A cherry blossom timeline: A century of drama and beauty

March 13, 2012

1885: Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, returning to Washington from her first visit to Japan, approaches government officials to propose that Japanese cherry trees be planted along the reclaimed Potomac River waterfront. She is ignored, but continues lobbying for 24 years.

1906:David Fairchild, plant explorer and U.S. Department of Agriculture official, imports 75 flowering cherry trees from the Yokohama Nursery Co. in Japan. He plants them on his land in Chevy Chase to test their hardiness.

1907: Fairchild, pleased with his success, begins to promote Japanese cherry trees as the ideal thing to plant along avenues in Washington.


1908: Fairchild adds his voice to Scidmore’s, suggesting that the area around the Tidal Basin be transformed into a “Field of Cherries.”

1909: Scidmore appeals to new first lady Helen Taft for cherry trees. Taft seizes the idea and replies: “I have taken the matter up and am promised the trees.”

1909: Japanese chemist Jokichi Takamine and diplomat Kokichi Mizuno suggest Tokyo donate the trees as a gesture of friendship between the U.S. and Japan. Helen Taft accepts the offer.

1910: On Jan. 6, 2,000 Japanese cherry trees arrive in Washington, but have to be destroyed because they are infested with pests. (A mysterious, gnarled grove slightly off the tourist path today may contain a dozen or so that were spared the flames.)

1912: Undaunted by the infected trees, diplomats arrange for a new donation, and 3,020 healthy trees arrive in Washington on March 26.

1912: Scidmore, Taft, Japanese Ambassador Sutemi Chinda and his wife, Iwa , plant the first two trees on March 27.

1913-­1920: Workers continue planting cherry trees around the Tidal Basin.

1916: Masayo Chinda, son of Japanese Ambasador Sutemi Chinda and his wife, hangs himself in the Japanese Embassy on K Street. Friends blame the young economist’s death on “strain induced by overwork.”

1927: The original planting is commemorated with a reenactment by Washington schoolchildren.

1934: The District of Columbia commissioners sponsor a three-day cherry blossom celebration.

1935: The first “Cherry Blossom Festival” is jointly hosted by local civic groups.

1938: The Great Cherry Blossom Uprising. Local cherry tree lovers “chain” themselves to trees that are being removed to prepare for the Jefferson Memorial. A compromise is reached with a government promise to plant more trees.

1940: Cherry Blossom Pageant is introduced

1941: Dec. 11, four cherry trees are cut down in apparent retaliation for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. For the time being, the trees are referred to as the “Oriental” flowering cherry trees.

1948: Cherry Blossom princesses are selected from each state and federal territory, and from the princesses, a festival queen is chosen.

1952: Japan requests U.S. help in restoring Washington’s cherry tree parents near Tokyo, and the National Park Service ships budwood from descendants back to Japan.

1954: Sadao Iguchi, the Japanese ambassador to the United States, presents a 300-year-old Japanese granite lantern to Washington to commemorate the 1854 goodwill treaty between Japan and the United States.

1958: A Japanese stone pagoda is dedicated on the bank of the Tidal Basin, as a symbol of friendship from the mayor of Yokohama.

1965: The Japanese government donates another 3,800 cherry trees to Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson. American-grown, many of these trees are planted around the Washington Monument.

1982: About 800 cuttings from Tidal Basin cherry trees are gathered by Japanese horticulturists to retain genetic characteristics.

1986 to 1988: A total of 676 new cherry trees are planted with $101,000 in private donations to the National Park Service to restore the trees to their original number.

1994: The National Cherry Blossom Festival is expanded from one week to two weeks.

1997: Cuttings are taken from the documented, surviving 1912 tree shipment, to ensure preservation of the trees’ genetic lineage.

1999: A beaver family is relocated from the Tidal Basin after gnawing through several cherry trees, alarming the human populace.

1999: Fifty trees, propagated from a 1,400-year-old cherry tree in Japan, are planted in West Potomac Park. The ancient tree had been declared a Japanese national treasure in 1922.

2002-2006: Four-hundred trees, propagated from the surviving 1912 trees, are planted to ensure the genetic lineage of the originals.

2011: Approximately 120 propagates from the surviving 1912 trees around the Tidal Basin are collected by the National Park Service and sent back to Japan to the Japan Cherry Blossom Association to solidify the genetic lineage.

2012: Gala centennial of the first planting. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is temporarily expanded to five weeks. In the footsteps of Helen Taft, first lady Michelle Obama is the honorary chair.

A cherry blossom timeline, according to the National Park Service and Washington Post research. Compiled by Michael E. Ruane.

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