Conserving Cherry Trees

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A History of Friendship and Preservation

Postcard of cherry trees blooming along the Arakawa River

Library of Congress

There are many species of Japanese cherry tree in Washington DC, and many more throughout the world. The cherry trees first arrived here more than a century ago. Since that time, many times trees and genetic tree material has been shared between the United States and Japan. Preserving these trees is an act of friendship.

This history can be seen in stories about cherry trees from the Arakawa River grove.

Black and white photo portrait of Mayor Yukio Ozaki

Kinsei Meishi Shashin vol.2, National Diet Library, Japan

In 1912, the first gift of friendship symbolized by cherry trees from the Mayor Yukio Ozaki, the Mayor of Tokyo, to Washington DC. He sent 3,000 blooming cherry trees that were planted around and near the Tidal Basin.

These trees largely came from an historic grove near the Arakawa River.

In 1954, the Arakawa grove was in need of repair and regrowing. Buds from these descendant trees in the Tidal Basin were able to help restore the original grove in Japan.

This is just one of the cycles of giving, preservation, and friendship found among the cherry trees!
Lady Bird Johnson planting cherry tree. She wears a yellow jacket and pushes the shovel into the dirt with black high heeled shoes.

LBJ Library, White House Photo Office collection (34199-11)

In 1965, Japan sent a further 3,800 trees, planted by First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife of the Japanese ambassador.

Lady Bird was later quoted about preservation of nature, saying, “My heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth.”

In 1982, the cycle of giving and preservation continued.

The re-routing of a river caused a flood through an embankment of Yoshino cherry trees. Horticulturalists from Japan collected cuttings of the Yoshino cherry trees growing in Washington DC. to help restore the grove after the flood.

In 1996, a Sister River Agreement was signed between the Potomac, whose waters flow through the Tidal Basin near the cherry trees, and the Arakawa River flowing by Tokyo. This is the grove from where many our flowering Japanese cherry trees originally came.

Last updated: March 9, 2021