Cherry trees, a gift of friendship to the U.S. from Japan, originated in 1912.
In Japan, cherry blossom trees or sakura (さくら→ 桜) is the national flower and it’s blooming symbolises the start of Spring.
Here is a fun timeline of DC’s cherry blossom history.
Mrs. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, upon returning from Japan proposed that cherry trees be planted one day along the reclaimed Potomac waterfront
Dr. David Fairchild imported 75 flowering cherry trees and 25 single-flowered weeping types from the Yokohama Nursery Company in Japan and planted them on a hillside on his own property in Chevy Chase, Maryland
The Fairchilds began to promote Japanese flowering cherry trees as the ideal type of tree to plant along avenues in the Washington area
Dr. Fairchild gave cherry saplings to children from each D.C. (public) school to plant in their schoolyard for the observance of Arbor Day. He refers to Eliza Scidmore as a great authority on Japan.
Mrs. Scidmore decided to tried to raise money to buy cherry trees and donate them to the city. She sent a note to the new first lady, Helen Herron Taft, to which the first lady responded two days later
- April 8 | Dr. Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese chemist, offered a donation of 2,000 cherry trees to be given in the name of the City of Tokyo. First Lady Taft accepted
- April 13 | Colonel Spencer Cosby, Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, Us Army, initiated the purchase of 90 Fugenzo Cherry Trees. The trees were planted along the Potomac River from the site of the Lincoln Memorial but the trees were not named correctly and have since disappeared
- August 30 | The Japanese Embassy informed the Department of State that the City of Tokyo intended to donate 2,000 cherry trees to be planted along the Potomac River
- December 10 | 2,000 cherry trees arrived in Seattle, Washington from Japan
- January 6 | the 2,000 trees arrived in Washington, D.C.
- January 19 | a Department of Agriculture inspection team discovered that the trees were infested with insects and nematodes, and were diseased
- January 28 | President William Howard Taft granted his consent to burn the trees
- January 29 | the Evening Star reported that a dozen trees were saved and planted out in the experimental plot of the bureau for further study. Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki suggested a second donation be made in the number of 3,020 cherry trees.
- February 14 | twelve varieties of cherry trees from were shipped from Yokohama on board the S.S. Awa Maru, bound for Seattle
- March 26 | the 3,020 cherry trees arrived in Washington, D.C. of the following varieties
- (1,800) Somei-Yoshino
- (100) Ari ake
- (120) Fugen-zo
- (50) Fuku-roku-ju
- (20) Gyo-i-ko, all planted on the White House Grounds
- (160) Ichiyo
- (80) Jonioi
- (350) Kwan-zan
- (20) Mikurumagayeshi
- (130) Shira-yuki
- (50) Surugadainioi
- (130) Takinioi
- March 27 | Helen Herron Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted two Yoshino cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin and the first lady presented a bouquet of “American Beauty” roses to Viscountess Chinda. This was the start of Washington’s renowned National Cherry Blossom Festival
＊the two original trees still stand with a large bronze plaque which commemorates the occasion at their bases
🌸1913 - 1920
Workmen continued planting Yoshino trees around the Tidal Basin.
The other remaining varieties were planted in East Potomac Park
- April 16 | the original planting of Japanese cherry trees was commemorated by a re-enactment of the event by D.C. school children
The District of Columbia Commissioners sponsored a three-day celebration
The first “Cherry Blossom Festival” was jointly sponsored by many civic groups and became an annual event
A group of women chained themselves together near cherry blossoms in a political protest against President Franklin D. Roosevelt
This protest resulted in a compromise wherein more trees would be planted along the south side of the Tidal Basin to frame the Jefferson memorial.
the Cherry Blossom Pageant was introduced
- December 11 | 4 cherry trees were cut down in suspected retaliation for the Japanese attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Since it was never substantiated. trees were referred to as the “Oriental” flowering cherry trees to prevent future damage during the Second World War
Cherry Blossom princesses were selected from each State of the Union and federal territory.
From these princesses, a queen was chosen to reign during the festival.
Japan requested help to restore the grove where the parent stock for Washington’s first trees, in the famed cherry tree grove along the Arakawa River near Tokyo had fallen into decline during World War II
The National Park Service shipped budwood from descendants of those same trees back to Tokyo in an effort to restore the original site
- March 30 | Sadao Iguchi, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, presented a 300-year-old Japanese Stone Lantern to the City of Washington to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce between the United States and Japan signed by Commodore Mathew Perry at Yokohama on March 31, 1854. The lantern, made of granite, is eight feet high and weighs approximately two tons. The National Cherry Blossom Festival officially is opened by the lighting of the lantern.
Mr. Yositaka Mikimoto, President of Mikimoto Pearls, Inc., donated the Mikimoto Pearl Crown that is used at the coronation of the National Cherry Blossom Festival Queen on the night of the Grand Ball.
The crown contains more than two pounds of gold and has 1,585 pearls and because of its weight the young lady crowned Queen will only wear the famous piece for just a few moments
- April 18 | a Japanese Pagoda was presented as a gift to the City of Washington, D.C. by the Mayor of Yokohama in the spirit of friendship and placed on the southwest bank of the Tidal Basin
another generous gift of 3,800 Yoshino trees was made by the Japanese government to Lady Bird Johnson, another first lady devoted to the beautification of Washington
Lady Bird Johnson and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife of Japan’s Ambassador, reenacted the planting ceremony of 1912
about 800 cuttings from the Tidal Basin Yoshino trees were collected by Japanese horticulturists to retain the genetic characteristics of the trees and replace trees destroyed in Japan when the course of a river was changed
🌸1986 ~ 1988
676 new cherry trees were planted at a cost of over $101,000
funds were donated to the National Park Service to restore the number of trees to what they were at the time of the original gift
the National Cherry Blossom Festival was expanded from one week to two weeks
- March 27 | the Sister River Agreement – between the Potomac of Washington, D.C. and the Arakawa from the scenic Mt. Kobushi in Saitama Prefecture – was signed
- June 17 | cuttings were taken from the 1912 Yoshino cherry trees shipment to ensure preservation of the trees’ genetic lineage and genetic heritage of the grove
- November 15 | 50 trees, propagated from the 1,400+ year old “Usuzumi” cherry tree growing in the village of Itasho Neo in Gifu Prefecture of Japan, were planted in West Potomac Park. The “Usuzumi” tree is a National Treasure of Japan since 1922
🌸2002 ~ 2006
400 trees, propagated from the surviving trees from the 1912 donation, were planted to ensure that the genetic lineage of the original trees is continued
about 120 propagates from the surviving 1912 trees around the Tidal Basin were collected and sent back to Japan’s Cherry Blossom Association to retain the genetic lineage
cuttings were taken from the trees throughout the Tidal Basin and West Potomac Park to be propagated at a nursery and will be planted in 5-6 years once the trees are large enough to be transplanted
Info cited from U.S. National Park Service