OTD Cherry Trees

March 30, 2021
OTD Cherry Trees

March 27, 1912

First Cherry Trees Planted In D.C.’s Potomac Park

How thousands of the iconic Japanese trees made their way to America’s capital.

Plus: The women who made it happen.

Why Cherry Trees?

  • Eliza Scidmore: Well-known traveler, reporter, author, photographer, & the woman who first introduced the idea of planting flowering cherry trees in D.C.
  • 1885: After returning from a trip to Japan, she began advocating for cherry trees to be planted along the tidal wetlands near the White House & Potomac River.
  • She was repeatedly turned down for 24 years – until First Lady Helen Taft heard her idea.

How It Happened

  • 1909: First Lady Taft introduced her plan to develop & improve Potomac Park.
  • Scidmore heard of the plans & reached out, explaining the cherry trees “would be a great showing … a rosy tunnel of interlaced branches.”
  • First Lady Taft immediately agreed. Two notable Japanese men working in D.C. – a celebrated chemist and the consul general – heard of her proposal & helped arrange a donation from Tokyo.

The First Trees Planted

  • March 27, 1912: First Lady Taft and Iwa Chinda, the wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first cherry trees along the Potomac River.
  • The ceremony served as a symbol of international friendship.
  • The two trees are still standing & located near the MLK Jr. Memorial.
  • Out of the approximately 4,000 cherry trees in D.C. parks today, fewer than 100 are original trees planted in 1912.

“Since they had to plant something in that great stretch of raw, reclaimed ground by the river bank … they might as well plant the most beautiful thing in the world—the Japanese cherry tree.”

Eliza Scidmore in a 1928 interview reflecting on why she advocated for cherry blossoms to be planted around the Tidal Basin in D.C. The land, mostly barren then, is now home to monuments such as the Jefferson Memorial and the MLK Jr. Memorial.

Japan's initial donation of 2,000 cherry trees came two years earlier (1910). However, the trees arrived infected with insects and diseases and had to be burned to ensure native plants would not be harmed. In March 1912, around 3,000 more cherry trees were donated (free of infections) and were quickly planted around D.C. to usher in spring.

A great read about First Ladies and cherry blossoms: CLICK HERE 

More about the adventure extraordinaire, Eliza Scidmore. 

by Jenna Lee,