During our son’s end of March break from school, we decided it was time to take a family trip to Washington D.C. The original idea was to go to introduce our teenage son to the U.S. history of the place, but quite by accident, spring break this year perfectly coincided with the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the peak of bloom. Even though I had not been to Washington D.C. since I was my son’s age, I knew there were cherry trees planted around. Until I saw them in full bloom, I really didn’t realize how many there were and the spectacle that awaited.  I was in awe.

A Brief History of the Washington D.C. Cherry Trees

In 1912, cherry trees were given as gift from the People of Japan to the People of the United States of America, but the story started long before and continued long after this ceremonial date.

After her first visit to Japan, a diplomat and world traveler named Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, proposed in 1885, that cherry trees be planted in the areas being created along the Potomac River. A huge dredging project removed over 12 million cubic yards of material out of the Potomac River onto the tidal flats creating Potomac Park surrounding the Tidal Basin. Mrs. Scidmore pursued this idea for the next 24 years.

An official from the USDA imported flowering cherries from Japan in 1906 to test their hardiness in the Washington D.C. climate. After they were proved to thrive, Eliza Scidmore wrote to First Lady, Helen Taft, in 1909 and received her promise of cooperation.  A day later, a Japanese chemist, Dr. Jokichi Takamine, visiting the Japan consul in New York, heard the idea and offered two thousand trees. Upon his return to Tokyo, he asked the mayor for his support in sending this gift of cherry trees to the United States. Two thousand cherry trees made their way from Japan to arrive in Seattle, Washington in December of that year and arrived in Washington D.C. in January of 1910.

Sadly, an inspection by the Department of Agriculture revealed that the trees were infested with multiple pests and all, except a few kept under guard for plant pest studies, were burned to destroy the problem. Letters of regret were met with determination to try again and this time 3,020 healthy cherry trees, including 12 varieties, arrived from Japan in March of 1912. Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, and first lady, Helen Taft, planted the first two trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin on March 27, 1912 and National Cherry Blossom Festival bloomed from this simple ceremony.

Not the original trees, but some very old survivors

A Shared History of Conservation

The trees have been a part of a cycle of giving and conservation between the two countries several times since they were first planted. During the Second World War, the health of the original cherry grove in Japan that parented the first trees sent to the United States, fell into decline. In 1952, the National Park Service worked on a conservation effort and sent back budwood cuttings from the original trees to help restore the population.

In 1965, another gift of 3800 Yoshino cherry trees arrived from the Japanese Government and many of these were planted on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

In 1982, approximately 800 cuttings were collected from the trees in Washington D.C. and sent back to Japan to restore some of the Yoshino cherry population that was killed during a flood.

Yoshino cherry trees have an average lifespan of about 40 years and as trees declined or died, replacements for the Washington D.C. grove had originally been sourced from commercial nurseries. In 1997, the U.S. National Arboretum took cuttings from the remaining documented original 1912 Yoshino cherry trees to preserve them since they had already doubled the average lifespan and would not last forever. Between 2002 and 2006, four hundred of these young clones of the originals, were planted to preserve what remained of the original genes and in 2011, another 120 pieces from the original 1912 trees were sent back to Japan to preserve the genetics back in their home country.

In 2016, more cuttings were made from the trees within West Potomac Park and the Tidal Basin that should now be young trees ready to plant out when needed.

The 2022 Cherry Blossom Festival is now over in Washington D.C., but several cherries that will survive in Northeast Ohio are either in bloom or about to start blooming. Enjoy our beautiful spring blooms and maybe contemplate a future trip to the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Dawn Gerlica

Dawn Gerlica

Senior Horticulturist

Dawn Gerlica has worked at HF&G in varying capacities since 1987. She has worked under various titles, including: Seasonal, Field Botanist, and now, Horticulturist, responsible for the grounds at Lantern Court. Dawn attended Hiram College where she minored in Environmental Studies while earning a degree in Biology.

Media Kit

Logos, images, B-roll footage and brand guidelines.

View kit

Get in Touch

Margs Cook Communication Specialist Email

What can we help you find?

Return to site

TOMORROW: 20220524 00:00 | 1653350400

Debug info for popularity tracking: Disable within popularity-tracking.php file once ready.

Time: 1653264000 / Saved: 1653177600

Views (7 day(s) ago): 14

Views (6 day(s) ago): 10

Views (5 day(s) ago): 4

Views (4 day(s) ago): 10

Views (3 day(s) ago): 5

Views (2 day(s) ago): 2

Views (1 day(s) ago): 7

Views (Today): 1