Blossoms that keep on giving…


A whole lot more on the cherry trees of DC ….

The quest to have cherry trees in DC started in earnest in 1908, when Dr. David Fairchild, described as a  "plant explorer" and an official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave cherry saplings to each school in Washington DC to be planted in their schoolyards on Arbor Day.

In 1909 money was privately raised to purchase cherry trees and donate them to the city.  The First Lady, Helen Taft made suggestions of where they should be planted and basically took up the cause….  Dr. Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese chemist who discovered adrenaline and takadiastase was in Washington and when he heard that we were to have Japanese cherry trees he asked Mrs Taft if she would accept a donation of an additional 2,000 trees which would be given in the name of the City of Tokyo.  Of course the First Lady agreed.

Ninety Cherry Trees were purchased with donated funds and planted along the Potomac River in April 1909 from the Lincoln Memorial southward.  (these trees are no longer there).

On December 10th 1909,  2,000 cherry trees arrived in Seattle from Japan – they were then shipped to DC arriving on Jan 6th 1910.  For some reason they were not opened and inspected until January 19th!  It was then that the Department of Agriculture discovered that the trees were infested with nematodes and diseased.  Presidential permission was sought to burn the trees and on January 28th President William Taft gave his consent and the trees were burnt.  

Despite this setback Dr Takamine was still determined that DC should have Japanese cherry trees and so he again donated money and increased the number of trees to 3,020. 

The scions for these trees were taken in December 1910 from a collection of trees along the Arakawa River in Adachi Ward (in Tokyo) and grafted onto specially selected understock.

On February 14th, 1912,  3,020 cherry trees from twelve varieties were shipped from Yokohama to Seattle. After arriving in Seattle they were put into insulated freight cars and shipped to DC arriving here on March 26th.  And, the first two trees were planted the next day.

In 1934 the District of Columbia Commissioners sponsored a three-day celebration and in 1935 the first "Cherry Blossom Festival"  was held.

 In 1938 a group of women chained themselves together to protest the removal of cherry trees for the construction of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

On December 11th, 1941 four cherry trees were cut down in suspected retaliation for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In an attempt to prevent further damage for the duration of WWII the trees were referred to as "Oriental"  flowering cherry trees. 

In 1952 the National Park Service donated budwood from the trees to Tokyo to help restore the cherry tree grove along the Arakawa River which had declined during WWII. 

On April 1958 a rough stone Japanese Pagoda was presented to the City of Washington by the mayor of Yokohama. 

In 1982, 800 cuttings were collected from the Tidal Basin trees, by Japanese horticulturists to retain the genetic characteristics of the trees and to replace trees that had been destroyed in Japan.  

Between 1986 and 1988,   676 new cherry trees, financed with private funds were planted to restore the number of trees to the original 3,020.

On June 17th 1997;  cuttings were taken from the surviving trees of 1912 and have been documented and preserved at the National Arboretum. These will be used in subsequent replacement plantings to preserve the genetic heritage and lineage of the grove. 

 Basically the sun will never go down on these Japanese Cherry Blossom trees. 


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51 responses

  1. This was absolutely fascinating. As I read I wondered what happened to the cherry trees in Japan during WWII…and you told us. It's actually a comfort to know the cuttings have been preserved so the trees will keep blooming in Japan and DC too. If you ever make it to St. Louis, be sure and visit the Botanical Garden, where they celebrate a Japanese festival every year.

  2. Gorgeous photos with touching history behind that I did not know so in detail as a Japanese! Thank you for sharing!
    Here in Japan, cherry blossom season is very special. It is the time of a start of almost everything—of a new school year, of new employees' commencement of working, and even of a new fiscal year. So many Japanese cherish our memories of new starts with cherry blossoms blooming near then.
    How is your foot by the way?

  3. Gorgeous photos! I was born in Washington DC, but my family moved from there when I was a baby. My mom has often described the beautiful cherry tree blossoms there….thanks for giving me a great picture! The history lesson was also very interesting! I'll pass that on to my mom. 🙂

  4. thank god that one president who chopped down a cherry tree when he was young was not around or he would have lots of work and lots of confessions to make!Love your photos and it is good you were not in Italy for the earthquakes!they are so peaceful those trees in bloom, I will have to wait for the cherry trees around here to bloom but it snowed today

  5. What beautiful photos Emjay, thanks for the history lesson, I wish I was at school now, I would be much more receptive to learning now than when I was 18.

  6. I LOVE the DC cherry trees, even though I've only had the chance to see them up close and personal once. I visited DC in the early spring many years ago, on my own, and checked out cherry trees, museums and restaurants. I stayed at a very nice and relatively inexpensive bed and breakfast within walking distance of one of the subway stops. Lovely excursion! Thanks for the memories.

  7. I can imagine waves of cherry blossoms across Japan accompanied by the lovely perfume. The blossoms look so delicate but they must be quite tough to survive frosts and winds here. Thank you for asking about my foot – it is doing quite well now. It was tired at the end of this day as we walked about 4 miles.

  8. LOL – that's funny about the president and the cherry tree! It would've taken quite a while to chop that many trees down. I'm sure you are getting sick of winter by now! When your trees bloom take photos! 🙂

  9. Thank you Maju. I found the history of these trees really interesting. There was also a lady named Eliza Ruhamah Scidmor who had tried to get the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds to purchase cherry trees for about 24 years from 1885. Hopefully she was still alive to see these trees planted.

  10. Thank you 🙂 It is interesting to think of you learning this at school – I'm not sure that many American children learn this at school (maybe local children do).

  11. Well, I think I'm the only one in the group who lived in Japan so I best keep my mouth shut, lol. I knew the history of the DC trees, though not as intimately as you presented; I hadn't known they renamed them the "Oriental trees."

  12. Thank you for posting beautiful photos and a fascinating story. I didn't know so much effort (and money) has been put to keep the same gene of the cherry trees survive for 100 years! Someday, I want to see them with my own eyes.

  13. LOL – I'm sure that in Japan there are many spectacular displays. I was really interested to learn that they have preserved "bits" of them to ensure the lineage and heritage of those original trees is maintained.

  14. Cherry blossoms, sakura, are an ancient cultural art and symbol. There are stories of garden parties held at the emperor's home timed when the blossoms are at their finest and sweetest peak and of course the blossoms are everywhere in their art, from their gorgeous fabrics to paintings to poetry to woodblock to, naturally, photographs. As a culture, the Japanese are far far far more tuned into seasons than Americans (who are cultural numbskulls), the epitome of which, I think, is expressed in their enjoyment and honoring of sakura. It does not surprise me a bit that that Japanese fellow would make another attempt to bring the trees here.

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