Posts Tagged ‘Tidal Basin’

The Amur Cork Tree

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.

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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1 – A Metro train inbound from Alexandria to D.C. as it passes over the Potomac River

Back in May of this year I wrote a post about meeting my original goal for this blog, and what my future goals would be.  Along with that post I also published a couple of dozen miscellaneous photos that I had taken during my lunchtime bike rides, but had not previously used for other posts on this blog.  As this year is rapidly coming to an end, I decided to post some more miscellaneous photos.  So below I have included a couple of dozen more photos that I took at different times over the past year, but have not used for this blog.  Be sure to click on each of the photos to view the full-size versions.

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 5 2016eoy05    6 2016eoy06    7 2016eoy09

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11 2016eoy11  12 2016eoy141  13 2016eoy54

14 2016eoy13  15 2016eoy16  16 2016eoy17

17 2016eoy361  18 2016eoy26  19 2016eoy22

20 2016eoy23  21 2016eoy25  22 2016eoy21

23 2016eoy18  24 2016eoy37  25 2016eoy39
[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

1 – A Metro train inbound from Alexandria to D.C. as it passes over the Potomac River.
2 – A hauntingly beautiful abandoned mansion located on Cooper Circle in LeDroit Park.
3 – A demonstration by Native Americans on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial.
4 – A musician taking a mid-afternoon nap in the park at DuPont Circle.
5 – A young girl admiring a mounted Park Police officer’s horse on the National Mall.
6 – An old farmer and his family selling watermelons out of the back of a truck on Rhode Island Avenue.
7 – A bike repurposed as a planter on the front porch of a home in LeDroit Park.
8 – A book sale at Second Story Books at the corner of 20th and P Streets in DuPont Circle.
9 – A mural interplaying with the shade of the leaves of a nearby tree on Capitol Hill.
10 – The First Street protected bikeway connecting Union Station to the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
11 – A merging of protests in front of the White House and  Lafayette Square Park.
12 – A view of the Anacostia River through the thick growth of vegetation on Kingman Island.
13 – Chocolate City Bar mural in a alley near 14th and S Streets, NW
14 – Demolished buildings on 14th Street making way for new Downtown construction.
15 – A ping pong game in the Farragut Square Park sponsored by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District.
16 – Statues outside Bar Rogue in the Kimpton Rouge Hotel on 16th Street.
17 – The former Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration headquarters building on First Street in northeast D.C.
18 – Boats docked on the Southeast Waterfront just west of the Maine Avenue Fish Market.
19 – A homeless woman who spends her days on a bench in DuPont Circle Park.
20 – A news reporter broadcasting live from in front of FBI Headquarters.
21 – Chinese zodiac signs adorn the crosswalk at 7th and H Streets near The Friendship Archway in Chinatown.
22 – A bee pollinating a flower in The Smithsonian’s Butterfly Habitat Garden.
23 – An Organic Transit ELF vehicle parked at a bike rack on the National Mall.
24 – A street musician playing for tips outside the Farragut North Metro Station during the morning rush hour.
25 – A bench with a view on the southern side of the Tidal Basin.

NOTE:  Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my year-end collection of various photos.

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The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms

The blooming of the Yoshino cherry tree blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin is anticipated by many people in much the same way that small children anticipate the arrival of Santa at Christmastime. The beautiful blooms of the cherry blossom are looked forward to all winter because they are one of the surest and most celebrated signs of spring. But the peak blooming period varies from year to year. In fact, it can vary by over a month. Unseasonably warm or cool temperatures have resulted in peak bloom as early as March 15.  That occurred in 1990.  And they have peaked as late as April 18, as happened in 1958, according to the National Park Service.

Now, I’m fortunate in that I live in the D.C. area and can see them whenever they arrive. But if you live outside of the area and want to see this springtime spectacular, how do you know when the best time to plan to travel here is? Well, much like the weather, you have to rely on predictions for when the peak of the blooming process will occur.

The point at which the cherry blossoms are at their peak is the date on which 70 percent of the area’s Yoshino cherry blossoms are open. But leading up to this, there are several developmental stages that precede full bloom which the trees go through to reach that point. Many amateur cherry blossom watchers eagerly monitor these stages to try and predict when the peak will be. However, responsibility for the official prediction falls to the National Park Service’s Chief Horticulturalist for the National Capital Region, Robert DeFeo. Each year in early March, Mr. DeFeo announces when peak bloom is most likely to occur around the Tidal Basin. He reads nature’s clues at each stage of the process, meticulously follows the weather forecasts, and then ventures out on a limb with an educated guess.

A brief walk through the stages of the process may be helpful in understanding what Mr. DeFeo and others consider in making their predictions. The first sign of their imminent arrival are when green buds emerge on the trees’ branches. This occurs even before the leaves begin to appear on the trees. In the second stage, florets begin to appear, and then extend themselves from the buds. This occurs anywhere between 12 and 17 days before peak bloom. The third stage in the process is referred to as peduncle elongation. But this is not as complexly scientific as the name makes it sound. Peduncle elongation simply means that the small stalk connecting each bloom to the tree’s branch grows. When this occurs, the blooms are almost certain to blossom in at least five days, but not more than ten days. The next-to-last stage in the blooming process is when the blossoms begin to get puffy, signaling that there are just four to six days to peak bloom. And then, finally, the peak bloom stage arrives.

However, demonstrating how inexact and subject to change the predictions are for when D.C.’s cherry blossoms will reach their peak, this year’s original prediction, issued on March 2nd and predicting the peak to occur between March 31st and April 3rd, had to be revised. Cooler temperatures than what had been previously forecast resulted in the prediction being revised less than a week after it was originally made. The revised forecast is now for this year’s peak bloom to occur between last Thursday (March 18th), and this Wednesday (March 23rd). That meant today should have been right in the middle of the cherry blossoms peak bloom time.

So on today’s lunchtime bike ride I decided to ride to the Tidal Basin to enjoy the spring spectacle. But I ended up feeling like someone who took an umbrella with me because I listened to a weatherman’s prediction for thunderstorms, but then I didn’t see a drop of rain. The cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin are nowhere near their peak. They are making steady process. But they seem to be taking their time.

The National Park Service has narrowed its most recent prediction, estimating the peak to occur this Wednesday or Thursday.  But from what I observed today, I’d estimate that the majority of the blooms are in the peduncle elongation stage, with peak bloom still potentially ten days away.  With warmer weather arriving soon, and then rain predicted for this weekend, I guess this year we will have to just wait and see what happens.

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Stages of Development
1 – Green Buds   2 – Florets Visible   3 – Peduncle Elongation
4 – Puffy White   5 – Peak Bloom

[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size, high resolution photos]

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Tidal Basin Paddle Boats

The Tidal Basin is a partially man-made reservoir between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park.  And there are a number of memorials and attractions situated adjacent to the Tidal Basin.  Most famous of which are the world-renowned Japanese cherry trees, which are a focal point of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held each spring.  Other attractions include The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the George Mason Memorial.  But on this lunchtime bike ride to the Tidal Basin I went there for another reason – the Tidal Basin Paddle Boats.

The Tidal Basin Paddle Boat Dock is located on the eastern shore of the Tidal Basin, at 1501 Maine Avenue (MAP) next to the National Park Service concession stand.  You can get there from the National Mall by walking west on Independence Avenue to 15th Street, and then turning left and heading south along 15th Street toward the Jefferson Memorial.  There you will find the dock on the right.

Operated by Guest Services, Inc., both two and four-person paddle boats are available for hourly rental between March 15 and Labor Day each year, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., weather permitting. The last boat rental is at 5:00 p.m.  Now that it’s after Labor Day, they are open between now and Columbus Day weekend from Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.  Again, weather permitting.

The paddle boats are a great way for tourists and D.C. natives alike to experience the 107 acres of the Tidal Basin, and at the same time take in the unique views that being out on the water affords visitors of the nearby memorials and other attractions.  It’s also a great way to spend a lunch hour.

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The Annual Cherry Blossoms

I wrote last year in this blog about The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin and along the Potomac River, but the spectacle of the thousands of trees at peak bloom is something that not only can but should be enjoyed every year. Unfortunately, the duration of the visual splendor of these delicate blooms is available for only a brief time, leading many to say that they are symbolic and serve to remind us of the beauty and brevity of life. Sadly, this year’s blossoms peaked earlier this week and are now gone. The wind and rain of the past few days have caused the trees to lose their blooms, forcing us to wait until next year to again experience the annual spectacle. However, in the meantime, I hope you will enjoy these photos (you can click on the photos to enlarge them and see them in their full size) which I took during my lunchtime bike rides during the past week.  As you do, think about the bright white and pink flowers which seem to be illuminated by the sunlight. Try to imagine their subtle yet sweet fragrance in the early morning hours as you watch the sun rise on the other side of The Washington Monument. Picture yourself sitting on one of the many park benches next to the twisted and gnarled trunk of one of the trees, while petals from the fleeting blossoms fall all around you.  Think about walking under the trees’ low hanging limbs while you traverse the waterside walkway surrounding the Tidal Basin.  And imagine the feel of a gentle breeze as you enjoy the rows of trees lining the trails and roads along the river.  Try to imagine these things and you’ll probably understand why I enjoy riding my bike around the city to enjoy the cherry trees, as well as all of the other attractions and experiences this area has to offer.

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The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

When it comes to Presidential memorials in D.C., there have been occasions when people decide after the memorial is completed that it is not quite right, or not big enough, or somehow unbefitting the president who it is intended to honor. And instead of accepting or even modifying the original memorial, they build a second, grander presidential memorial, often in what is considered a more prominent location. And interestingly, it is usually the second memorial with which the public is most familiar.  This happened when The Original Washington Monument was deemed insufficient, and the giant obelisk on the National Mall was erected to honor our nation’s first president.

The same type of thing happened again more recently when the existing memorial to our nation’s 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was deemed inadequate, and another, larger memorial was constructed near the Tidal Basin (MAP), which is considered one of the most prominent locations in the national capitol city. It was to this memorial that I went on today’s bike ride.

The Original FDR Memorial, which relatively few people know about, is located near the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. In accordance with Roosevelt’s expressed wishes, the original memorial was erected in 1965 “in the center of the green plot in front of The National Archives and Records Administration Building (and) consists of a block about the size of (his) desk.”

Thirty-two years later, in contradiction to Roosevelt’s specific wishes, the more well-known FDR Memorial was dedicated.  The newer memorial is large, even by D.C. standards. Spread out over seven and a half acres on the southern side of The Tidal Basin, it traces 12 years of the history of the U.S. through a sequence of four outdoor “rooms,” one for each of his terms in office, from 1933 until his death in 1945.

The design of the memorial, by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, was chosen in 1978, and it opened to the public in 1997 after a dedication ceremony led by President Bill Clinton.  As an historic area managed by the National Park Service, the memorial is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The memorial contains a number of sculptures inspired by famous photographs of Roosevelt. One depicts the 32nd president alongside his pet Scottie named Fala. It is the only presidential pet to be memorialized. Other sculptures depict scenes from the Great Depression, such as listening to a fireside chat on the radio and waiting in a bread line. Also included is a bronze statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt standing before the United Nations (UN) emblem, honoring her dedication to the UN. It is the only presidential memorial to depict a First Lady. Water is also used prominently in the memorial as a metaphorical device, including waterfalls depicting World War II and the Great Depression, and a still pool representing the 32nd president’s death.

However, like many memorials and monuments in D.C., the FDR Memorial is not without controversy. Taking into consideration Roosevelt’s disability, the memorial’s design is intended to make it accessible to those with various physical impairments. For example, the memorial includes an area with tactile reliefs with braille writing for people who are visually impaired. However, the memorial faced serious criticism from disabled activists because the braille dots were improperly spaced and some of the braille and reliefs were mounted eight feet off of the ground, placing it physically above the reach of most people.

Another controversy involves one of the statues of Roosevelt. Against the wishes of some disability-rights advocates and historians, the memorial’s designers initially decided against plans to have Roosevelt shown in a wheelchair. Although Roosevelt used a wheelchair in private, it was hidden from the public because of the stigma of weakness which was associated with any disability at that time. So instead, the main statue in the memorial depicts the president in a chair, with a cloak obscuring the chair, which is how he usually appeared to the public during his lifetime. In a compromise, casters were added to the back of the chair, making it a symbolic “wheelchair”. However, the casters are only visible from behind the statue, and this compromise did not satisfy either side. Eventually, an additional statue was added and placed near the memorial’s entrance which clearly depicts Roosevelt in a wheelchair much like the one he actually used.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

One of the most recently dedicated of D.C.’s major national memorials is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and that was the destination of this bike ride.  The memorial opened to the public three years ago today, on August 22, 2011, after more than two decades of planning, fund-raising and construction.  A dedication ceremony for the memorial was originally scheduled for later that same week, and had the ceremony taken place it would have coincided with the 48th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech that King delivered on August 28, 1963, from the steps of The Lincoln Memorial.  Unfortunately, the dedication ceremony could not be held because of Hurricane Irene, and was rescheduled for later that fall.

The memorial is located on a four-acre plot of land in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park, and is situated on one of the most prestigious sites that was remaining near the National Mall, at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin near The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  It is situated on a sightline linking The Lincoln Memorial to the northwest and The Jefferson Memorial to the southeast. The official address of the monument is 1964 Independence Avenue (MAP), an address specifically assigned to symbolically commemorate the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.

The large centerpiece of the multi-faceted memorial is based on a soul-stirring line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”  The “Stone of Hope” is a 30-foot statue of a standing King, who is depicted with his arms folded in front of him, gazing over the Tidal Basin toward the horizon.  The sculpture was carved from 159 granite blocks that were assembled to appear as one singular piece.  The Stone of Hope seems to have emerged from within a large boulder behind it, representing the “Mountain of Despair,” which has been split in half as it gives way to the Stone of Hope.

The memorial also includes a 450-foot crescent-shaped inscription wall, made from granite panels, that is inscribed with 14 excerpts of King’s sermons and public addresses to serve as living testaments of his vision of America.  The earliest inscription is from the time of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, and the latest is taken from his final sermon, delivered in D.C.’s National Cathedral just four days before his assassination in 1968.

Landscape elements of the Memorial include American elm trees, Yoshino cherry trees, liriope plants, English yew, jasmine and sumac.  And at the entrance to the Memorial, there are a bookstore and National Park Service ranger station which includes a gift shop, audio visual displays, touch-screen kiosks and more.

Like most other memorials, monuments, statues, and just about everything else in D.C., The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is not without controversy.  In fact, the memorial has been involved in or at the center of a couple of controversies.

One controversy had to do with an inscription found on the Stone of Hope.  Each side includes a statement attributed to King.  The first reads “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope,” the quotation that serves as the basis for the monument’s design.  The words on the other side of the stone used to read, “I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness.”   On first reading, it seems an odd choice considering the phrase “I have a dream” is found nowhere on the monument.  The drum major quote, as it was inscribed on the monument, is a paraphrased version of a longer quote by King: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” The memorial’s use of the paraphrased version of the quote was heavily criticized as turning a conditional statement into a boast, which was in direct opposition to the meaning of his sermon about the evils of self-promotion from which the quote is taken.  Among the most vocal about this quote was the poet, Maya Angelou, who knew King, and said that the misquote makes King look like an “arrogant twit” and called for it to be changed, at whatever the cost.  The inscription was removed in August of last year.

The other controversy has to do with the King family demanding that “The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation,” which oversees the memorial, pay licensing fees to use King’s name and likeness.  The issue of the fee originally delayed the building of the memorial.  The memorial’s foundation, beset by delays and a languid pace of donations, stated at the time that “the last thing it needs is to pay an onerous fee to the King family.”  And historian David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of King, said, “One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny.” He added that King would have been “absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children.”  In response to the criticism, the family pledged that any money derived from the memorial foundation would go back to the King Center’s charitable efforts.  Eventually, an agreement was reached in which the foundation has paid various fees to the King family, including a management fee of $71,700 back in 2003.  Additionally, in 2009, the Associated Press revealed that the King family had negotiated a $761,160 licensing deal with the foundation for the use of King’s words and image in fundraising materials for the memorial.

However, the controversies do not diminish the importance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and it remains a lasting tribute to King’s legacy and serves as a monument to the freedom, opportunity and justice for which he stood.

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MLK02     MLK06     MLK10

MLK11     MLK10

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

On this ride I went by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, located on the National Mall directly east of the Lincoln Memorial (MAP), with The Washington Monument to the east of the reflecting pool.  It is lined by walking paths and shade trees on both sides.  Depending on the viewer’s vantage point, it dramatically reflects the Lincoln Memorial, as well as the Washington Monument, the Mall’s trees, and the expansive sky above D.C.

The Reflecting Pool was designed by American architect Henry Bacon, who also designed The Lincoln Memorial.  It was constructed beginning in 1922, following the dedication of the President Lincoln’s Memorial, and completed the following year.  At over a third of a mile long and 167 feet wide, with a a depth of approximately 18 inches on the sides and 30 inches in the center, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is the largest of the many reflecting pools in D.C.

A few years ago the National Park Service determined that the Reflecting Pool’s massive weight had begun to cause it to leak and sink, while the approximately 6,750,000 gallons of water in it had become stagnant.  As a result, it underwent an extensive rennovation.  The massive project , which was part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, shut down a large swath of the National Mall for almost two years as the old pool was removed and the new one constructed.  The Reflecting Pool reopened just before Labor Day in 2012.

The newly renovated landmark remains the largest in D.C., but is shallower than the original, measuring less than three feet at its deepest point.  This not only makes it lighter but saves water as well. Its bottom is tinted gray to make the water darker and more reflective.  And the new pool has been reengineered with a circulation and filtration system. So instead of continuing to use city water, it draws river water from the nearby Tidal Basin, conserving approximately 20 million gallons of drinking water each year.

As a result of the renovation project, the grounds also include new security features to prevent a vehicle from reaching the Lincoln Memorial for a potential terrorist attack, like the one which occurred in 2003 when an angry tobacco farmer from North Carolina named Dwight Ware Watson brought much of the nation’s capitol to a standstill for two days when he drove a tractor into the pond in the nearby Constitution Gardens area of the National Mall and claimed to have explosives.

When visiting the Reflecting Pool, one cannot help but reflect on the rich history of events that have taken place there.  Included in the long list of events are when singer Marian Anderson sang at an open air concert on Easter Sunday in 1939, because she had been denied permission to perform at D.C.’s Constitution Hall because she was African American.  On August 28, 1963, the Reflecting Pool was also the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the memorial to a crowd of 250,000 people during the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And several protests against the Vietnam War took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s around the Reflection Pool, attracting hundreds of thousands of protestors.  These and many other events make the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool a site for reflection in more ways than one.

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The Japanese Stone Lantern

In 1651, a pair of stone lanterns were created to mark the death of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of Japan’s Tokugawa dynasty.  The carved stone lanterns were originally located at the Tōshō-gū temple, and then in Ueno Park in the Ueno district of Taitō, Tokyo, where one of the twin lanterns still remains.  The other lantern was given, by the governor of Tokyo, to the City of Washington as a gift in 1954, to commemorate the signing of the 1854 Japan-US Treaty of Amity and Friendship, and as a post-World War II symbol of friendship and peace between Japan and the people of United States.

The gifted lantern was dedicated on March 30, 1954, and is located among the Somei-Yoshino cherry trees which surround the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, which were an earlier gift from Japan.  The stone lantern sits on north side of the Tidal Basin, at the west end of Kutz Bridge at Independence Avenue and 17th Street (MAP).   The lantern is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and serves as the historic centerpiece of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, an event that attracts more than 1.5 million visitors to experience the blooming of the historic cherry trees and the welcoming of spring in our nation’s capitol.

A landscape enhancement project resulted in the addition of a granite plaza with natural stone boulders, and a memorial plaque commemorating the 1912 gift of the cherry trees, was completed on the grounds surrounding the lantern in 2013 .  It is here that the Japanese Stone Lantern Lighting Ceremony, a formal ceremonial lighting of the lantern, is held during the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.  The ceremony is free and open to the public, and can be an integral part of the cherry blossom festival experience.  But whether or not you are able to attend the lighting ceremony, the Japanese stone lantern is worth seeking out and visiting as part of the cherry blossom experience.

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.

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