Perhaps the National Capital City’s biggest attraction in early Spring is the blooming of the historic cherry trees surround the Tidal Basin, the National Mall, and the Potomac waterfront. Visitors come from all over the world to witness this annual spectacle of nature. However, the blooms last a very short time. Any given tree may be in full bloom for only about a week. And it has now been more than a week since the blossoms peaked. During the intervening time the remaining blossoms continued to fall off the trees. And then almost all of those that were left succumbed to the rain and wind over the past weekend.
But just because we will have to wait until next year for the cherry blossoms to return, visiting the trees near the Tidal Basin is still worthwhile. The twisted and gnarled trunks of the 3,750 cherry trees are ornamental in and of themselves. And like their blossoms, flowering cherry trees themselves are fairly ephemeral too, at least as trees go. Most cultivars live only 30 to 40 years. But quite a few of the trees surrounding the Tidal Basin were originally planted more than 100 years ago, and their age only contributes to their beauty.
There are other trees mixed in with the more famous cherry trees that are worth seeing too. Flowering trees include dogwood, holly, magnolia, and crabapple trees. Other trees include American Elms, Red Maples, River Birches and pines. But perhaps the most interesting of the other trees is an Amur cork tree on the south side of the Tidal Basin (MAP), between the water and The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Having been planted over 80 years ago, these trees are old enough to have witnessed the construction of the nearby The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and its dedication back in 1943.
The Amur cork tree, or the Phellodendron amurense, is a species of deciduous tree in the family Rutaceae named for its thick corky bark. Native to eastern Asia; northern China, northeast China, Korea, Ussuri, Amur, and Japan. The tree is a major source of huáng bò, one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.
What I find most interesting about the Amur cork tree, however, besides its unusual appearance, is that it is considered invasive and even an ecological threat in North America. The National Park Service, who overseas the area around the Tidal Basin, originally introduced it to the environment. However, the Park Service’s own guidelines state, “The best way to control Amur corktree is not to plant it in the first place.” It’s a contradiction that seems typical for the Federal government.