jefferson Memorial’s recently cleaned dome still looks fantastic!

There were noticeably more people as we walked to the north towards the MLK Memorial.

MLK as seen from the edge of the Tidal Basin, right in front of him.

The Washington Monument as seen from the same spot with a foreground of cherry trees.

One final look at the Washington Monument as we headed back to our car.

We noticed a few trees that seemed like cherry trees from afar but the flower petals are quite different. These might be crabapple trees, though we aren’t completely certain.

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