Washington DC will soon be awash in cherry blossoms

(Last Updated On: March 4, 2023)

Every spring in Washington DC the the Tidal Basin and select spots around the National Mall erupt in clouds of cherry blossoms.

Cherry blossoms at the Washington Monument in Washington DC - ExplorationVacation.net

This year’s blossoms are likely to begin appearing in mid-March. Here’s how they came to be and how and when to see them for yourself.

How cherry blossoms came to Washington DC

The first cherry trees were planted along the Potomac in 1912. A gift from the Japanese government, they were provided at the request of First Lady Helen Taft.

However, the story behind that gift is a bit more complicated.

An unusual woman’s vision for Washington DC

That Washington DC will soon be filled with cherry blossoms is largely due to the determination of a woman named Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore.

Eliza_Ruhamah_ScidmoreOften described simply as a Washington socialite, Ms Scidmore was a pioneering female adventurer and journalist.

As a traveler she went west as a young woman. A few years later, in 1883, she visited Alaska on the first ship to take tourists into Glacier Bay. Soon after she visited Japan for the first time. Since her brother worked in Japan, she spent several decades traveling to and from that country and throughout Asia.

Back in Washington, she published her travel stories and photographs, worked as a journalist, wrote books, and lectured on her experiences. In addition, she was involved in the National Geographic Society almost from its inception, holding a seat on the board of managers just two years after the organization’s founding.

Despite all that, the cherry blossoms have become Scidmore’s most enduring legacy.

While in Japan, Ms Scidmore fell in love with the cherry blossoms and springtime rituals that accompanied their blooming. She thought that this was exactly what Washington DC needed and decided to try to make that happen. Following her 1885 trip to Japan, she proposed to federal park supervisors that they fill the dreary mudflats between the city and the Potomac with cherry trees.

Her suggestion was ignored then (and for years to come) through one presidential administration after another.

The vision becomes reality

Finally, in 1909, First Lady Helen Taft came into the picture.

Having herself lived in Japan and seen the cherry blossoms in bloom there, the First Lady embraced Scidmore’s idea immediately. And, as a First Lady with Japanese contacts, she was in a position to do something about it. Soon a shipment of cherry trees was on its way from Tokyo to Washington DC.

Unfortunately, when the 2,000 trees arrived in January of 1910, they were unhealthy and infested with insects. All were quickly destroyed.

Not ready to give up, a second shipment was arranged. This time more than 3,000 cherry trees of several varieties were sent to Washington DC.

Fortunately, this shipment arrived in good condition and, on March 27, 1912, the First Lady and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two trees. It was a small, almost unnoticed ceremony, but Ms Scidmore was there to see her dream implemented.

DC’s cherry blossoms bloom in March – April

Only a couple of those original trees sent from Japan in 1912 still survive. (This type of ornamental Cherry tree generally only lives about 25 years, making it amazing that any still survive.) However, over the years new trees replace original ones as they died.

Today Washington DC still fills with blossoms each spring when the current trees (mostly descendants of the original trees from Japan) burst into bloom.


Cherry blossoms at the Washington Monument in Washington DC - ExplorationVacation.net

Blossoms generally open white and turn pink as they age. At peak bloom, most trees will be very white.

Usually Washington DC’s cherry trees bloom in late March or early April. However, bloom time varies greatly depending on the weather. Once they do bloom, each tree’s blossoms last for only a few days.

Fortunately, not all trees bloom at the same time, giving the city a week or two of blossoms.

Peek bloom (the point when 70% of blossoms are open) can occur at any time during this period and is very weather-dependent. Currently the National Park Service predicts the 2023 peak bloom to occur between March 22-25. (The Washington Post is predicting the peak will be March 25-29.) Predicting peak bloom is more art then science and the predictions can change frequently until it actually happens. Keep track of the expected peak bloom on the National Park Service’s Blossom Watch page.

Plan your visit to see DC’s cherry trees in bloom

The 2023 National Cherry Blossom Festival begins March 18 and runs through April 16. Visiting during this festival gives you a chance to see the flowers AND take in some fun activities. Highlights include:

  • Blossom Kite Festival at the Washington Memorial (free)
  • Petalpalooza at Navy Yard with art, music, and fireworks over the Anacostia River (free)
  • National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade (free and ticketed options)
  • Sakura Taiko (Japanese Drumming) Fest (free?)

Most events are on or near the National Mall. You can download a list of 2023 events with a map on the Cherry Blossom Festival website. (pdf)

This is just generally a beautiful time to be in Washington DC and you you’ll find gorgeous blossoms of all types throughout the city. It’s not all about the cherry blossoms!

Getting around DC

Driving and parking in DC is never easy and its even more of a challenge during events like the National Cherry Blossom Festival. You’re best bet is to forget about a car and use one of DC’s many transit options. For tourists, the DC Circulator and Metrorail are great ways to move around the city to get to the cherry trees and festival events.

Hotels in DC

There are tons of hotels in the District, but bargains can be hard to find — especially if you want to be near the Mall. See what your options are, check reviews, compare prices and book a room on TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, or Expedia (affiliate links).

Looking for an affordable option that’s dated, but comfortable and in a great location? I often stay at the Hotel Harrington. It’s not fancy, but the price is usually right. Check out the Hotel Harrington and book at TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Agoda, or Expedia (affiliate links).

These pictures were taken in fall 2016, when unseasonably warm weather tricked some younger cherry trees into blooming. I have yet to have get to visit DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Someday!

This post is linked to Floral Friday Fotos

link to post on Washington DC's cherry blossoms with cherry trees and Washington Monument © Cindy Carlsson at ExplorationVacation.net

Exploring the National Mall

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