Here are five facts about the cherry trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, which blossom every spring and have been immortalized on stamps several times over the years:
1. The trees represent a gift of friendship. In 1912, Japan sent Washington 3,020 cherry trees to honor a growing friendship between the two nations. (Unfortunately, an earlier shipment in 1910 was infested with bugs and had to be incinerated). The United States reciprocated in 1915 by sending Japan a gift of flowering dogwoods.
2. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual tradition. The day after the healthy trees arrived in Washington, first lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, came together to plant a pair of them. Afterward, the first lady presented the viscountess with a bouquet of American Beauty roses. The Cherry Blossom Festival has its roots in this small ritual of friendship.
3. The first ladies are fans. First ladies have observed celebrations around the cherry blossoms ever since, though the festival didn’t become official until 1935. Fittingly, Beautification Project founder Lady Bird Johnson was an ardent fan. For the 1965 festival, she reenacted the original ceremony, during which Japanese Ambassador Ryuji Takeuchi’s wife announced a new gift of 3,800 trees.
4. The trees are rich with other symbolism, too. The cherry blossom — “sakura” in Japanese — has been called Japan’s unofficial national flower. It’s a symbol of spring and renewal but also of life’s evanescence. Like leaf-peeping in New England, the Japanese have “hanami,” which translates to “watching blossoms.” Hanami is often accompanied by potlucks and barbecues beneath the blooming trees.
5. The pandemic has sparked a fresh take on the festival. This is the second year in which the festival will take place under coronavirus restrictions, forcing organizers to get creative. The 2021 festival (March 20-April 11) will feature a BloomCam offering round-the-clock blossom-peeping from the comfort of home and a Petal Porch Parade, in which residents of the nation’s capital are encouraged to deck their homes in cherry blossom spirit.