Each spring, Washington, D.C., gets transformed into a scene of white and pink cherry blossoms as thousands of cherry trees announce the arrival of spring. The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival held for a week each spring commemorates the gift from the city of Tokyo that brought the cherry trees to the capital in the first place.
In 1910, after President William Taft and his wife visited Japan, Mrs. Taft decided to plant 90 Japanese cherry trees near the Lincoln Memorial. Upon hearing of the plantings, the mayor of Tokyo sent 2,000 cherry trees as a gift of friendship to the capital city. The trees were full of insects and worms, so they could not be planted. The city of Tokyo then sent more than 3,000 healthy cherry trees in 1912. The trees were planted along the Potomac River, Rock Creek and the White House grounds.
In 2003, the National Park Service established the National Mall and Memorial Parks Cherry Tree Maintenance Endowment Fund. This organization sets aside funds each year to take care of the original and all of the new cherry trees planted through the years. Now more than 3,700 trees get pruned and cared for by a dedicated team of National Park Services arborists.
Of the 12 varieties of trees donated, fewer than 200 of the original trees remain, with the Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry trees making up most of the survivors. The Yoshino cherry trees encircle the Tidal Basin and part of the Washington Monument grounds. The Kwanzan cherry tree, named after a mountain in Japan, flourishes in East Potomac Park. The Weeping Japanese cherry tree fills in the gaps between the Yoshino and Kwanzan trees. Other types of donated trees include the Akebono, Autumn Flowering, Sargent, Usuzumi and Takesimensis.
In late March or early April, the capital's cherry trees begin to bloom. The first cherry trees to bloom include the Weeping cherry with its variable blossoms in shades of dark pink to white. The Yoshino cherry blooms next, with profusions of single white blossoms. Two weeks later, the Kwanzan cherry starts to bloom, popular among crowds for its clusters of pink double blossoms.
Summer to Fall
After the blossoms fade, the foliage of the cherry tree turns a bronze color, making the tree appealing all summer long. In the fall, the trees also put on a show when the leaves change colors. The foliage on Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry trees turn bright shades of yellow, orange, red or copper.