WASHINGTON - In Washington D.C., spring is not marked by the vernal equinox: it is marked by the blossoming of the cherry trees. There are approximately 3,750 cherry trees planted along the Tidal Basin, and countless others spread across the entire district. People from all over the world come to Washington D.C. at this time of year to see the trees, and to take part in the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Over one million visitors are expected to descend on the National Capital Region over the next three weeks to view the blooms on the trees.
The National Park Service goes through great lengths to predict the actual blossoming of the trees, which differs each year based on the weather. On its website, the Park Service tracks five key events that occur as the trees begin to blossom. As a result of the colder temperatures throughout March, the Park Service actually delayed its previous estimate for the peak bloom. It is now expected to occur between April 3-6.
The idea to plant cherry trees around Washington D.C. was first proposed in 1885 by a local citizen, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, who had recently returned from a trip to Japan. It took two decades before a U.S. Department of Agriculture official became involved, and began researching the idea. He planted cherry trees on his own property to first ensure they would survive in this climate. However, it was not until Helen Herron Taft, wife of President Taft, got involved in 1909, that the project gained real momentum.
Through the concerted efforts of American and Japanese politicians and private citizens, 3,020 Japanese cherry trees arrived in Washington D.C. in March 1912. On March 27, 1912, Mrs. Taft, and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted two Yoshino cherry trees along the northern bank of the Tidal Basin during a simple ceremony. The remaining trees were planted around the basin, and in East Potomac Park.
Throughout the Twentieth Century, more trees have been added, and they are a popular tree to plant throughout the district, even today. Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) also has cherry trees planted on its grounds, thanks to the efforts of the U.S Military Japan Alumni Association. JBAB received five Yoshino cherry trees from the Association, which fosters camaraderie between U.S. military members who served in Japan, and cooperation with Japan’s embassy to the United States and Japan’s Self Defense Forces.
In a ceremony conducted a year ago, and attended by JBAB Commander, Navy Capt. Anthony Calandra and the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, the five cherry trees were planted by a representatives of each branch of the U.S. armed forces and its Japanese Self-Defense Force counterpart. Each plant signifies the solidarity of those forces, and together they represent the long-standing solidarity of our two nations.
The trees are located along the riverbank, adjacent to JBAB’s Giesboro Park. So, members of the JBAB community can enjoy the coming of spring to the Capital District, on our side of the Potomac River.
As for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, it officially opened last weekend, and events continue through April 14. Check out www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org for event information.