Cherry Crush

Cherry Crush

For centuries, trees have been planted to honor an accomplishment, important milestone or rite of passage - birth, graduation, wedding, retirement, death, to name a few.

And the specific type of tree chosen usually has some symbolic meaning relative to the event. For instance, the oak tree has always been a symbol of strength and courage - "the mighty oak," they always say. And the Bonsai tree has long symbolized harmony, peace and balance.

When someone plants one tree to mark a triumph, it's quite significant. But in early April this year, when I was in Washington, D.C. traveling for Davey Tree, I saw such a stunning display of trees and realized when someone plants many trees in a symbolic fashion, the result can be extraordinary.

I stood amongst the 3,750 flowering cherry trees on the Tidal Basin - their dark trunks set off by breathtaking crowns of pale pink and white blossoms. As the wind of the Potomac River kicked up, I stood under one of these trees in a light rain of pastel petals drifting past me to the earth. It was beyond magical.

And it piqued a curiosity in me. Who was inspired to plant the first tree that would lead to this magnificent vista that marks D.C. as an early spring tourist attraction just for the sake of witnessing these delicate blooms? What story travels through soft whispers on the wind that rustles the leaves of this massive show of trees to explain their presence?

So I did some digging.

The story starts with one woman - Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore - who was inspired by the cherry trees she saw on her first visit to Japan in 1885. For 24 years she approached Army superintendents of the U.S. Office of Public Buildings and Grounds proposing they plant cherry trees along the reclaimed Potomac waterfront. But she had little success.

Meanwhile, Dr. David Fairchild, a plant explorer and U.S. Department of Agriculture official, imported and planted 100 various types of Japanese cherry trees on a hillside on his property in Chevy Chase, Md., where he tested their hardiness. Pleased with the results, he promoted the trees as ideal for the avenues of Washington.

By 1909, Scidmore had sent a note to First Lady Helen Taft about her new plan for purchasing cherry trees and donating them to the city. Taft had lived in Japan and was familiar with the beauty of the flowering cherry trees, so she responded suggesting an avenue of them.

Dr. Jokichi Takamine, a Japanese chemist, was in Washington at the time and was told about this plan. He offered to donate an additional 2,000 trees to fill the area as a gift from Tokyo.

Many of the initial trees were found to have insect and disease infestation, according to the Department of Agriculture. To protect American growers, the trees were destroyed. Some of those trees were saved for study and planted in an experimental plot nearby.

Japan again donated the money for the trees, increasing the number to 3,020.

On March 27, 1912, Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two Yoshino cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, about 125 feet south of what is now Independence Avenue, SW. Workers planted the rest. After the ceremony, the first lady presented a bouquet of "American Beauty" roses to Viscountess Chinda - Washington's renowned National Cherry Blossom Festival grew from this simple ceremony. The two original trees still stand several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones Memorial, located on the terminus of 17th Street, SW. Bronze plaques at the bases of the trees commemorate the occasion.

The Japanese Government made another gift of 3,800 Yoshino trees to another first lady devoted to the beautification of Washington - Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson - in 1965. American-grown this time, many of these were planted on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

Between 2002 and 2006, 400 trees, propagated from the surviving trees from the 1912 donation, were planted to ensure the genetic lineage of the original trees is continued.

Cherry trees symbolize death, rebirth and new awakenings. Between the U.S. and Japan, they symbolize international friendship that has incredibly deep roots. In fact, the symbol is so strong that even on Dec. 11, 1941, four cherry trees were cut down in suspected retaliation for the Japanese attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. 

Today, cherry blossoms are connected to innocence, spring and simplicity.

As another wind blows and a cascade of delicate petals tickle my face, I am reminded that trees are significant no matter what they symbolize - from one person's memory to world peace.

"Think you're a big fan of trees? We'd love to hear about it. Send your thoughts to Dave or Daphne at blog@davey.com ."

  • Pest Controllers April 13, 2012 >Thanks for sharing this story. I enjoyed reading through it. I would feel so proud if I could plant a tree for something I have accomplished.
  • Nick York March 23, 2012 >The trees, no matter what kind of tree it is, a Japanese cherish tree, must be protected. It is essential to maintain the essential level of nature protection to live on the Earth.
Add a comment:
Featured or Related Blog Posts
  • Tune In

    So I haven't played a comic book superhero with incredible powers like telekinesis or the ability to fly. And I haven't donned fangs and sported the trendy tall, dark and handsome vampire look. But, now and again, my fellow Davey arborists and I have something in common with such unique characters: doing something really cool and doing it with a "wow" factor you can see on television.

    That's right, Davey has enjoyed a few minutes of broadcast fame - admittedly not as much as those vampires or superheroes we all know and love - but it still counts, right?

    Our most popular eye candy? moving massive trees. You may or may not know this, but Davey has been moving trees since the 1920s! In fact, we've recently combined our operation with Environmental Design Inc., which equals more than a century of tree moving.

    Read More
  • "Leaf" It to Mother Nature: Falling for Creative Fall Crafts

    'Tis the season for tree canopies to explode with color. Tree leaves exemplify the sun's gradually diminishing heat as the brightest of warm hues paint splotches of color along the surface. Oranges, yellows , reds and plums drape each tree leaf with such beauty for such a brief period of time you can only wish it would last all year long.

    Although Mother Nature limits the highly anticipated fall foliage color show to only a few months of the year, you can preserve autumn's aura by dedicating a bit of extra care, attention and creativity to the leaves falling from the trees.

    Why not share the love you're feeling for fall by preserving some of its best assets--crisp, brightly colored leaves, freshly fallen from the trees--and transforming them into art? Dry and press them like flower petals between the pages of old books and newspapers. Hang them like garland from the railings along your staircase or front porch. Or coat them in wax or Mod Podge® to protect the leaves from losing their color throughout the coming seasons.

    Read More
  • Happy Arbor Day!

    Don't worry, I won't be long-winded today. Just hope you'll join me in celebrating National Arbor Day. If you're a tree buff like I am, this is truly a great holiday!

    While you're celebrating your trees today, take a few minutes and check out a website that some of my friends at Davey just launched. It's a place where you can share your tree stories and memories. I'm planning to do that myself soon, and I hope to see your story there!

     

    Read More
  • The Bird-y Bunch

    It's a rainy, gray Saturday morning in spring. Our previously planned trip to the local park is canceled - wet bottoms and mud pies just don't seem that appealing today when we were longing for shorts and sunshine.

    Yet, despite the initial disappointment, my 8-year-old daughter picks up her spirits quicker than I do. She spends at least an hour marveling at the birds out of our family room windows. They flit and flutter from tree to tree and back and forth to the two bird feeders we have hanging from hawthorn trees.

    Little wrens, chickadees and nuthatches are always present, hopping next to the slower, fatter, cooing doves. Then, in a bright red streak, the cardinal flies in, going from the trees straight to the ground, picking up the seed the other smaller birds have discarded.

    Read More
  • You Can’t Judge a Tree by its Bark

    Today is my birthday. I'm 40 years old, and I'm not happy about it.

    Now I've always been told I have a youthful face so as I enter - gulp - middle age, I realize that I might be able to lie about my age and get away with it. Maybe shave just a few years off the top and linger around 38 for awhile.

    And then I realize as I observe an oak I'm evaluating for a customer that a tree never has this option.

    Read More

Request a consultation

What do you need services for?
Sorry, we can’t seem to find the zip code you specified. Our residential tree care offices may not service your area. If you believe this is an error, please try again. Need help? Email us at info@davey.com.
  • Email newsletter
  • Woodchips
*Please fill out all required fields.