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Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC

Washington, DC Cherry Blossom Season

Text & Images - Copyright © 2009 Kevin Hulsey

Although Washington, DC's cherry blossom season and accompanying cherry blossom festival does not generate the national fervor that is indicative of Japan's Sakura Cherry Blossom festival, it is an indelible part of the springtime DC scenery.

The desire to emulate the colorful 'sakura season' of Japan began in 1885, when Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore first proposed the idea of planting cherry trees along the Potomac waterfront after a visit to Kyoto, Japan.

Cherry Blossoms along FRD Memorial Park
Cherry Blossoms along FRD Memorial Park

Although Mrs. Scidmore's idea was rejected by DC officials, in 1908 a notable American botanist named David Grandison Fairchild suggested that the Washington DC "Speedway" along Independence Avenue in West Potomac Park be transformed into a "Field of Cherries."

Cherry Blossoms with the Washington Monument
Cherry Blossoms with the Washington Monument

In April (cherry blossom season) of 1909 Mrs. Scidmore again pursued her idea, this time enlisting the help of the First Lady of the United States, Helen Herron Taft.

Arlington National Cemetery Cherry Blossoms
Arlington National Cemetery Cherry Blossoms

First Lady Taft contacted a Mr. Midzuno of the Japanese Consul in New York city explaining that it was her intention to have a large number of Japanese cherry trees planted along the DC Speedway, to which Mr. Midzuno suggested that 2,000 trees be given to the city of Washington, DC by the city of Tokyo.

Cherry Blossom Japanese Pagoda Monument
Japanese Pagoda Monument with the Washington Monument

By January 1910, the shipment of 2,000 Prunus serrulata (Fugenzo) cherry trees arrived in Washington from Japan, but the entire batch of trees was infested with parasites, and upon the order of President Taft the trees were destroyed.

Jefferson Memorial
Jefferson Memorial

The Japanese expressed their deep regret for the fiasco, and in 1912 Eliza Scidmore's vision became reality when the Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki gifted 3,020 healthy cherry trees (1,800 Prunus x yedoensis "Yoshino," and a mix of several other varieties) to Washington D.C. as memorial of national friendship between the United States and Japan.

Cherry Blossom Color Contrast

On March 27th, 1912 the wife of the Japanese Ambassador and First Lady Taft planted the first two Yoshino cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, several hundred feet from where Independence Avenue, SW sits today.

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin
Cherry Blossoms along the Tidal Basin in FRD Memorial Park

The first two trees to be planted are still alive today, and sit at the south end of 17th Street several hundred yards west of the statue of John Paul Jones. Approximately 930 of the 3,020 trees that were delivered were planted at the White House.

Cherry Blossoms in West Potomac Park
Cherry Blossoms in West Potomac Park

There is probably no finer cherry-blossom viewing spot in Washington than along the Tidal Basin lake, with the Jefferson Memorial and Washington monuments as a perfect backdrop.

Jefferson Memorial through Cherry Blossoms
Jefferson Memorial at sunset

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms at Sunset

Sakura Matsuri Cherry-Blossom Festival

The Cherry Blossom Festival began in 1934, when a three-day commemorative event was planned by the District of Columbia Commissioners, to celebrate the gift from Japan.

Each year since 1935 Washington D.C. commemorates the gift from Mayor Ozaki by paying homage to Japanese traditions and culture with the annual "Sakura Matsuri," celebrating the traditional Japanese Kyoto performing arts.

Cherry Blossom Viewing in Washington DC

The best time of year for cherry-blossom viewing in Washington D.C. is during the 'Cherry Blossom Festival,' from March 29th to April 13th, but according to the National Park Service historical record the Yoshino cherry trees can open anytime between March 15 and April 18.

From the time that the first buds called florets appear in early March there is a 16 to 21 day window until the "peak bloom." The florets go through three distinct phases from peduncle elongation, to the "puffy white" phase, to peak bloom which can last as long as 14 days.

During the cherry blossom blooming period the National Park Service conducts "Cherry Tree walks" around the Tidal Basin.

Washington, DC Cherry Blossom Info

DC National Cherry Blossom Festival

National Park Service Bloom Guide


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