Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What kinds of cherry trees are there?

The initial gift of 3,020 trees was represented by twelve varieties of which two, the Yoshino and Kwanzan, now dominate.

The Yoshino cherry tree is the predominant variety that encircles the Tidal Basin and spills north onto the Washington Monument grounds. The Yoshino trees produce a great profusion of single white blossoms that create the effect of white clouds banked around the basin.

The Yoshino, known as Somei-yoshino in Japan, is a hybrid of unknown origin that first was introduced in Tokyo in 1872 and is now one of the more popular cultivated flowering cherries. Mingled with the Yoshino trees is a small number of the Akebono cherry trees, a mutation of the Yoshino tree with single, pale-pink blossoms, introduced into cultivation by W.B. Clarke of California in 1920. The Akebono tree flowers at the same time as the Yoshino and provides an attractive tint of pink in the early stages of the peak bloom.

The Kwanzan cherry tree, named after a mountain in Japan, is growing primarily in East Potomac Park. Coming into bloom two weeks later than the Yoshino, the upright Kwanzan branches bear heavy clusters of clear pink double blossoms. The cultivars Fugenzo (double, rosy pink flowers) and Shirofugen (double white when open but aging to pink) also are represented.

Fugenzo is the cultivar Mrs. Helen Herron Taft believed she planted even before she officially planted the first tree from Japan in 1912. They were planted along the Potomac River from the present site of the Lincoln Memorial southward toward East Potomac Park; they gradually disappeared. As First Lady, Mrs. Taft became interested in the beautification of a particular Potomac Park area, known then as the "Speedway" surrounding the Tidal Basin.

The Weeping Japanese Cherry tree, sometimes called the Higan cherry tree, is interspersed among the Yoshino, Akebono, and Kwanzan trees. The flowers of the Weeping Cherry are variable, giving rise to many different forms (single to double) and flower colors (dark pink to white). They flower about one week before the Yoshino trees.

Other selections include the Autumn Flowering Cherry tree (semi-double, pink flowers), Sargent Cherry tree (single, deep pink flowers), the Usuzumi Cherry tree (white-grey flowers), and Takesimensis Cherry tree.


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