Deciphering DC: Cherry Trees @ The Tidal Basin

2017-03-26 15.47.11 Jefferson Memorial and Cherry trees in D

Now that all the cherry blossoms in DC have come and gone, let’s reminisce.

I first discovered the brilliance of Spring cherry tree blossoms in Seattle at the University of Washington’s Quad, where 31 Yoshino cherry trees were re-planted in the 1960’s. I also witnessed cherry trees in Kyoto and Tokyo in 2008. The effect in all places was beautiful to be sure, but so far have paled in comparison to the volume of blooming cherry trees that we know so well from the Tidal Basin.

It turns out that in 1912 the mayor of Toyko, Yukio Ozaki, gifted over 3,000 cherry trees to the US, in a number of varieties, and over half (1,800) were of the Yoshino variety. A few may have been distributed around the country, but definitely most of them came to DC (3,020 trees). They were planted in different spots around DC, specifically the now iconic swath of cherry trees that line the Tidal Basin.

Roughly two years before, Japan gave a gift of 2,000 trees to the US, arriving in Seattle in late 1909. They arrived in DC in early 1910, infested with insects and diseased, so President Taft ordered them to be burned.

Over the years, Japan and the US exchanged more trees and more gifts (Japan to US: Japanese Stone Lantern in 1954 and the Japanese Pagoda in 1958 that also line the Tidal Basin; US to Japan: Dogwood trees).

Today there are roughly 3,750 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin.

I thought there may be a connection between the cherry trees in Seattle and those in DC, but I haven’t found specific evidence of that. Unfortunately, the trees on the UW campus are old and some are dying, a Yoshino tree has a lifespan of only 60-100 years. The keepers of the trees believe they were young when they were re-planted, and now are probably between 60-70 years old.

For more details on the history of the trees in DC, check out the sources below – quite a fascinating journey.

History of the Cherry Trees (

Japanese Cherry Blossoms Almost Didn’t Make It to DC (

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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