The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum

The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum

In 1912, the people of Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. as a gift of friendship. Those trees were planted around the Tidal Basin in D.C. Since that time, when people in this country hear the words “cherry blossom,” they often think of the trees made famous by that historic planting. There are now approximately 3,750 trees. In addition to the Tidal Basin, they are located nearby in East Potomac Park and on the grounds of The Washington Monument as well. When it comes to cherry trees, the area near the Tidal Basin is definitely the place to go for quantity.

Although most of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin area are the familiar Yoshino Cherry, there are 11 other species there as well. They are the Kwanzan Cherry, Akebono Cherry, Takesimensis Cherry, Usuzumi Cherry, Weeping Japanese Cherry, Sargent Cherry, Autumn Flowering Cherry, Fugenzo Cherry, Afterglow Cherry, Shirofugen Cherry and Okame Cherry. However, there are also numerous other species of these ornamental Prunus that offer a diversity of flower color, bloom time, and shape.  So on a recent bike ride I went to the United States National Arboretum in northeast D.C. to see some of these trees that are not available downtown.  The Arboretum has all 12 of the cherry tree species that are downtown, as well as 64 more. And the cherry trees at the National Arboretum are incredible specimens. So if you’re looking for quality and variety, I recommend the National Arboretum.

The National Arboretum displays 446 acres of different trees, shrubs and plants and is one of the largest arboretums in the country. Visitors enjoy a variety of exhibits from formal landscaped gardens to the Gotelli Dwarf and slow growing Conifer Collection. The National Arboretum is most known for its bonsai collection.  Other special displays include seasonal exhibits, aquatic plants, and a National Herb garden. However, during this time of year, the site is an excellent but relatively little-known spot to see cherry trees. They currently have 76 varieties of cherry trees in the research and display collections there. And you can take a self-guided, self-paced tour and explore the acres of flowering cherry trees by bike, by foot, or by car.

The tour, aptly named the “Beyond the Tidal Basin Tour,” introduces visitors to a wide range of flowering cherries. You can see flowers in peak bloom on only some of the trees though, as different types of cherry trees have different bloom times. Many of the trees are in full bloom, but there are some that have already bloomed this season and lost their petals, while others are only beginning to bud. You should be aware that cherry trees have other ornamental features, such as trunk shape or ornamental bark, so be sure to look at the whole tree so you can appreciate the differing qualities as well as the different blooms.

For centuries, the Japanese have valued the ornamental qualities of flowering cherries, equating the transient beauty of the blossoms with the brevity of human life. I’d encourage everyone to visit the National Arboretum at some point in their life. And life is short, so don’t put it off for too long. It’s okay if you can’t come in the Spring to see the cherry trees. It’s worth coming at any time of the year.

Arboretum 02   Arboretum 03   Arboretum 04   Arboretum 05

Arboretum 07   Arboretum 06   Arboretum 08   Arboretum 09

Arboretum 10   Arboretum 11

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Comments
  1. Excellent info, thanks for posting. I’ve been out there to photograph the Capitol Columns a couple times. Are any of the cherry trees in the vicinity of the columns? Could make for an interesting backdrop.

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    • There are a couple of places at the National Arboretum where it is possible to photograph the Capitol Columns with certain cherry trees. Since the different species of cherry trees there bloom at different times, you would need to be careful in coordinating the timing to capture both.

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  2. amforte66 says:

    I plan on going biking in the National Arboretum this weekend. It looks so beautiful. I’ve never been there before, and actually hadn’t heard of it before my husband started researching places to bike around the DC area. Your blog has tons of places for us to check out! 🙂

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    • The National Arboretum is a great place to ride with absolutely no traffic. It has so many things to see that I couldn’t write about all of them in one blog post. So I have more planned for the future. Don’t miss the bonsai trees at the National Bonsai Foundation’s garden, the Capitol Columns, and especially the azaleas at this time of the year. I suggest taking along a camera, and a picnic for lunch near one of the lakes. Enjoy!

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