Then & Now: Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin

Time passes, but the cherry blossoms always come back. Seeing the cherry blossoms is a time-honored D.C. tradition that dates back to 1912, when Tokyo gifted 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. in an act of friendship. While many of the original trees have been replaced, the Tidal Basin’s beauty has persisted for more than a century. Each spring, more than 1.5 million visitors descend upon Washington, D.C. each year to admire the 3,000-plus trees.

Here’s a great “then and now” comparison shot of the Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. from the 1930s and 2019.

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin (THEN): From Lewis Reed’s collection of photographs. Cherry blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin, circa 1930s with my mother, Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner.

1930s DC Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin with my mother, Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1930s

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin (NOW): The “now” photo is a google image of approximately the same location… some 80 years later. According to the National Park Service, DC’s 2020 cherry blossoms will reach peak bloom sometime between March 21 and 22. The best viewing of the cherry blossom trees typically lasts four to seven days after peak bloom begins, but the blossoms can last for up to two weeks under ideal conditions.

The 2020 Festival, March 20 – April 14, includes four weeks of events featuring diverse and creative programming promoting traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty, and community spirit. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is cancelling and postponing some Festival events occurring through March 31. You can read the announcement with details here.

DC Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin today.

Fun facts about Washington, DC’s cherry blossoms

  • The first donation of 2,000 trees, received in 1910, was burned on orders from President William Howard Taft. Insects and disease had infested the gift, but after hearing about the plight of the first batch, the Japanese mayor sent another 3,020 trees to DC two years later.
  • The first two trees were planted on the north bank of Tidal Basin in March 1912, and they still stand today. You can see them at the end of 17th Street Southwest, marked by a large plaque.
  • It’s against the law to pick the cherry blossoms in Washington DC. While there aren’t any subtle wire fences or stern security guards like in a museum, any attempts to create your own corsage may very well land you a fine.
  • The majority of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin are of the Yoshino variety. But another species, the Kwanzan, usually blooms two weeks after the Yoshino trees, giving visitors a second chance to catch the blossoms.
  • The average lifespan of a cherry blossom tree is only 20 to 30 years, but nearly 100 of the original trees from 1912 still thrive at the Tidal Basin due to the maintenance of the National Park Service.
  • No, they’re not all from 1912, reinforcements are sometimes necessary. New trees have been regularly planted, including in 1965, the late 1980s, 1999 and from 2002 to 2006, according to the NPS.

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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