Hains Point Loop Trail

Biker enjoying a spring ride along Hains Point

This 4.1-mile loop is well worth the trip. It is also a great opportunity to see many different species of cherry trees unlike anywhere else in the park. Stroll among the blossoms while taking in spectacular views of the Potomac River, Anacostia River, and the Washington Channel. Please watch your step as the path may contain some uneven pavement.

Use this Trail Map to identify points of interest.

1. Okame Cherry Tree (Prunus x okame)

This is the only Okame cherry tree in the park. Okame is another name for the Shinto Goddess of mirth and good fortune. Being one of the earliest of the flowering cherries to bloom, the Okame welcomes the spring with its carmine-pink petals, rose red buds, and reddish flower stalks. Its multitude of single pink blooms makes for a brilliant scene in the morning sunrise. The reddish stamens persist for a week after flowering and the floral effect lasts for two to three weeks.

2. Survivors of the Burn

A little known fact about the Japanese cherry tree donation of 1912 is that it was not the first. In August of 1909, Tokyo officials donated two thousand cherry trees to their sister city of Washington, DC. The trees arrived in the nation's capital in 1910. Upon inspection and to everyone's dismay, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) found the trees to be infested with crown gall, root gall, two kinds of scale, a potentially new species of borer, and other possibly harmful insects. The trees were immediately burned as recommended.

But did any of these trees survive? Look out onto the golf course at the gnarled grove of cherry trees. Recently, it has been speculated that these trees could be part of the original 1910 donation. First, they appear to be approximately as old as the 1912 shipment yet none of those trees were planted in this area. Second, the tops of the trees have been pruned in an unusual way that would be consistent with the USDA's attempt to salvage the 1910 trees before realizing the extent of the infestations. Third, the USDA used this area for research. Finally, there was a test planting of some of the 1910 trees and documents have revealed that not all of the 1910 trees were burned. Combining all of this evidence makes the case for this grove of cherry trees being the oldest in the park.

3. Eastern Cottonwood Tree (Populus deltoides)

This indigenous species is believed to be one of the few trees on Hains Point to have taken root naturally (volunteered); the other trees having been planted. Cottonwood trees are flood-tolerant making them ideally suited for growth near the river. These fast growing trees are useful for timber production. Due to the wood's flexibility, it is used in the manufacture of snowboard cores. In late spring, female cottonwoods produce catkins which ripen and release many small seeds. Each seed is attached to a fluffy material resembling cotton, hence the tree's name. This cotton-like material allows the small seeds to be dispersed by the wind.

4. Fort Lesley J. McNair

George Washington established this fort, then called Washington Barracks, in 1791 for defense of the capital. Ironically, the British captured the fort during the War of 1812. President Abraham Lincoln test-fired the first machine gun in history here in 1861. Four years later, the fort housed the first federal penitentiary where four co-conspirators connected with President Lincoln's assassination were tried and hanged.

Major Walter Reed, camp surgeon 1881-1882, found the area's swampy composition useful for his research establishing the link between mosquitoes and the transmission of malaria. Renamed Fort Lesley J. McNair in 1948, it is still used for military housing. Educational programs for civilian and military personnel are offered at the National War College, the prominent building you see directly across the river from the trail marker. Some of the cherry trees Japan gifted to the United States were replanted on the grounds of Fort McNair in 1922.

5. Takesimensis Cherry Trees (Prunus takesimensis)

This area floods frequently making it too moist for many tree species to flourish, including the cherry trees. Takesimensis have been planted here because they are reported to be more moisture-tolerant than other cherry species. Notice the prevalence of other moisture-tolerant trees around Hains Point, such as river birch and cypress. Look for the numbered sign to identify the trees.

6. Bald Cypress or Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Is a Bald Cypress tree an evergreen tree or deciduous tree? If you answered deciduous, you are correct! Evergreen trees retain their leaves all year while deciduous trees shed their leaves annually, typically in the winter. Most people think all trees with needles are evergreens, but this is not the case.The bald cypress' yellow-green, feathery leaves are actually deciduous needles that turn reddish-brown before shedding in the fall, a rare characteristic for coniferous (cone-bearing) trees. Conversely, broad-leafed holly trees are evergreens keeping their leaves through the winter. Indigenous to the southeastern United States, the bald cypress is flood tolerant and may live in excess of 1,000 years and reach heights over 100 feet.

7. Candy Cane Tree (Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan')

Called the "candy cane tree" for obvious reasons, we do not know why this tree has taken this particular shape other than age, probable trauma, and random chance. The only living part of a tree's trunk is the thin layer of tissue just beneath the bark. The interior of a tree trunk consists of the now dead remnants of previous years' growth; hence, the age of a tree can be determined by counting the rings. As compromised as this tree appears, it may yet live for many years because there is a continuous strip of outer material from roots to branches.

8. Kwanzan Cherry Trees (Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan')

Named after a mountain in Japan, the Kwanzan cherries are admired for their heavy hanging clusters of clear pink double blossoms.There are 481 Kwanzan trees in the park, second to the predominant Yoshinos. These are easier to identify because they bloom two weeks after the Yoshinos and they are taller with a dark reddish-brown bark. Not only are they the showiest of the bunch but unlike the other trees their leaves begin to grow while the tree is still in bloom. Look at the numbered post to identify the Kwanzan cherry tree. Look for the numbered sign to identify the trees.

9. Japanese Weeping Cherry Trees (Prunus subhirtella var. Pendula)

Blooming about a week before the ever-present Yoshinos, the weeping cherry trees are easy to spot with their graceful cascades of pink flowers. They can be 20 to 40 feet in height with a variety of flowers of differing forms and colors. One variety, the autumn flowering Cherry, blooms sporadically during warm periods in the fall, fully flowering the following spring. There are more than 90 Weeping cherries and more than 20 autumn flowering cherry trees in Potomac Park. Look for the numbered sign to identify the trees.

10. Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

Indigenous to the southeastern United States, this tree grows ten to twenty feet in height and produces groupings of vibrant red flowers during the spring. Pollinators, including hummingbirds, are attracted to the flowers and may be seen feeding during bloom. The rest of the plant, including the seeds and leaves, tend not to be eaten by wildlife because they are highly toxic. Native Americans took advantage of red buckeye trees by placing their seeds and mashed branches in water to sedate fish making them easier to catch. These buckeyes were planted here because the street had already been named Buckeye Drive.

11. Cuban Friendship Urn (also called the Maine Memorial)

This stone originally stood in Havana, Cuba, as a memorial to the 266 crewmen who died in 1898 when the USS Maine exploded and sank in that city's harbor. The disaster sparked the Spanish-American War, during which the US liberated Cuba from Spain. In appreciation of American assistance, the Cuban government erected a memorial, which was toppled by a hurricane in 1926. This urn was carved from a fragment of that memorial, renamed the Cuban Friendship Urn, and sent to reside in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC. When the relationship between the two nations deteriorated, the urn was removed to a warehouse where it languished for several decades. Recently "discovered" and placed in the park almost under a bridge, it has earned the description "most obscure memorial."

12. Sargent Cherry Trees (Prunus sargentii)

Also called Yama-zakura (mountain cherry), this species is one of the most cold-resistant of the native Asian cherry trees. Perhaps because this area is not as cold as its mountain home, this species often does not bloom in this area until the tree is over 10 years old. The flowers often vary in color size and petal shape. Look for the numbered sign to identify the trees.

13. Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana)

As the 'x' in the scientific name indicates, this tree is a hybrid cross between two species. It was developed in 1820 by Étienne Soulange-Bodin (1774–1846), a retired cavalry officer in Napoleon's army, by crossing Magnolia denudata with M. liliiflora. Plant breeders have continued to develop this hybrid in many countries with more than one hundred named varieties now known. Magnolias are among the oldest flowering plants, dating back approximately 100 million years. These trees developed flowers prior to the appearance of bees and depended on beetles for pollination. Thus, magnolias have very tough flowers capable of supporting heavy-bodied beetles landing and walking on them.

14. George Mason Memorial

Dedicated in 2002, the modest size of this memorial belies the enormity of George Mason's influence on both national and international political thought. As the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), Mason created the first constitutional protection of individual rights. The Declaration of Independence, United States Bill of Rights, France's Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Rights all drew inspiration from Mason's writings. Notice the similarity between Mason's words quoted here and Thomas Jefferson's words from the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Last updated: January 31, 2024