Have you ever wondered how the Cherry Blossom became a symbol of Washington DC? I first visited Washington when I was in 8th grade ( a longer time ago than I want to mention) and I still remember the beautiful blooms and the scent that was carried across by the breeze through the monuments and the National Mall. DC becomes like a fairy land every March and April and it's something every American should experience at least once in a lifetime! So try to plan a trip to our nation's capitol during March or April, and by the way, here's the way it all began.
On March 27, 1912, Helen Taft, the wife of President William Howard Taft, and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, who was married to the Japanese ambassador to the
United States, planted two cherry blossom trees in West Potomac Park, a green space on the banks of the Potomac River not far from the National Mall.
The next month, more trees were planted along the
Tidal Basin and into , the vast urban park that stretches through the capital. Eighteen cherry trees were soon planted on the White House grounds. Rock Creek Park
will mark the 100th anniversary of those trees, some of which still exist, though most of the originals have died and been replaced. Their blossoming is celebrated annually with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which is timed for late March, when the blooms are at their peak. This year the festival runs from March 20 to April 27. The peak, when 70 percent of the trees are covered in blossoms, is forecast for March 20-23. Washington
But while the capital celebrates the centennial of the cherry blossom trees (they do not bear fruit), in fact the push to bring the delicate blossoms to
began much earlier. Washington
A journalist and a government bureaucrat deserve the credit for what has become one of the signature aspects of the
The journalist, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, was the first to sing the praises of the blossom of the sakura trees that she'd found in
. In 1885, she suggested to the U.S. Army superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds that the trees be brought to the Tokyo capital and planted. She repeated that suggestion to successive superintendents for years, without success. U.S.
The bureaucrat was David Fairchild, who would become a world reknown botanist for his work in the Department of Agriculture's Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction, which dispatched "plant explorers" around the world to find new species to add diversity to the American landscape.
An avid botanist from his youth in
Michigan and , Fairchild joined the section in 1889. In a career that lasted until 1933, he introduced more than 75,000 plants to the Kansas , including various species of oranges, mangos, dates, cotton and bamboo. United States
On a trip in 1902, he landed in
. Like Scidmore, he was smitten by the cherry blossom trees of Japan , with their small pink blossoms. Tokyo
As a member of the Office of Plant Inspection, he had more luck raising the blossoms' profile.
In 1905, he ordered 75 flowering cherry trees for his home "In The Woods" in
Chevy Chase, Md., just outside the boundary. He was testing if they would live in the different climate. District of Columbia
They flourished. The "drooping" weeping cherry trees were particularly hardy.
In 1907 he ordered 450 more trees and gave 150 to
schoolboys to plant on Arbor Day in 1908. The remainder were planted around his District of Columbia Chevy Chase neighborhood.
According to a Department of Agriculture booklet from 1977, the Arbor Day event sparked interest in planting cherry trees in the area near the
Tidal Basin and West Potomac Park, where some of 's best known memorials, including those to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., would rise. Washington
It was Scidmore, however, who wrote to first lady Helen Taft, who'd also visited
, and sparked interest in planting the trees. Japan
In November 1909, a gift of 2,000 cherry trees arrived from
, and diplomatic disaster struck. The trees had scale, root galls and wood-boring insects. After a thorough examination, they were burned, along with their packing material of bamboo. Japan
That led to the March 27 planting.
In 1915, the
reciprocated, sending Japan a shipment of pink dogwood trees and seeds. They flourished in U.S. . Japan
Fairchild continued to introduce new plants. The
Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden outside is named for him. He was part of the National Geographic Society and in 1938 was presented with the Meyer Medal for "distinguished services in plant introduction." Miami
Scidmore, also a member of the National Geographic Society, traveled extensively all her life. After she died, her ashes were buried in
Japan at the request of its government for her extensive coverage of Asia. She is remembered for her National Geographic coverage of the 1896 tidal wave that followed a massive earthquake. It was the first use of the word "tsunami."