A Symbol of Spring: The Cherry Blossoms of Washington, D.C.

Happy Peak Bloom Week!  According the The National Park Service, peak bloom for the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. means that “70% of the Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) blossoms are open.  Peak bloom varies annually depending on weather conditions. The most likely time to reach peak bloom is between the last week of March and the first week of April. Extraordinary warm or cool temperatures have resulted in peak bloom as early as March 15 (1990) and as late as April 18 (1958).”  In addition to their iconic beauty, the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. have a have a unique and interesting history to them.  


 Cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin (330-CFD-DN-ST-84-07607).

The cherry blossom trees were first planted in 1912, as a sign of a blossoming friendship between the United States and Japan.  Plans for planting cherry blossom trees in Washington, D.C. date back to 1885, when Eliza Scidmore asked the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, if cherry blossom trees could be planted along what would become the Tidal Basin.  Scidmore had travelled to Japan many times and developed a budding interest in the cherry blossoms there.  Her request was ignored, but she continued to lobby for them, and in 1909, wrote to First Lady, Helen Taft, for her support for this growing cause.  First Lady Taft had previously lived in Japan and was very supportive of planting cherry blossom trees in the Nation’s Capital.  With the support of First Lady Taft and the Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, the first group of cherry blossom trees were sent to Washington, D.C. 



The first group of cherry blossom trees from Japan arrived in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 1910.  However, upon arrival, it was discovered that these trees were infested with insects and disease.  These Japanese cherry blossom trees had to be destroyed, and on January 28, 1910, President William Taft signed off on burning them.  The mayor of Tokyo apologized and had another 3,020 Japanese cherry blossom trees sent to Washington, D.C.  These trees arrived on March 26, 1912 and were healthy.  On March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, held a small ceremony to plant the first cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin. 



The cherry blossom trees continue to bloom each spring.  The first Cherry Blossom Festival was held in 1935 and has continued to grow in size each year.  The Cherry Blossom Festivals were paused during World War II, but began again in 1948.  The original cherry blossom trees have been added to over the years, and in 1965, First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, the wife of Japan’s Ambassador, planted more trees in a ceremony similar to first the plantings in 1912. 


First Lady Lady Bird Johnson planting a tree during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C. (34199-13).

The cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. have become a symbol of spring in the city and bring in people from all over the world to see them.  Washington, D.C. plans many events surrounding their average peak bloom in early spring with parades and festivals, as well as cherry blossom themed art, food, and drinks.  This year the cherry blossom festivities will be a little different than in past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the blossoms safely!  For more information on this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival, see https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/ and https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/index.htm