Friday, February 6, 2009

Cherry Blossoms in DC: A Symbol of Amity

Washington was not always as colorful and blooming with more than three thousand cherry blossom tress. The spectacular trees were almost not planted in 1912, thanks to the inspired action of a woman. Here's a little history on how the favorite tree of the Japanese got there.

It all started with Eliza Scidmore's vision of transplanting the cherry blossoms from Japan in 1885. She was so infatuated with the striking beauty of the tress that she made it her life's mission to have them planted at the Patomac Waterfront. However, the idea was not considered significant enough by the government. After 24 years, Dr. David Fairchild an officer of the US Agriculture Department happened to have the same liking to the trees and ordered 100 from Yokohama Nursery for test planting on his own property. The trees survived the winter and bursted with color on spring. After the display of beauty, First Lady Helen Taft supported the cherry blossom project of Eliza. It was by luck or fate that Dr. Jokichi Takamine, a Japanese chemist visiting the US learned about the project of Eliza and pledged 2000 trees. As a symbol of friendship between the two countries, Japan made the trees its official gift to Washington, like that of France's Statue of Liberty in New York. The trees arrived in 1910 and just when Eliza thought she had fulfilled a dream, the US Customs declared them unfit to be planted in the Washington landscape since they were infested with insects and disease. President Taft ordered all of them burned. There was a question whether or not the trees were in fact infested. The Japanese nursery certified them even before leaving Japan. Would Japan ever give a rotten national gift? During those times, many locals of Washington did not welcome the idea of the 'invasion' of foreign trees.

Instead of being disheartened, Eliza and Dr. Takamine supplied another batch of three thousand trees. They finally arrived on 1912. The First Lady and the wife of a Japanese Ambassador planted the first two trees. Since then, the cherry blossoms bloomed and Washington was never the same again.

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