The appearance of the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin announce spring in the Washington area as surely as the singing of robins, the squiggling of earthworms and the gentleness of an afternoon shower.

The trees with the fragile pink and white blossoms also celebrate the city’s natural beauty and the friendship between nations. But they almost never got planted.

The first two of the 3,000 trees donated by Japan to the United States were planted on March 27, 1912, by first lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador. The planting was marked with a small story in the newspaper. Over the next eight years the rest of the trees would be planted around the Tidal Basin and in East Potomac Park.

Today, 100 years later, hundreds of thousands of people come to Washington each year just to walk under the gently arching branches of the Yoshino, Akebono and Kwanzan trees.

Many people, maybe including you, can’t imagine Washington without the cherry trees. But we probably wouldn’t be enjoying them today if it weren’t for Eliza Scidmore (pronounced

Sid-more). In 1885 she visited Japan, where she first saw cherry trees. She returned to her home in Washington and spent the next 24 years pushing for the planting of cherry trees in the nation’s capital. She had no luck until she wrote a letter in 1909 to Mrs. Taft, the wife of President William Howard Taft. She loved the idea, and soon the plan for the plantings was underway. Scidmore was there when Mrs. Taft planted the first trees.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Beautiful, beautiful history.

— Tracy Grant