Michelle Obama reenacts first cherry tree planting

First lady Michelle Obama marked the centennial of Washington’s Japanese cherry blossoms Tuesday morning by reenacting the first planting of the trees in a ceremony along the Potomac River.

On a cold morning on the riverbank, the first lady was joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — wearing a white cowboy hat — Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki, and the president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Diana Mayhew.

Obama shoveled dirt over a five-year-old cherry tree sapling that had been set in the earth several hundred yards from the Tidal Basin site of the first planting.

She spoke of the “magic” of the blossoms, whose “beauty stirs our souls.”

The event commemorated the March 27, 1912, planting of the first cherry trees on the basin by then-first lady Helen Taft and then-Japanese ambassador Sutemi Chinda and his wife, Iwa.

Also present was Fujiko Hara, granddaughter of Yukio Ozaki, who, as mayor of Tokyo, helped arrange the donation of the first 3,000 trees, and William H. Taft IV, great-grandson of the former president and first lady.

This year’s festival, held from March 20 to April 27 and chaired by the first lady, is celebrating the centennial of the blossoms.

But because of the warm weather, and the recent cool and blustery conditions, most of the delicate white blooms of the prized Yoshino cherry trees have come and gone.

Monday was the last official day of this year’s Yoshino bloom, said Robert DeFeo, the National Park Service’s chief cherry blossom expert. The nine-day bloom was one of the shortest on record, DeFeo said.

But “this year may very well have been one of the nicest years I’ve ever witnessed,” he said. “Because everything came on so quick and so fast. Boom. . . . They came on. They were just glorious, and they were gone.”

Meanwhile, DeFeo said, the area’s bright pink Kwanzan cherry trees are just starting to bloom.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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