Events, Organizations, History, Types of Cherry trees

National Cherry Blossom Festival

The “National Cherry Blossom Festival” is a springtime festival held in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City, who presented the city with Japanese cherry trees on March 27, 1912. The trees were a gift from Ozaki to highlight the continuous close ties between Japan and the United States as well as to strengthen their developing friendship. The Festival’s parade and other festivities feature large, vibrant helium balloons, floats, marching bands from all across the nation, music, and entertainment.

History of the cherry trees

Early initiatives

Several decades passed by before cherry blossom trees were formally planted in Washington, D.C. After returning from her first journey to Japan in 1885, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore suggested to the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Facilities and Grounds that cherry trees be planted along the Potomac River’s reclaimed waterfront. Scidmore was rejected, but she would keep bringing up the concept to every Superintendent for the following 24 years, eventually becoming the first female board member of the National Geographic Society. During this time, several cherry trees were introduced to the area, one of which served as the backdrop for a 1905 Scidmore-hosted tea party and viewing of the cherry blossoms. Prominent botanist David Fairchild and his fiancée Marian, the daughter of inventor Alexander Graham Bell, were among the attendees.

David Fairchild grew 1000 cherry trees on his own property in Chevy Chase, Maryland, in 1906 after importing them from the Yokohama Nursery Company in Japan. The Fairchilds began advocating Japanese blooming cherry trees as the best tree to plant around avenues in the Washington area in 1907 after being satisfied with the results of their planting. The Chevy Chase Land Company placed an order for 300 Oriental cherry trees for the Chevy Chase community on September 26 with the support of the Fairchilds’ friends. Every school in D.C. received cherry saplings from Fairchild in 1908 to plant in celebration of Arbor Day. Fairchild suggested that the “Speedway” (a now-inactive path around the D.C. Tidal Basin) be transformed into a “Field of Cherries” at an Arbor Day ceremony that Eliza Scidmore attended.

Japanese gift planted

The first two of these trees were formally planted on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park on March 27, 1912, by First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the spouse of the Japanese embassy. The First Lady gave Viscountess Chinda a bouquet of “American Beauty” roses at the end of the event. At the end of 17th Street Southwest, where a sizable plaque is located, these two trees are still present. The American administration replied by giving flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan by 1915.

One of Prince Iyesato Tokugawa’s close friends and political allies, Baron Eiichi Shibusawa, traveled to the United States in 1915 to advance the developing goodwill between Japan and the United States based on the delivery of the Cherry Blossom Trees in 1912. Shibusawa is shown in the photo illustration on the right attending a sizable banquet in his celebration in New York City in 1915. Dr. Jokichi Takamine, a successful Japanese-American community organizer, and entrepreneur is hosting the banquet. He was the one who initially proposed to buy the cherry blossom trees and has this present diplomatically originate from the country of Japan. William Howard Taft, a former head, is also attending to express respect for Baron Shibusawa. Three years prior, President Taft and his wife were the ones who received the cherry blossom trees as a gift from the Japanese ambassadors.

1800 trees of the Somei-Yoshino type, which made up the gift, were planted all around the Tidal Basin from 1913 to 1920. East Potomac Park received trees from the remaining Yoshinos and the other 11 types. American schoolchildren replayed the original planting in 1927. The inaugural cherry blossom festival in Washington, D.C., was this occasion. The District of Columbia Commissioners arranged a three-day festival in 1934 to celebrate cherry blossom trees.

National annual event

A number of civic organizations jointly sponsored the first “Cherry Blossom Festival” in late 1934, and in 1935 it was formally established as an annual national event. By this time, the cherry trees were a well-established feature of the nation’s capital. A group of ladies chained themselves together at the Jefferson Memorial site in 1938 to show their opposition to plans to take down trees to make room for the statue. More trees would be planted along the south side of the Basin to surround the Memorial as part of a resolution that was reached. In 1940, a Cherry Blossom Pageant was first held.

The Garden Club of America presented 5,000 flowering trees and plants to Japan in 1937 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Japan’s gift of cherry blossom trees to the United States. Who better to accept this gesture of goodwill from the United States than Prince Tokugawa, who had played an important role behind the scenes in the 1910 gifting of those cherry blossom trees and had presented the then Mayor of Tokyo Ozaki to the American leaders in Washington, D.C. It is telling that in 1937, Prince Tokugawa accepted this gift from the Garden Club of America at a ceremony conducted at Tokyo’s Kiyozumi Park, followed by the current mayor of the city.

Four trees were chopped down on December 11, 1941. Although it was never confirmed, it is believed that this was revenge for the Empire of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor four days earlier. They were referred to as “Oriental” blossoming cherry trees during the war in an effort to discourage people from additional attacks on the trees. The celebration, which had been put on hold during World War II, was revived in 1947 with the help of the Washington, D.C. Board of Trade and the D.C. Commissioners.

Organization and events

The National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc., an umbrella group made up of representatives of corporate, civic, and government agencies oversees the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Each year, more than 700,000 people go to Washington to view the cherry trees that bloom to mark the arrival of spring.

Around the middle of March, the three-week event kicks out with an official launch ceremony at the Warner Theatre and a Family Day at the National Building Museum. Another event is the Pink Tie Party, where guests are encouraged to dress in their best pink clothes to celebrate and toast the arrival of spring. On the days that follow, a range of activities and cultural festivals are held. The Blossom Kite Event, originally known as the Smithsonian Kite Festival, often happens over the first or second weekend of the festival. There are celebrations of sushi and sake, lectures on cherry blossoms, and bike tours of the Tidal Basin every day. A rugby union competition is among the additional events, which also feature art displays (photography, sculpture, and animation), cultural performances, rakugo, kimono fashion shows, dance, singing, and martial arts.

The Southwest Waterfront conducts a three-stage festival the next Saturday. A fireworks display starts on the surrounding Washington Channel as the celebration comes to a close. The Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run gets underway on the Washington Monument grounds the next day (Sunday). The 360-year-old Japanese stone lantern is ceremoniously lit that Sunday evening in the Tidal Basin by dignitaries who have gathered there.

Types of cherry trees

The Yoshino Cherry (70% of the total) and Kwanzan Cherry (13% of the total) currently dominate the original gift of 3,020 trees from 12 different types.

“Yoshino,” “Kwanzan,” “Ichiyo,” “Taki-nioi,” “Shirayuki,” “Fugenzo,” “Ariake,” “Jo-nioi,” “Fukurokuju,” “Surugadai-nioi,” “Gyoiko,” and “Mikuruma-gaeshi” were the first 12 varieties to be presented. These 11 varieties, with the exception of “Yoshino,” are a part of the complicated interspecific hybrid Sato-zakura group, which was developed from the Oshima cherry. Other than “Yoshino” and “Kwanzan,” a large number of varieties aren’t currently visible since they were moved to other varieties that were shown later.

White clouds appear to be floating across the Tidal Basin and north onto the grounds of the Washington Monument as a result of Yoshino’s single white blossoms. There are a few Akebono cherry trees mixed in among the Yoshino, which bloom at the same time as the Yoshino and have single, pale-pink blooms.

The Kwanzan blooms two weeks after the Yoshino and is mostly found in East Potomac Park. Clear pink double-bloom clusters are produced by this plant. Fugenzo, a tree that produces rosy pink double blossoms, and Shirofugen, a tree that produces white double blossoms that turn pink over time, are also found at East Potomac Park.

The Weeping Cherry, which blooms a week before the Yoshino and produces a range of single and double blossoms in hues ranging from dark pink to white, is scattered throughout all the trees. Other varieties and species include the semi-double, deep pink Autumn Cherry, the single Usuzumi (white-grey), and the Takesimensis (good in wet areas).