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Washington’s Cherry Blossoms
March 2000

Let us thank Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore for the idea of planting Japanese cherry trees in the Nation's Capital. After returning home from her first visit to Japan in 1885, the Washington resident approached the Superintendent of Public Building and Grounds to propose that Japanese cherries beautify the soon-to-be-reclaimed Potomac waterfront. She approached every new Superintendent with the same plan for the next 24 years. But did they listen? Join me on a walk around the Tidal Basin
Our next champion was Dr. David Fairchild of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He imported 100 cherry trees from Japan, and planted them on his own property in Chevy Chase, Maryland. After becoming confident of their hardiness, he encouraged the Chevy Chase Land Company to order 300 trees in 1907. The next year, he gave cherry saplings to D.C. school children to plant in their school yards. At his subsequent Arbor Day lecture, attended by Mrs. Scidmore, he proposed that part of West Potomac Park be turned into a "Field of Cherries."
Tidal Basin in summerIn the course of raising money for the project, Mrs. Scidmore sent a note to First lady Helen Herron Taft, who had once lived in Japan. Mrs. Taft liked the idea of planting the Japanese cherries — and accepted the offer of 2,000 trees from the Japanese consul in New York to add to several dozen purchased by the U.S. government. The Japanese trees that arrived in 1910 were infested and had to be destroyed. More than 3,000 trees were then donated by Japan in 1912. Mrs. Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on March 27, 1910. Those trees are still standing - and about 150 trees remain from the original 1912 donation.

For more information, see the National Park Service cherry blossom page.