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The Cherry Blossom Festival – The Very Beginning

Japanese Cherry Trees around the National Monument

The Cherry Blossoms are predicted to open around March 18th (& peak between the 20th-23rd-updated) this year for the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival. ?This is the 100th Anniversary of the planting of the Japanese Cherry Trees. Everyone loves and anticipates this beautiful event – but do you know how it all began?

Whose idea was it originally?

1885: Mrs. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore after her first visit to Japan came up with the idea. She proposed to the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds that cherry trees be planted one day along the reclaimed Potomac waterfront. Her request was ignored. No one listened for the next 24 years, superintendent after superintendent. In 1909, the First Lady, Mrs. Taft, finally accepted a donation of trees from Dr. Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese chemist who discovered adrenaline and takadiastase, who was in Washington with Mr. Midzuno, Japanese consul in New York – with the help of the very tenacious Mrs. Scidmore who never gave up her cherry tree mission.

The first Japanese Cherry trees planted in the area en masse were actually in Chevy Chase.

In 1906 Dr. David Fairchild, plant explorer and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture official, imported 75 single-flowered cherry trees and 25 single-flowered weeping types from the Yokohama Nursery Company in Japan. He planted these on his own property in Chevy Chase, Maryland to test their hardiness – which was a great success. The next year the Chevy Chase Land Company ordered 300 Oriental cherry trees for the Chevy Chase area. Dr. David Fairchild also gave cherry saplings to children from each DC school to plant in their schoolyard for Arbor Day.

So where did they plant the first heralded 2,000 cherry trees for the Tidal Basin?

They didn’t. An inspection team from the Department of Agriculture discovered that the trees were infested with insects, nematodes and were diseased. To protect American growers the department deemed that they had to be destroyed. The entire shipment had to be burned – ?much to everyone’s political and horticultural dismay.

Dr. Takamine suggested that another donation be made and the Tokyo City Council authorized the donation. The number of trees had now increased to 3,020 – a variety which arrived March 26, 1912.

The first Cherry Blossom “Festival” was actually a simple planting ceremony of 2 trees – 100 Years ago.

On March 27, 1912 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.)

Trees symbolize so many things to us – like friendship, beauty, and the circle of life – take care of yours. ?For a long, rewarding life, Wood Acres Tree Specialists is here to help.

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