Tidal Basin Tour

7 Things You Didn’t Know About DC’s Cherry Blossoms

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As usual, D.C.’s cherry blossoms are as unpredictable as ever. Indeed, there’s always a little mystery regarding these trees, and in more ways than you would think.

1. Two extraordinary women planted the first cherry blossoms. Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador to the United States, and First Lady Helen Taft each planted one tree by the Tidal Basin on March 27, 1912. This means that the trees are older than both the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.

2. The aforementioned ceremony was peaceful, but there was a failed cherry blossom exchange in 1910. After the Japanese government sent the trees, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found the trees to be riddled with insects and diseases. “This nearly created a diplomatic crisis,” the Washingtonian said.

3. Whose idea was it to plant the trees? The credit goes to Eliza Scidmore. She was the Progressive-era version of a travel blogger — once she saw the beautiful sakura trees in Japan, she encouraged the First Lady to purchase the trees and plant them by the Potomac River. Eliza’s wish came true, and she was able to stand in the crowd at the first planting ceremony.

4. If you’ve ever been to the Tidal Basin during blooming season, you’ll remember the serene feeling that enveloped you while observing the trees. That wasn’t the case in 1936 during the Cherry Tree Rebellion. Women become outraged at the Roosevelt Administration’s decision to build the Thomas Jefferson Memorial on a cherry blossom site. The administration responded that less than 100 trees would be destroyed. The women persisted and chained themselves to the trees around the construction area. Michael Strauss, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, served them lunch — and many, many ounces of coffee. The need to relieve themselves eventually overcame the women’s need to stand up for the trees, and the rebellion ended.

5. Of the twelve types of trees originally planted along the Basin, you’ll find most of the ones in D.C. to be Yoshino hybrids. Many are pink, but you’ll find quite a few white ones as well.

6. There are close to 4,000 cherry blossom trees in D.C., but it still isn’t the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World. Neither is Japan. Figured it out yet? The Cherry Blossom Capital of the World is Macon, Georgia with around 300,000 trees.

7. The Cherry Blossom Festival is a longstanding D.C. tradition, but it was put on hold for four years. From 1942 to 1946, the festival was cancelled due to World War II.


Want to see the cherry blossoms up close and personal? Join Tours for Humanity on one of our walking tours around D.C., including the National Mall, the Lincoln Assassination, the Tidal Basin, and our three-hour Drinking History tour. We donate a portion of profits to charities fighting ignorance, poverty, and disease. Our walking tours won’t save the world, but they are a step in the right direction.