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‘Stumpy’ the iconic DC cherry tree to be turned into mulch

Story at a glance


  • Rising sea level and sinking seawalls have led to twice-a-day flooding around the Tidal Basin, leaving behind mud and debris.

  • Stumpy, which is in the flood area, has continued to bloom despite its trunk decaying. That resilience has served as a symbol of hope for many who visit during peak bloom.

  • The National Park Service (NPS) said Wednesday that construction on seawalls guarding areas of the Potomac River will begin in May, forcing the removal of 140 Japanese cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, including the one affectionately known as Stumpy.

WASHINGTON (WDCW) – The National Park Service (NPS) said Wednesday that construction on seawalls guarding areas of the Potomac River will begin in May, forcing the removal of 140 Japanese cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, including the one affectionately known as Stumpy.

“Stumpy is a climate change story,” said Mike Litterst, spokesperson for the National Mall. “His appearance is due to the climate change. The only way we can fix the problem caused by that climate change is to repair the seawall.”

Rising sea level and sinking seawalls have led to twice-a-day flooding around the Tidal Basin, leaving behind mud and debris. The flood water also inundates trees planted along the seawall, killing them.

Stumpy, which is in the flood area, has continued to bloom despite its trunk decaying. That resilience has served as a symbol of hope for many who visit during peak bloom. The tree shot to fame on Reddit in 2020 when a user posted a pic captioned “This tree a little aways from Jefferson memorial is as dead as my love life, but I love it!”

“I did not know about little Stumpy. I’m heartbroken to hear. It’s so beautiful to see cherry blossoms, or soon-to-be cherry blossoms, blooming out of that stump,” said Preeti Sethi, who lives in Washington.

Tourist Lynn Sa agreed.

“It is a stump, but look, there’s cherry blossoms growing out of it. It deserves to live,” said Sa, who was visiting from Boston.

NPS said that the cherry trees are among more than 300 trees in total that crews will need to remove between the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the FDR Memorial as part of the project.

The removed trees will be turned into mulch and used around the National Mall. When the mulch breaks down into soil the nutrients will help other trees, keeping their legacy alive.

Crews will replant 455 trees after the construction is finished in 2027. That includes 274 cherry trees.

NPS said in a statement that it took precautions to minimize the number of trees that had to be removed and considered tree locations and topography.

Construction in 2024 will not affect the National Cherry Blossom Festival which will be held from March 20 through April 14.

The Tidal Basin trails will remain open throughout construction, but there may be some temporary pedestrian detours.

The trails along the river often fall victim to flooding from seawall damage, prompting closures. Built in the late 1800s to early 1900s, the seawalls have suffered from rising sea levels and poor drainage. Some portions have settled as much as five feet, according to the statement.

“The seawalls are no longer structurally sound and threaten visitor safety and the historic setting, including the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin,” the statement said.

Plans for the project include the reconstruction of 6,800 feet of seawall, anchoring the seawall in bedrock, raising the basin and widening walkways. The three-year plan to revitalize the Tidal Basin and West Potomac Park is funded through the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), passed in August 2020.

The GAOA website says that the project will expand recreation and public opportunities, improve public safety in areas with high visitation, and reduce the costs of annual operation and emergency repairs.

This project represents an investment of more than $113 million from the GAOA, the bill’s largest project funded in D.C. to date. The National Park Service plans to pour $500 million into the areas surrounding the National Mall before July 2026 in celebration of the 250th anniversary of American independence.

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