The story of how the cherry tree became the horticultural darling of DC. began with the National Geographic Society's first female board member, travel writer Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore. She saw the gorgeous flowering trees in Tokyo in 1885 and vowed to bring them to our Nation's capital. “It took two-plus decades, an ally at the federal government's newly established Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction, and some vigorous lobbying of the First Lady (Mrs. Taft), but by April 1909, ninety trees were ready to be planted along land running from the Lincoln Memorial southward.” (from The Surprisingly Calamitous History of DC's Cherry Blossoms by Hayley Garrison Phillips. (Source: Washingtonian, "The Surprisingly Calamitous History of DC's Cherry Blossoms")
Now a days, the National Cherry Blossom festival occurs every spring in Washington, D.C., (usually in the first week of April) and commemorates the 1912 gift of Japanese cherry trees to Washington from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City. The gift was given to enhance the growing friendship between the United States and Japan. Mrs. Taft and the Japanese ambassador's wife planted the first two trees (March 27, 1912) on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin and they remain there today.
In human years the trees would be 156 years old. Their trunks, knobbed, gnarled and bent over, are a symbol of resilience and survival. The festival is located mainly around the Tidal Basin and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Since the DC weather is unpredictable, sometimes, the festival occurs before the blossoms are in full bloom and sometimes after their pink flowers have already fallen. If you've never had the chance to see the festival, I suggest you add it to your bucket list. It's a beautiful glimpse of Mother Nature's majesty. And if you have time, visit Arlington National Cemetery where Mrs. Taft is buried and thank her for her part in bringing the cherry blossoms trees to Washington D.C.
However, it has not been all candy and roses for the cherry blossoms. Almost immediately there was a problem. When the trees arrived, the USDA discovered that they were infested with pests.
No one wanted a diplomatic incident, but the agency saw no solution other than to burn the trees, totally destroying them. Fortunately, the Japanese had a sense of humor about the calamity and the Tokyo mayor joked. “Oh, I believe your first president set an example of destroying cherry trees, didn't he?" Two years later, 3,020 replacement trees arrived, pest-free.
"It's hard to believe, but over the next century, our beloved blossoms were threatened in all kinds of ways. In 1938, when plans for the Jefferson Memorial called for removing trees along the Tidal Basin, a group of female activists descended on the White House with petitions. They accosted workmen at the memorial grounds, wresting away their shovels. Some prepared to chain themselves to the trees. Outraged, President Roosevelt issued an ultimatum: The so-called Cherry Tree Rebellion should disband or its members and the trees would be uprooted. The protesters reluctantly relented." I suppose they may have been the first "tree-huggers."
Misfortune fell again, three days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, vandals sawed down four of the trees writing TO HELL WITH THOSE JAPANESE on one stump.
Another cherry blossom debacle happened in 1999. This time it was in the form of toothy beavers. On April 3, 1999 visitors were stunned to find that a tree, in full bloom, had been felled and its trunk chewed through. The next night, according to The Washington Post, four more beavers terrorized the tidal basin again. "Citizens took to the Tidal Basin with flashlights to patrol for the varmint themselves, and spectators from across the country hoped to catch sight of the furry villains. When a mid-size female was caught, it seemed the ordeal was over. But no. Finally, on April 13 - 11 days and nine trees into the saga - a large male (beaver) was taken into custody. All, at last, was well.” (all quotes and ideas for this blog were taken from an article appearing in the April 2018 issue of Washingtonian, already noted earlier.)
Until my next inspiration...ciao
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