History of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

Spring has (almost!) sprung, and our nation’s capital is officially on bloom watch. Each year thousands gather in Washington, D.C. to view the beautiful cherry blossom trees burst into bloom and celebrate environmental education initiatives, arts and culture, and community spirit as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. So how did the Festival come to be? It certainly has an impressive and special history.

Washington Memorial and Cherry Blossoms

The history of the National Cherry Blossom Festival dates back all the way to 1912 when more than 3,000 cherry trees were gifted to the United States from Japanese government. That March, the first two trees were planted by then First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. Fun fact! In 1915, the United States reciprocated the generous gesture by gifting Japan with flowering dogwood trees.

Photo by Famartin

Since 1912, many first ladies have been involved in the Festival. In 1965, Lady Bird Johnson accepted 3,800 trees from Japan and held a reenactment of sorts of the very first tree-planting ceremony. All recent first ladies including Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama have served as Honorary Chair of the Festival.

Photo by Ron Cogswell

In 1927, the first “festival” was held when local schools reenacted the first planting and participated in other activities. From then until 1935, schools and civic groups helped to grow (no pun intended) the cherry blossom festivities.

Fast forward to 1981 when things really came full circle. The Japanese were given cuttings from the original trees in D.C. to replace some cherry trees that had been destroyed in a terrible flood.

Since then the Festival has greatly expanded, first to a two-week celebration, and then to five weeks in 2012 to mark the 100-year anniversary. Today, the National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place over four weeks and features more than 50 special events and programs! It’s no wonder Washington, D.C. has become a major springtime destination for visitors around the world.

Cherry Blossoms in DC

See the historic trees for yourself while on a WorldStrides Washington, D.C. program.

View our On-Site Insight video about the Jefferson Memorial here, featuring a unique interesting fact about the famous cherry blossoms!


Related Itineraries