History of the Cherry Trees
Mrs. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, upon returning to Washington
from her first visit to Japan, approached the Superintendent of Public Building and
Grounds. She proposed that cherry trees be planted along the soon to reclaimed
Potomac waterfront. Her request fell on deaf ears and was rejected. Over the next 24 years
Mrs. Scidmore approached every new Superintendent with her proposal and with no success.
Dr. David Fairchild, plant explorer and U.S. Department of
Agriculture official, imported 75 flowering cherry trees and 25 single-flowered weeping
types from the Yokohama Nursery Company in Japan. He planted these on a hillside on his
own land in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where he was testing their hardiness.
The Fairchilds, pleased with the success of the trees,
began to promote Japanese flowering cherry trees as the ideal type of tree to plant along
avenues in the Washington area. Friends of the Fairchilds also became interested and on
September 26, arrangements were completed with the Chevy Chase Land Company to order 300
Oriental cherry trees for the Chevy Chase area.
Dr. David Fairchild gave cherry saplings to boys from each
District of Columbia school to plant in their schoolyard for the observance of Arbor Day.
In closing his Arbor Day lecture, Dr. Fairchild for the first time expressed an appeal
that the "Speedway" ,the present day corridor of Independence Avenue, SW, in
West Potomac Park, be transformed into a "Field of Cherries". In attendance was
Eliza Scidmore, whom afterwards he referred to as a great authority on Japan.
Mrs. Scidmore decided to try to raise the money required to
purchase the cherry trees and then donate the trees to the city. Mrs. Scidmore sent a note
to the new First Lady, Helen Herron Taft, outlining her new plan. First Lady Taft had once
lived in Japan and was familiar with the beauty of the flowering cherry trees. Two days
later the First Lady responded:
The White House, Washington.
April 7, 1909
Thank you very much for your suggestion about the
cherry trees. I have taken the matter up and am promised the trees, but I thought perhaps
it would be best to make an avenue of them, extending down to the turn in the road, as the
other part (beyond the railroad bridge Ed.) is still too rough to do any planting. Of
course, they could not reflect in the water, but the effect would be very lovely of the
long avenue. Let me know what you think about this.
Helen H. Taft
Dr. Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese chemist famous for
discovering adrenaline and takadiastase, was in Washington with Mr. Midzuno, Japanese
consul in New York. When told that Washington was to have Japanese cherry trees
planted along the Speedway, he asked whether First Lady Taft would accept a donation of an
additional 2,000 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 First Lady Taft, who accepted the offer of the 2,000 trees.
Five days after First Lady Taft's request, the
Superintendent of Public Building and Grounds initiated the purchase of 90 Fugnezo Cherry
Trees (Prunus serrulata "Fugenzo") from Hoopes Brothers and Thomas Co.,
West Chester, Pa. The trees were planted along the Potomac River from the present site of
the Lincoln Memorial south toward East Potomac Park. After planting it was discovered that
the trees were not correctly named. The trees were determined to be the cultivar
Shirofugen (Prunus serrulata "Shirofugen") and have since disappeared.
The Japanese Embassy informed the Department of State that
the City of Tokyo intended to donate 2,000 cherry trees to the United States to be planted
along the Potomac River.
2,000 cherry trees arrive in Seattle from Japan.
1910 January 6
Trees arrive in Washington, DC
To everyone's dismay, an inspection team for the Department
of Agriculture found the trees were infested with insects and nematodes and other
diseases. To protect American growers, the department concluded that the trees must be
Consent came from President Taft to burn trees. This
diplomatic setback resulted in letters from the Secretary of State and representations to
the Japanese Ambassador expressing deep regret of all concerned. Dr. Takamine and the
Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki. They met the distressing news with determination and
good will. Dr. Takamine again donated the costs for the trees, whose number had now
increased to 3,020. The scions for these trees were taken in December 1910 from the famous
collection on the bank of the Arakawa River in Adachi Ward, a suburb of Tokyo, and grafted
on wild cherry root stock.
1912 February 14
3,020 cherry trees of 12 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.
3,020 cherry trees arrive in Washington, DC. The trees were
comprised of the following varieties:
|Prunus x yedoensis "Yoshino"
|Prunus serrulata "Ariake"
These were all planted on the White House Grounds
Total . . . . . . 3,020
First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the
Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal
Basin, about 125 feet south of what is now Independence Avenue, SW. The first two trees
planted were Yoshino cherry trees. At the conclusion of the ceremony, First Lady Taft
presented a bouquet of "American Beauty" roses to Viscountess Chinda.
Washington's renowned Cherry Blossom Festival had its inception in this simple ceremony
only witnessed by a few persons. These two original trees are still standing today several
hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street. Located
at the bases of the trees are large bronze plaques which commemorate the occasion.
Workmen continued the planting of Yoshino trees around the
Tidal Basin. The cherry trees of the other 11 varieties and the remaining Yoshino trees
were planted in East Potomac Park.
Spring of 1927
The original planting of Japanese cherry trees was
commemorated by a re-enactment of the event by Washington school children.
The District of Columbia Commissioners sponsored a
three-day celebration. The next year the first Cherry Blossom Festival was jointly
sponsored by many civic groups. It became an annual event. In 1949, Cherry Blossom
Princesses were selected from every state and territory to participate in the festival.
Cuttings from the cherry trees in the United States were
sent to Japan to restore Japan's noted collection of trees on the banks of the Arakawa
River in the Adachi Ward which had deteriorated during the war years. Trees in the Adachi
Ward were the parent stock for the trees given to the U.S.
March 30, 1954
Sadao Iguchi, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States
presented a 20-ton, 300-year-old Japanese Stone Lantern to the city of Washington.
The Mikimoto Pearl Crown was
donated for use at the Cherry Blossom Festival.
The Japanese Pagoda, hewn out of rough stone, was placed on
west bank of the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial and dedicated April 18, 1958. It
was presented as a gift to the City of Washington, D.C., by the Mayor of Yokohama.
Several hundred Yoshino cherry trees from another generous
donation from the Japanese Government were planted in 1965 on the Washington Monument
Grounds. Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson wife of President Johnson, and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife
of Ambassador Takeuchi participated in the planting.
Approximately 800 cuttings from the original trees at the
Tidal Basin were sent to Japan to help them retain the genetic characteristics of their
1986 to 1988
A total of 676 new cherry trees were planted at a cost of
$101,558 in private funds donated to the Blossoms In Our Future campaign. The National
Park Service sponsored the campaign to help restore the number of trees to what they were
at the time of the original gift from Japan.
Questions or comments-drop us an E-mail