As American as Cherry Pie … and Sushi

National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC

She wants to do with Pablo Neruda what spring wants to do with the cherry trees. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Each spring, thousands make their annual pilgrimage to DC to gaze in awe at the riotous blooming of the Japanese cherry trees. Poet Pablo Neruda, distinctly not Japanese, once wrote, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” Although we think that’s pretty hot, it has nothing to do with the history of the cherry trees in Washington, DC.

The first shipment of Japanese cherry trees arrived in DC in 1910, a gift from the city of Tokyo intended as a gesture of friendship and goodwill between the people of Japan and the United States. When the trees arrived, however, they were so infested with insects and parasitic worms that there was no easy way to re-gift them to another country. So President Taft agreed to have them incinerated in a heaping big bonfire. Many thought this was no way to accept a gift.

Nothing says "thank you" like burning your gift in a bonfire. (Source: U.S. National Arboretum)

Because nothing says “thank you” like burning your gift in a bonfire… (Source: U.S. National Arboretum)

After much diplomacy to smooth over the embarrassing burning of the gift, in 1912 the people of Japan sent a new bug-free shipment of 3,020 cherry trees, and these were planted along the Potomac River. First Lady Helen Herron Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, and workmen planted the rest around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. (The two original trees are still there, near the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street.)

In 1965 Japan gave First Lady Lady Bird Johnson (that’s a mouthful) 3,800 more trees to plant, and today there are 3,750 trees of 16 varieties on national parkland in DC.

This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the original gift of friendship from Japan, although on the 39th anniversary, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, so how’s that for friendship? Four days later, four cherry trees were chopped down in suspected retaliation. The culprits were never caught. To prevent further attacks against the trees, the Cherry Blossom Festival was suspended during World War II (resuming in 1947), and the trees were referred to for the remainder of the war as the “Oriental” flowering cherry trees.

This wasn’t the end of the cherry tree assaults though. In 1999, the trees were attacked once more. But this time they found the vandals – beavers! The beavers were forcefully removed from the Tidal Basin, and fences were erected around some of the more defenseless trees.

Beaver Vandals (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

Beaver Vandals (Illustration By: Matt Wainwright)

If you’d like to take a gander at these celebrity cherry trees, you can find them in three National Park Service locations: around the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, in East Potomac Park (Hains Point) and on the grounds of the Washington Monument. (For more info on the varieties of cherry trees and their locations, click here.)

Some random facts about the DC cherry blossoms:

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

  • The National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled every year based on when the National Park horticulturalists predict peak bloom, but nature doesn’t always cooperate. The weather determines when the trees will bloom, and sometimes it’s not during the festival.
  • Most of the trees are of the Yoshino variety, and the average blooming date for the Yoshino cherry trees is April 4.
  • Peak bloom is defined as the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino trees open.
  • The earliest blooms were on March 15 in 1990.
  • The latest blooms were on April 18 in 1958.
  • The Kwanzan cherry tree, the second-most-numerous variety between the Tidal Basin and Hains Point, blooms two weeks after the Yoshino trees. So if you’re a late bloomer, you still have a shot at seeing some blossoms.

To commemorate this perennial event, please submit your very own cherry blossom haiku by email or in the comments below. We’ll read them all and publish the best of them.

Here are two to get you started…

tourists swarm around

cherry trees in luscious bloom

as if sedated

 

the beaver vandals

hide in the day, but at night

they eat your blossoms

 

DC Police: It’s Hard to Believe DC Still Has Crime

Police forces watch over the crowd at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30, 2010. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Police forces watch over the crowd at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30, 2010. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

UPDATED: With 32 33 police forces, Washington, DC, must be the safest city in America, right? Here’s the list of DC police, the law enforcement agencies and police departments that serve and protect the District of Columbia, in no particular order.

  1. Metro Police
  2. U.S. Marshals
  3. FBI Police
  4. Capitol Police
  5. U.S. Park Police
  6. Supreme Court Police
  7. Secret Service
  8. National Zoo Police
  9. U.S. Mint Police
  10. State Department Police
  11. Metro Transit Police
  12. Bureau of Engraving and Printing Police
  13. U.S. Treasury Police
  14. Housing Police
  15. Amtrak Police
  16. Government Printing Office Police
  17. GSA Police
  18. Veteran’s Administration Police
  19. Naval District Washington Police
  20. Military Police
  21. Postal Police
  22. Secret Service Uniformed Division
  23. Defense Protective Service
  24. National Institutes of Health Police
  25. Library of Congress Police
  26. Federal Protective Service
  27. Washington National Cathedral Police
  28. DC Housing Authority Office of Public Safety
  29. Smithsonian Police
  30. U.S. Federal Reserve Police
  31. Pentagon Police
  32. Coast Guard Federal Police
  33. DC Public Library Police

Have we missed any? Could there possibly be more? Do you feel any safer? Let us know!

DC Does Not Rain Supreme

washington-monument-puddle

Washington Monument reflected on a walkway of the National Mall (Photo By: Matt Wainwright)

For those who think Seattle is full of drips, you might be surprised to know that Washington, DC, Chicago, Dallas and Miami all get more rain per year than Seattle’s 37 inches, which is the U.S. average.

DC, supposedly a city of rainmakers, gets 39.7 inches per year of rain, less rain per year than New York (49.9 inches/yr.) and far less than slippery New Orleans (62.7 inches/yr.), the wettest city in America.