Stumpy mania sweeps D.C. in cherry tree’s final weeks at Tidal Basin

Stumpy, a hollow cherry tree located on the south bank of the Tidal Basin in Washington, has become a local celebrity — boosted even more in recent days by news that its time is running out. The stump-shaped tree will be removed during construction of a new sea wall on the south side of the Tidal Basin that begins this spring.

During its last full bloom, visitors and organizations are honoring and celebrating the now-famous tree.

“Stumpy was quietly emerging as a Tidal Basin rock star before the news of his demise; now he has attained superstar status as the public has connected with his struggles as the ‘Little Cherry Tree that Could,’” Credit Union Cherry Blossom Event Director Phil Stewart said in an email.

Michael Harper, assistant principal trumpet for the National Symphony Orchestra, traveled Wednesday to the Tidal Basin in Southwest Washington for an “arboreal serenade.”

“I heard about little Stumpy a few days ago, and I knew I had to pay him a visit on his final bloom before he meets the ax,” Harper said in an email.

Doug Smith, who visited Stumpy on Monday from Mount Airy, Md., said the fanfare around the tree can be explained by everyone’s love of a “good underdog story.” He described fans who snapped paparazzi-like photos or laid flowers at the tree’s roots.

“Stumpy strikes a deep chord within everyone who has ever felt like an underdog, trying so hard just to be good enough,” Smith said. That’s why “everyone loves Stumpy and wants to see him saved.”

On Tuesday afternoon, a life-size Stumpy mascot for the Credit Union Cherry Blossom events group visited the Tidal Basin to pose for photos and videos.

During the visit, the mascot was mobbed by people wanting pictures and children on field trips who wanted to meet Stumpy.

John Hall, the man wearing the mascot costume, said, “Mascots have a special way of lighting up the people around them.”

At the Lego Discovery Center in Springfield, Va., Stumpy appeared in full bloom, constructed entirely in Lego — as were the Tidal Basin, Jefferson Memorial and National Mall.

Mike Litterst, a spokesperson for the National Mall and Memorial Parks — whose son, Andrew, made the Lego builds — 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.

The sea wall project will begin in May, and Stumpy is among about 300 trees that will be cut down this year. Replanting mature trees is costly and challenging, Litterst said, particularly given the number of trees — and Stumpy is so frail that it probably wouldn’t survive replanting.

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.

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