Friday, May 24, 2013
In 1912, more 3,000 cherry trees were donated as a gift of friendship to the People of the United States from the People of Japan. In Japan, the flowering cherry tree, or "Sakura," is an exalted flowering plant. The beauty of the cherry blossom is a potent symbol equated with the evanescence of human life and epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture throughout the ages. Every spring, the cherry blossom trees grace the National Mall with their blooms, bringing a sense of renewal to the city and drawing more than 1 million annual visitors.
1885: Mrs. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, upon returning to Washington from her first visit to Japan, approached the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, with the proposal that cherry trees be planted one day along the reclaimed Potomac waterfront. Her request fell on deaf ears. Over the next twenty-four years, Mrs. Scidmore approached every new superintendent, but her idea met with no success.
1909: Mrs. Scidmore decided to try to raise the money required to purchase the cherry trees and then donate them to the city. As a matter of course, Mrs. Scidmore sent a note outlining her plan to the new first lady, Helen Herron Taft. Mrs. Taft had lived in Japan and was familiar with the beauty of the flowering cherry trees.
April 8: Dr. Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese chemist who discovered adrenaline and takadiastase, was in Washington with Mr. Midzuno, Japanese consul in New York. When he was told that Washington was to have Japanese cherry trees planted, he asked whether Mrs. Taft would accept a donation of an additional two thousand trees to fill out the area. Mr. Midzuno thought it was a fine idea and suggested that the trees be given in the name of the City of Tokyo. Dr. Takamine and Mr. Midzuno met with the first lady, who accepted the offer of the 2,000 trees.
August 30: The Japanese Embassy informed the Department of State that the City of Tokyo intended to donate to the United States two thousand cherry trees to be planted along the Potomac River.
1910: On January 6, the two thousand trees arrived in Washington, D.C.
January 19: To everyone's dismay, an inspection team from the Department of Agriculture discovered that the trees were infested with insects and nematodes, and were diseased. To protect American growers, the department concluded that the trees must be destroyed.
January 28: President William Howard Taft granted his consent to burn the trees.
The probable diplomatic setback was alleviated by letters from the Secretary of State to the Japanese Ambassador expressing the deep regret of all concerned. Dr. Takamine and the Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, met the distressing news with determination and good will.
Dr. Takamine again donated the money for the trees, whose number had been increased to 3,020. The scions for these trees were taken in December 1910 from the famous collection along the bank of the Arakawa River in Adachi Ward, a suburb of Tokyo, and grafted onto specially selected understock produced in Itami City, Hyogo Prefecture.
1912: February 14, 3,020 cherry trees from twelve varieties were shipped from Yokohama on board the S.S. Awa Maru, bound for Seattle. Upon arrival, they were transferred to insulated freight cars for the shipment to Washington. D.C.
March 26: 3,020 cherry trees arrived in Washington, D.C.
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, about 125 feet south of what is now Independence Avenue, SW. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the first lady presented a bouquet of "American Beauty" roses to Viscountess Chinda. Washington's renowned National Cherry Blossom Festival grew from this simple ceremony, witnessed by just a few persons. These two original trees still stand several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones Memorial, located at the terminus of 17th Street, SW. Situated near the bases of the trees is a large bronze plaque which commemorates the occasion.
1935: The first "Cherry Blossom Festival" was sponsored jointly by many civic groups and became an annual event in subsequent years.
1938: So prominent were the cherry trees that a group of indignant women chained themselves together near them in a political statement against President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They sought to stop the workmen who were preparing to clear ground for the construction of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. A compromise was reached wherein more trees would be planted along the south side of the Tidal Basin to frame the memorial.
1941: December 11, four cherry trees were cut down in suspected retaliation for the Japanese attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The exact reason for the vandalism never was substantiated. In hopes of preventing future damage during the Second World War, the trees were referred to as the "Oriental" flowering cherry trees.
1965: The Japanese Government made another generous gift of 3,800 Yoshino trees to another first lady devoted to the beautification of Washington, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. American-grown this time, many of these are planted on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Lady Bird Johnson and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife of Japan's Ambassador, reenacted the planting ceremony of 1912.
1997: June 17, in cooperation with the United States National Arboretum, cuttings were taken from the surviving 1912 Yoshino cherry trees shipment to ensure preservation of the trees' genetic lineage. These trees will be used in subsequent replacement plantings to preserve the genetic heritage of the grove.
2002 - 2006: Four hundred trees, propagated from the surviving trees from the 1912 donation, were planted to ensure that the genetic lineage of the original trees is continued.
2010: The Trust for the National Mall became the official steward of the Cherry Tree Endowment Fund. Click here to make a contribution.
Types of Trees
The initial gift of 3,020 trees was represented by twelve varieties of which two, the Yoshino and Kwanzan, now dominate.
The Yoshino cherry tree is the predominant variety that encircles the Tidal Basin and spills north onto the Washington Monument grounds. The Yoshino trees produce a great profusion of single white blossoms that create the effect of white clouds banked around the basin. The Yoshino, known as Somei-yoshino in Japan, is a hybrid of unknown origin that first was introduced in Tokyo in 1872 and is now one of the more popular cultivated flowering cherries. Mingled with the Yoshino trees are a small number of the Akebono cherry trees, a mutation of the Yoshino tree with single, pale-pink blossoms, introduced into cultivation by W.B. Clarke of California in 1920. The Akebono tree flowers at the same time as the Yoshino and provides an attractive tint of pink in the early stages of the peak bloom.
The Kwanzan cherry tree, named after a mountain in Japan, is growing primarily in East Potomac Park. Coming into bloom two weeks later than the Yoshino, the upright Kwanzan branches bear heavy clusters of clear pink double blossoms. The cultivars Fugenzo (double, rosy pink flowers) and Shirofugen (double white when open but aging to pink) also are represented. Fugenzo is the cultivar Mrs. Helen Herron Taft believed she planted even before she officially planted the first tree from Japan in 1912. They were planted along the Potomac River from the present site of the Lincoln Memorial southward toward East Potomac Park; they gradually disappeared. As First Lady, Mrs. Taft became interested in the beautification of a particular Potomac Park area, known then as the "Speedway" surrounding the Tidal Basin.
The Weeping Japanese Cherry tree, sometimes called the Higan cherry tree, is interspersed among the Yoshino, Akebono, and Kwanzan trees. The flowers of the Weeping Cherry are variable, giving rise to many different forms (single to double) and flower colors (dark pink to white). They flower about one week before the Yoshino trees.
Other selections include the Autumn Flowering Cherry tree (semi-double, pink flowers), Sargent Cherry tree (single, deep pink flowers), the Usuzumi Cherry tree (white-grey flowers), and Takesimensis Cherry tree.
History courtesy of the National Park Service. To learn more, visit ww.nps.gov.
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