10 Amazing Facts About Cherry Blossoms

iStock.com/Sean Pavone
iStock.com/Sean Pavone

Cherry blossom season is a major tourist draw for any city that’s lucky enough to grow these ornamental cherry trees. More than 1.5 million people are expected to visit Washington, D.C. this year for its National Cherry Blossom Festival (which kicks off on March 20, 2019) and Japan saw an influx of 2.6 million overseas tourists when its pretty pink flowers started to bloom in March of last year. In celebration of the arrival of spring, here are 10 things you might not know about the trees that produce such picturesque petals.

1. You'll only find cherry blossoms in a handful of countries.

Cherry trees lining a street
"Cherry Blossom Avenue" in Bonn, Germany
iStock.com/Iurii Buriak

Called sakura in Japan, the cherry blossoms of Yoshino and Kyoto are world-famous. Tourists flock to the country each spring to try their hand at a centuries-old activity called hanami, or “flower viewing.” You don’t have to fly to Japan to see them, though. In the U.S., the cherry blossoms of Washington, D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston are all beautiful in their own way. The flowers can also be viewed in many European and Asian countries, as well as Brazil and Australia in the southern hemisphere.

2. The cherry blossom capital of the world is in the state of Georgia.

A street lamp framed by cherry blossoms
iStock.com/mstroz

Believe it or not, the city of Macon in central Georgia is recognized as the “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World”—at least according to U.S. Congressional records. It’s home to 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees, while Washington, D.C. has fewer than 4000 trees. Those who organize the two cities’ respective cherry blossom festivals have engaged in some playful competition over the years. In 1987, representatives of the Macon festival sent army helmets to TV stations in D.C. “to dramatize the rivalry,” according to an article published at the time in The Record. Representatives in D.C. played it cool, with one spokesperson for the National Park Service stating, “I’m sure they have much more than we have here, but we’re still proud of our celebration.”

3. There are hundreds of cherry tree varieties.

Cherry blossoms
The blossoms of a Kanzan tree
iStock.com/Norimoto

Japan in particular is home to hundreds of types of cherry tree—possibly more than 600, by more liberal estimates. Some types bear fruit, while others don’t. The flowers of many trees change from dark pink to light pink to white throughout the different stages of blossoming, while others progress from greenish yellow to white to pink. One variety, called Kanzan, was bred to have “double blossoms”—or up to 28 petals on each flower, compared to the Yoshino tree’s five petals.

4. They don't bloom for long.

A cherry tree might only remain in bloom for one to two weeks. However, they only keep up their “peak color” for about three days, so it’s best to time your trip wisely if you’re visiting a cherry blossom destination from out of town. The timing depends on a number of factors, including location, heat, and daylight. In D.C., the florets typically start to appear in March, and peak bloom (when 70 percent of the flowers have blossomed) generally occurs in late March or early April. This year, the National Park Service predicts that peak bloom will occur from April 3 to April 6, 2019.

5. Climate change could be making them blossom earlier.

The projected peak bloom dates are right on track for 2019, but that hasn’t always been the case. Some scholars have suggested that the trees are blooming earlier and earlier as the planet gradually gets warmer. Dr. Soo-Hyung Kim, an ecophysiologist at the University of Washington who has studied the phenomenon, says that by 2080 we could expect to see cherry blossoms in D.C. as early as February.

6. You can get arrested for plucking a cherry blossom in Washington, D.C.

Cherry blossoms in D.C.
iStock.com/RobertDodge

Resist the urge to take a cherry blossom home with you as a souvenir. In D.C. at least, breaking off a blossom or branch is viewed as vandalism of federal property. Those who break this rule could receive a citation, or worse, be arrested. (Though usually, law enforcement officers prefer to issue warnings or small fines.) It goes without saying that it’s also illegal to climb the trees. If they sustain damage to their branches, they will never be able to grow new blossoms on that particular bough again.

7. The very first cherry trees to arrive in America were a complete disaster.

In 1909, Japan offered to send 2000 cherry trees to America as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. After all, just a few years earlier, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt had helped Japan negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese War. Despite the good intentions, the execution was disastrous. When the trees arrived in D.C. in January 1910, the trees were weak—due to overpruning of their roots—and they were also infested with wood-boring insects. Despite attempts to save them, the trees were ultimately thrown in a pile and burned.

Everyone was pretty embarrassed about the whole ordeal, but Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki made a joke to ease some of the tension. “To be honest about it, it has been an American tradition to destroy cherry trees ever since your first president, George Washington,” he said. “So there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, you should be feeling proud.” (Washington's cherry tree story turned out to be untrue, but we digress.) Another shipment of trees was sent, and by 1912, the healthy trees were successfully planted in D.C. by then-First Lady Helen Taft.

8. The cherry trees in one Dutch municipality have proper names.

Located in the largest park in the Netherlands, all 400 cherry blossom trees have proper names. Half of them have traditional Dutch women’s names, and the other half have Japanese women’s names. The Japan Women’s Club gifted the trees in 2000, and you can now find them at Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest) in the Amstelveen municipality.

9. Both the blossoms and leaves are edible.

Pocky snacks
Japan Crate

In Japan, no part of the cherry blossom tree goes to waste. The preserved leaves are used as edible mochi wrappers (a rice cake filled with sweet bean paste), and a number of seasonal snacks feature sakura as a key ingredient. Sakura-infused versions of Pepsi, Coke, tea, and even Starbucks lattes are all popular drinks. You can also find two varieties of Kit Kats—sakura and roasted soy bean, and sakura sake—as well as Pocky snack sticks that taste like sakura and matcha (green tea).

So what do cherry blossoms taste like? They have a “light, flowery, slightly cherry flavor,” according to Gabe Perez, social media director at Japan Crate, a subscription box service that ships many of the aforementioned snacks, plus other Japanese products, to customers.

10. They were the inspiration behind a record-setting LEGO sculpture.

LEGOLAND Japan, a theme park in Nagoya, set a Guinness World Record in 2018 for the largest LEGO brick cherry blossom tree ever made (although we’re not sure how much competition they had). The tree stood 14 feet tall, weighed over 7000 pounds, and consisted of more than 800,000 LEGO bricks.

Netflix Is Now Sharing Live Updates of Its Most Watched Movies and TV Shows

wutwhanfoto, iStock via Getty Images
wutwhanfoto, iStock via Getty Images

Netflix is notoriously protective of its viewership data. While the number of people sharing The Office memes or Stranger Things spoilers online indicate some shows are more popular than others, until recently, there were no real statistics to back up these trends. As Bloomberg reports, Netflix is making its biggest move yet toward transparency by sharing live updates of its top 10 shows and movies.

Now, when Netflix users search the site, they will see the most-viewed content on the platform that day. Under the TV Shows tab, Love Is Blind tops the list for viewership in the U.S. on Wednesday, February 26, followed by Narcos: Mexico and Locke & Key. As for movies, Netflix's own The Last Thing He Wanted (2020) starring Ben Affleck and Anne Hathaway is attracting the most viewers today. A Haunted House (2013) and Foreigner (2017) are listed in second and third place, respectively.

The new feature is a major change for Netflix, but it still leaves a lot of questions about its users' viewing habits unanswered. It's unclear how long a movie or television episode needs to be played to count as a "view," and there's still no data showing exactly how many people are watching these titles.

For now, this is the closest thing Netflix subscribers have to Nielsen-style TV ratings. You can check out the full lists of the most popular Netflix movies and TV shows in the U.S. on February 26 below.

Top 10 TV Shows on Netflix

  1. Love Is Blind
  1. Narcos: Mexico
  1. Locke & Key
  1. Gentefied
  1. The Office
  1. Better Call Saul
  1. Babies
  1. The Stranger
  1. I Am a Killer
  1. El Dragón: Return of a Warrior

Top 10 Movies on Netflix

  1. The Last Thing He Wanted
  1. A Haunted House
  1. The Foreigner
  1. Girl on the Third Floor
  1. To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You
  1. A Bad Moms Christmas
  1. Mr. Right
  1. The Other Guys
  1. The Grinch
  1. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

[h/t Bloomberg]

The 15 Greatest Movie Car Chases

Steve McQueen drives a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback in Bullitt (1968).
Steve McQueen drives a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback in Bullitt (1968).
Warner Bros.

The car chase is a time-honored, frequently practiced piece of the language of action cinema, and the rise in digital wizardry in filmmaking has only helped to bolster its place on the big screen. For many moviegoers there’s nothing more thrilling than watching two or more cars pushed to their absolute limit, whether on the open road or while weaving through crowded city streets. Many movies try to get it right, and lots do, but there are a select few who nail it on a masterpiece level. These are some of the greatest movie car chases ever staged.

1. Bullitt (1968)

For many film fans, Peter Yates's Bullitt is still the gold standard by which all other movie car chases are measured. The legendary showdown between Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang and the Dodge Charger occupied by a pair of men trying to kill him still holds up as a beautiful display of 1960s automotive muscle, in part because it doesn’t adhere to a predictable structure. Yes, the chase begins in the iconic hilly streets of San Francisco, but it ends out on a more open road, where the cars get to really show off some speed and, finally, some spectacular crashing. It’s that contrast between cramped and open, hilly and flat, that really puts the chase over the top.

2. The Italian Job (1969)

A lot of car chases rely on speed above all else to sell the action, whether it’s the speed of the cars or the speed of the editing or both. The Italian Job, a lighthearted heist film about a crew of British thieves (including Michael Caine) trying to get a big pile of gold bars into the Swiss Alps, certainly has speed going for it, but what makes its car chase particularly memorable is its palpable sense of humor. The idea of a trio of Mini Coopers zipping down stairs is funny enough, but then throw in things like a marriage ceremony, a stalled police car on a roof, and guys calmly steering through a pitch black tunnel like they’re on a Sunday drive, and you’ve got something unforgettable. The Italian Job doesn’t have the fastest car chase ever, but it certainly has one of the wittiest.

3. The French Connection (1971)

When producer Philip D’Antoni and director William Friedkin were gearing up to make The French Connection, D’Antoni had one particular demand: The film’s car chase had to top the one from Bullitt, which he had also produced. The two filmmakers brainstormed and eventually hit upon the idea of a car chasing an elevated train. After a few weeks of permit-free shooting on the streets of New York City, Friedkin had all the footage he needed to produce an all-time great action sequence. From the first-person camera perspectives to the obstacles under the train tracks to Gene Hackman’s screaming face, it packs just as much adrenaline today as it did in 1971.

4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

James Bond films were tailor-made for car chases featuring the sexiest vehicles of any given era, and nearly every film in the franchise has a chase scene worth remembering. We could do a whole list composed of nothing but great Bond car chases, but if pressed to pick just one we have to talk about the merry procession of pursuers in The Spy Who Loved Me’s centerpiece chase. In a sleek Lotus Esprit, Roger Moore's Bond and Russian Agent Amasova (Barbara Bach) are chased first by a motorcycle with a killer sidecar, then by a car carrying new villain Jaws, then by a helicopter. It’s this last obstacle that proves particularly tricky, but Bond’s always got one more trick than the bad guys, and this time the trick turned out to be that his Lotus was amphibious. Yes, this is the movie where the car turns into a submarine, and that’s something no one who saw The Spy Who Loved Me will ever forget.

5. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

No discussion of great movie car chases is complete without Smokey and the Bandit, the film that made the Pontiac Trans Am an essential part of American pop culture forever. Hal Needham’s classic road movie is packed with wonderful car moments and great stunts, so much so that it’s difficult to pin down just one as the best part of the film. The task is made more difficult by the sheer amount of swagger that exists in the film between Burt Reynolds's performance and Needham’s direction. Even when the danger is dialed up to 11, the film is so breezy and light that you almost forgot someone could die doing this kind of driving. The jump across Mulberry Bridge feels like a perfect encapsulation of these seemingly opposing ideas, as Bandit quips “that’s not good” upon seeing the roadblock and then “That’s worse” upon seeing troopers speeding up from the other direction. It’s a brilliant blend of comedy and great stunt work.

6. The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Blues Brothers, the John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd vehicle that remains one of the most successful Saturday Night Live sketch adaptations of all time, leans heavily on a sense of outsized action that runs through the whole film. The story is ostensibly about a pair of well-meaning guys who just want to earn some extra money to save the orphanage they grew up in, but along the way they run into explosions and car chases that they have to somewhat calmly steer through on their way to fulfill a relatively simple “Mission from God.” The film has not one, but two great chases that lean into the lunacy of this, and while the early chase through the mall is a masterpiece, the sheer cartoonish absurdity of the final pursuit through the streets of Chicago is the one most people remember. It’s just too zany to forget.

7. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Only one director has the honor of being on this list twice: William Friedkin, who masterminded the car chase in The French Connection and then somehow produced another all-timer more than a decade later. To Live and Die in L.A. is not a masterpiece in the same way that The French Connection is, but its centerpiece chase scene—in which a pair of Secret Service agents flee two gunmen after an operation gone wrong—is a masterpiece for the 1980s in the same way the train versus car chase was for the 1970s. What begins with weaving through trucks in an industrial area soon explodes out onto L.A.’s freeways, and culminates in some of the most daring driving ever captured on film.

8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

While it’s always fun to see two classic muscle cars zipping around each other on the road, The French Connection taught us early that contrast is often the key to a thrilling chase. James Cameron took that lesson to heart and poured it into this thrilling sequence in T2, in which the T-1000 hijacks a tow truck to chase John Connor and his weak little motorcycle through a puddle-filled channel. The sound design impeccably plays up the contrast through the engine noise alone, until the truck becomes a full-blown monster raging through the concrete path, throwing sparks as it goes. The climactic moments, featuring the T-800 on yet another motorcycle, only serve to further play up the juxtapositions of the scene in a very fun way.

9. Ronin (1998)

Sometimes the best car chases are the ones that don’t feature cool cars and even cooler characters, and for proof you can look at John Frankenheimer’s Ronin and its masterful centerpiece chase. The two cars involved are relatively unremarkable, but Frankenheimer dials up the intensity through everyone from the use of tunnels and bridges to little details like hubcaps spinning off in the middle of turns. Even more remarkable than the car chase itself, though, is the way the sequence works as a character piece to really emphasize the danger. No one in either car looks like they’re having a good time, and Robert De Niro looks practically freaked out in a lot of the shots. It all adds to the sensation that everything could go horribly wrong at any moment, which only makes it more thrilling.

10. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

When you think “spy movie” in the context of car chases, you tend to think of the slickest possible presentation and the coolest possible car. It’s playing against those sorts of conventions that makes the Moscow chase sequence in The Bourne Supremacy so effective. Anchored by the intensity of Matt Damon’s performance and Paul Greengrass’s handheld camera style, the chase plays like a montage of desperation as Bourne flees his pursuers in a beat-up taxi cab while nursing a shoulder wound. We know Jason Bourne’s not going to day, but watching this chase you still get the feeling that you’re not sure which will give out first: Bourne’s body or the taxi.

11. Death Proof (2007)

Quentin Tarantino has been remixing classic genre tropes and moments from his vast knowledge of cinema throughout his entire career, so he was bound to get around to doing a car chase eventually. Tarantino’s definitive chase sequence finally arrived in Death Proof, and it’s perhaps most notable not because of Tarantino’s ability to play with genre conventions, but his ability to adhere to them. It plays in many ways like a classic car chase straight out of the 1970s, and it works as a moment of pure adrenaline because Tarantino shoots it like one. His unflinching camera simply refuses to give the scene a break, reminding us over and over again that what we’re watching is as real, and as exciting, as it gets.

12. Fast Five (2011)

The Fast & Furious franchise is renowned for its ability to up the ante with new car stunts in every single installment, to the point that in the last film the central ensemble was literally chasing a submarine across the ice. Even as the set pieces get bigger, though, the climactic vault heist from Fast Five remains a high water mark for many fans. The setup is fairly simple: Brian and Dom yank a massive vault out of its housing then drive it through the streets of Rio in matching Dodge Chargers. What makes it truly special is the many ways in which the sequence evolves through little details, from the vault tearing through a line of pylons as soon as it hits the streets to Brian backing his car into the vault to drive backwards for a while. It’s a gem in a series full of gems.

13. Drive (2011)

Though it might sound counterintuitive, patience is often just as important to crafting a good car chase as speed is. It’s all about the setup, the context, the various elements that tell a story without words, and few films grasp that concept as well as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The film’s opening sequence, in which The Driver (Ryan Gosling) lays out his rules for work and then picks up a pair of armed robbers for a getaway through the streets of Los Angeles, is a masterclass in patience. From the moments of parked tension to the clever culmination, it’s all about waiting for the right moment and then unleashing that horsepower.

14. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Up until a few years ago, George Miller’s The Road Warrior would have been the Mad Max film to include on this list thanks to its wild and brutal chase sequences. Then came Mad Max: Fury Road, Miller’s fourth film in the franchise and perhaps the greatest action movie to come out of the 2010s. The film is essentially one long car chase, pausing only once in a while to set up the next big chunk of driving, so it’s hard to pin down just one “chase” as the masterpiece. For now, though, let’s just say the sequence when Immortan Joe’s War Boys start to swing down at our heroes from poles is the most thrilling part.

15. Baby Driver (2017)

Many, many films incorporate pop music needle drops into their biggest action sequences, but few have ever done it quite as intricately as Baby Driver. Edgar Wright’s action film about a getaway driver who does his best work when his music is blasting combines the speed and thrills of classic car chases with the cinematic language of the movie musical to create something magical. There are several wonderful chase sequences in Baby Driver, but it arguably never gets better than the film’s instantly magnetic opening sequence, set to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

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