Your Guide to Washington DC’s Cherry Blossoms
The weather is finally starting to warm up in the United States, which means everyone has started planning trips for spring and summer. One of the most popular travel destinations during the warm-weather months is Washington, DC, where young and old can learn about American history in the nation’s capital.
Though the city is busy throughout most of the year, nothing compares to the first few weeks of spring, when the snow has melted and the cherry trees blossom. Washington, DC’s cherry blossoms are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United States, bringing thousands into the city to see the annual bloom.
The History of the Blossoms
The cherry trees in Washington, DC, are one of the most recognizable features of the city. However, they did not arrive in the capital until 1910. The Sakura Trees–which represent “the evanescence of human life”– were a gift from the Japanese to celebrate the friendship between the two countries. However, the first 2,000 sent to the States were infected with insects, so they had to be burned. To rectify this, Japan sent 3,020 Sakura Trees in 1912.
The first two trees were planted by First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda–wife of the Japanese Ambassador–at the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. Since then, the cherry trees have become the true harbinger of spring for those living in and around the Washington, DC, area. The first Cherry Blossom Festival was held in 1934 and has become an annual event celebrating what is now a symbol of the nation’s capital.
While it may be difficult to imagine the Jefferson Memorial without Cherry Trees surrounding it, there was a moment where all the tree could have been destroyed during its construction. In 1938, a group of women chained themselves around the trees to prevent them from being cut down to make room for the Jefferson Memorial, in an event known as the Cherry Tree Rebellion. They also seized shovels from workers and refilled holes that were made while another group of about fifty women marched to the armed with a petition to save the trees along the Tidal Basin. A compromise was reached wherein more cherry trees would be planted around the memorial to make up for those lost during construction.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, several trees were cut down in a suspected act of retaliation against the Japanese. Due to concerns of more vandalism, the cherry trees were referred to as “Oriental Flowering Cherry Trees” in an attempt to remove the Japanese origins of the trees.
Following World War II, the Cherry Blossom Grove along the Arakawa River outside Tokyo, Japan, was declining in health. Despite the tension following the war, Japan requested some of the trees in DC be returned to them to help restore the glory of the grove. The National Park Service obliged the request by sending back descendants of the trees to Japan. Two years later, in 1954, the Japanese ambassador presented a 300-year-old stone lantern to Washington, DC. The lantern was a gift to honor the 100 year anniversary of the Treaty of Peace, which opened trade between the US and Japan in 1854. The lantern is located in West Potomac Park and is lit every year to signify the opening of the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Over the next 60 years, Japan would send over more gifts as a way to mend the relationship between the States and the island nations. Gifts included the coronation crown used at the annual Cherry Blossom Queen Pageant. The crown is made of 2-pounds of gold and over 1,000 pearls and is only worn by the queen on the night she is crowned. They also gifted a pagoda in 1958 to once again commemorate the friendship between Japan and the US within the Treaty of Peace. The pagoda can be found in West Potomac Park near the FDR Memorial.
Finally, in 2012, The United States sent 3,000 Dogwood trees to Japan to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the planting of the Sakura trees. The Dogwoods were planted throughout Japan as a symbol of the enduring friendship between the two nations.
When is the Peak Season?
The blossoms’ peak is usually toward the end of March and the beginning of April, though the exact dates will vary. In fact, there have been years when the festival had to be canceled due to sudden snowfall and freezing temperatures killing the blossoms.
However, when the season begins, there’s a lot more to do than just admire the trees. The dates for the Cherry Blossom Festival are set a couple of years in advance based on when the blossoms traditionally bloom, and the Opening Ceremony will always be during the first weekend. The ceremony brings some of the world’s greatest performers together to celebrate the blossoms and the start of spring
Other events include the Blossom Kite Festival, Petalpalooza (which includes a firework show), and the National Cherry Blossom Parade, which happens on Constitution Boulevard and 15th Street NW. There are daily events throughout the duration of the festival, so when you’re planning your trip make sure to check out the schedule of events.
If you’re planning your trip to DC around the cherry blossoms, then you should follow the National Park Service for the best predictions.
How to See The Cherry Blossoms
Any local will tell you that peak season is one of the busiest times for Washington, DC, with thousands of people traveling to the city just to see the blossoms at their peak. Public transit is packed as are the roads leading into the city–and, yes, there is a 100% chance road work will be happening at this time. So, when you’re planning your trip around the cherry blossoms, be aware that you’ll be entering Washington, DC, at one of its high seasons–especially if it’s during a major festival event. So, If you want to avoid monstrous crowds, then you might want to avoid arriving the days on which major events are occurring.
However, if crowds aren’t your thing, there are other ways to enjoy the cherry blossoms that may better suit your style of travel. While swimming in the Potomac might not be the best choice for everyone, canoeing and kayaking are great options when it comes to enjoying the water. This is a fun way to see our nation’s capital that not too many people take advantage of.
River cruises are another option to see the cherry trees, albeit more expensive. The Potomac River Company offers cruises for many different occasions and events held in the Washington, DC, area. This is also a good option if you’re in search of a unique way to see the National Fireworks on the Fourth of July. Just be sure to book fast as tickets will sell out.
There are also other places to see the cherry trees throughout the DC Metro area including the National Mall, the Arlington Cemetery, and Old Town Alexandria. While each area comes with its own crowds, they also offer other attractions worth visiting.
At the end of the day, the best way to see the cherry blossoms is to just go for a walk down by the Potomac, which is lined with the gorgeous trees. There’s no need to spend money when the blossoms are there for public view. You’re also going to get better pictures than those who opt to spend the money on boat rides down the river. Once you’re finished with your blossom-filled photo shoot, there are plenty of free activities to enjoy throughout the city.
Have you been to Washington, DC, during cherry blossom season? What are your tips for those planning their first trip?