Washington's Cherry Blossoms
By Deborah Holmes
It's cherry blossom time here in the nation's capital -- the two week span when even the locals, known more for their interest in work and politics, take time to smell the flowers.
The famous Japanese flowering cherries draw upwards of 750,000 tourists from around the world annually. But the fragrant, ethereal blooms are just as revered by those of us who live and work inside the Beltway as those of you who come to visit.
We natives flock to the landscape around the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin when the flowers come early, as they did this year, beating the tourists to the breathtaking scenery.
It makes for some tricky shoulder-to-shoulder maneuvering on the narrow walkways around the basin. Strollers are used not only to transport tots, but as an effective battering ram to move the crowds. Bend over to tie your shoe and you likely will end up with footprints up your back.
Overall, however, the crowds are well-behaved, with most folks making a genuine effort not to step in the path of someone else's picture. And by stepping back just a few yards, you can still find quiet spots which lend themselves to reflection.
As quickly as the trees burst forth in glorious bloom, the blossoms are gone with the first strong wind. This year, the National Park Service, which administers the area around the Tidal Basin, expects that the cherry blossoms will only be a memory by the time the annual Cherry Blossom Festival Parade takes place on April 8.
Like politics, business, preschools, soccer competitions and nearly everything else around here, we take our cherry trees seriously. That's why when a pair of wayward beavers began using the trees to build a dam last year, the story became front page news for weeks running in the The Washington Post, a newspaper not known for its lighthearted approach to reporting.
Fortunately, the Park Service was able to capture the beavers and move them to more politically correct home building territory, but not before a half-dozen of the revered trees were felled.
In an almost evangelical mission to get the natives to enjoy the scenery, the Post runs a daily "blossom watch," predicting the best viewing times.
The Japanese flowering cherry trees are as much a famous part of the landscape around the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin as the monuments themselves.
A gift from the city of Tokyo to the city of Washington, the first shipment of 3,000 trees arrived in Washington in 1912. The First Lady, Helen Taft, and the wife of the Japanese ambassador, Viscountess Chinda, planted the first two trees at the north end of the Tidal Basin.
In 1952, cuttings from these trees were returned to Japan to help stabilize the trees along Arakawa River whose care had been neglected during the war. Another 3800 trees were donated by Japan in 1965 and accepted by the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson.
A 350-year-old lantern was donated by the Japanese ambassador in 1954 to celebrate Japanese-American friendship, and a small Shinto pagoda was donated in 1958.
The trees flower in late March or early April for two weeks only. They're at their peak for a mere three days. Since 1935, there has been an annual Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the flowering of the trees.
If you missed this year's blooms in person, you can still enjoy them vicariously at National Cherry Blossom Festival website.