Washington, DC -- during the win ter, cherry trees look like a balancing act of branches blown about by the wind. This is the result of weak apical dominance: they would rather be bushes. But when she blooms, the cherry tree doesn't sag. There is a lightness aboiut her that makes you forget her branches altogether.
All you see is beauty.
In a city of memorials, the cherry trees that blossom each spring are perhaps the most evocative of all.
In place of turbulence is an idyllic, picture-perfect vision of white and the palest pink flowers encircling Washington DC's Tidal Basin and framing the Jefferson Memorial with cotton-candy ethereality.
About 3,020 cherry trees were given to the U.S. by Japan in 1912, a token of the two countries' blossoming friendship. In particular, it was a thank-you to President William Howard Taft for his support of Japan during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese war. Although four were destroyed by vandals following Pearl Harbor, the cherry trees endured tense U.S.-Japan relations, and they have kept on blooming as the two countries renewed their friendship. Japan became a member of the United Nations in 1956. Shortly afterwards, the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty brought stability to East Asia. From allies to enemies, then again allies the delicate blossoms belie the hard work of friendship but certainly show it to be a beautiful thing.
The 2007 Cherry Blossom Festival will take place from March 31 to April 15 and is expected to attract over 600,000 visitors. At that time, the Tidal Basin isn't just covered in white and pink; it's packed with people strolling along its rim and with families and romantics picnicking under the blossoms.
This is no time to speculate on the shortcomings of any person or nation. Rather, you find yourself feeling unashamedly cheerful, a character in a fairy tale in a wondrous land. Spread a blanket and enjoy, or take in the view on the walk around the basin to the Jefferson Memorial. Its dazzling white marble stands out between the blue lake and sky and seems to interrupt a majestic pink horizon.
Of the 12 varieties of cherry trees originally bestowed by Japan, Yoshinos predominate. Their single white and very pale pink blossoms are the focus of the blooming forecast. Other varieties, like the Kwanzan, with heavy clusters of clear pink double blossoms, typically bloom two weeks after the Yoshinos.
The average lifespan of a cherry tree is 30 to 40 years, and only 150 of the original Japanese cherry trees remain. In an effort to save their genetic heritage, the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington has been propagating replacements from the original trees, and 400 have been successfully planted over the past three years. Before then, dying trees were replaced by others from commercial nurseries.
The two-week festival offers cultural performances, demonstrations and museum exhibits by local and international artists, in open venues and notable buildings. Many of them are family-friendly and free. The Jefferson Memorial, Union Station and the DC Visitor Information Center all have dance, music, song and various demonstrations usually starting at noon every day.
The sakura, Japanese for cherry blossom, is Japan's national flower, and is noted for its ephemeral nature and beauty. Flower viewing, or hanami, is a treasured tradition in Japan. Since the cherry trees bloom at about the same time in both countries, they can celebrate hanami together.