Although the famous cherry blossom trees were planted in 1912, their story begins 30 years before with a woman named Eliza Scidmore. After her visit to Japan, she proposed that cherry trees be planted along the Potomac waterfront, but her request was met with very little interest. It wasn’t until Dr. David Fairchild got involved in 1906 that anyone took notice.
Dr. Fairchild purchased 75 trees to test their hardiness in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Pleased with their success he began to promote the tree as an ideal for planting along avenues and even gave children cherry trees to plant in their school yards for Arbor Day 1908. By 1909, Mrs. Schidmore was attempting to raise the money herself to purchase and donate the cherry trees to the city. But on April 7th, 1909 her initiative caught the attention of First Lady Helen Taft.
April 7, 1909
Thank you very much for your suggestion about the cherry trees. I have taken the matter up and am promised the trees, but I thought perhaps it would be best to make an avenue of them, extending down to the turn in the road, as the other part is still too rough to do any planting. Of course, they could not reflect in the water, but the effect would be very lovely of the long avenue. Let me know what you think about this.
Helen H. Taft
Unfortunately, the first shipment of Japanese cherry trees, in 1910, was infested with insects and was diseased. It wasn’t until another shipment in 1912 saw the trees planted. 25 years later, in 1927, the first official cherry blossoms festival was held.
Most Of The Original Cherry Blossoms Have Died:
Cherry trees are susceptible to numerous diseases such as white peach scale, leaf spot, and powdery mildew. Stress, from the floods of visitors every year, makes them even more susceptible to these diseases and fungus. This is why it isn’t surprising that only 100 of the 3,000 original cherry blossoms are still living.
The average cherry blossom tree has a lifespan of 50 years. The original trees still standing are 105 years old and have defied the odds. These impressive originals are located near the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.
The rest of the 3,700 ornamental cherry trees along the National mall and Tidal Basin come from local nurseries and cloning initiatives. That’s right approximately 500 of the cherry blossom trees you’ll see during the cherry blossom festival are actually clones of the original gifted trees.
This Year’s Festival & Peak Dates:
The early warm weather we have been experiencing has moved the Cherry Blossom Festival and the peak dates up to March 14th-17th. This peak viewing date is the earliest in history. During these dates, you can expect to see about 70% of the Cherry trees on the tidal basin in full bloom.
If you can’t make the peak dates this year, you have three options.
- Arrive four to six days before peak bloom to see the puffy white blossoms stage
- Go after the peak bloom. You’ll be able to still enjoy the cherry blossoms up to one or two weeks after peak bloom. After that, the fresh green leaves will take over the trees.
- Check out the Cherry Blossoms Cam if you can’t make it in person
If you’re lucky enough to have a cherry tree in your yard, protect it from spring diseases with our canopy protection program.