Not All Cherry Blossoms Are the Same

View these vivid illustrations by Japanese artist Kōkichi Tsunoi of the varieties of trees presented to the United States in 1912

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Just in time for this year's bloom, Smithsonian Books presents a delightful new offering Cherry Blossoms: Sakura Collections from the Library of Congress. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)
SMITHSONIANMAG.COM | March 20, 2020, 12:28 p.m.

One of the most enduring rituals of American tourism is the springtime visit to view the delicate blossoms that bloom on the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Each year, some 1.5 million arrive to stroll the narrow pathway beneath the pink and white canopy of flower petals.

The National Park Service is expecting peak bloom early this year on March 21 to 24, following an unusually warm winter, and though the park remains open during the COVID-19 crisis, the expectation of crowds means that visitors will need to take precautions to practice social distancing and to follow other CDC guidelines.

Just in time for this year's bloom, Smithsonian Books presents a delightful new offering Cherry Blossoms: Sakura Collections from the Library of Congress. Written by the Library’s Mari Nakahara, curator of architecture, design and engineering, and Katherine Blood, curator of fine prints, the book is chockful of revealing details about the time-honored trees that came as a gift from Japan to the United States in 1912, along with rich imagery and stories about dozens of artifacts from the Library’s collections.

The beauty of the delicate sakura, or blossoms, and their role in connecting Japanese tradition to American culture can be seen in other locations throughout the city. Carla D. Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, notes in the book’s forward that two trees have stood on the Library’s grounds for almost a century after having been moved from the Tidal Basin in 1922. “These aged specimens,” she writes, “continue to welcome spring each year with an abundant display of delicate blossoms.”

Within the pages of the book lies a hidden gem; a collection of 11 scientifically accurate Cherry Blossom illustrations completed in 1921 by artist Kōkichi Tsunoi. Cherry tree grower Seisaku Funatsu commissioned the drawings in 1913 to capture the 57 tree varieties along Japan’s Arakawa River embankment—the original source of the Cherry Blossoms planted in Washington.

U.S. Department of Agriculture botanist Walter Tennyson Swingle then also requested that Tsunoi make illustrations of the cherry tree blossom varieties presented to the United States in the 1912 gift. Of the 12 in total, 11 illustrations were categorized and included in the Library collections. Smithsonian magazine in collaboration with Smithsonian Books presents Kōkichi Tsunoi’s spectacular botanical illustrations for your viewing pleasure.

Somei Yoshino

Somei Yoshino, 1921
The name of this popular cherry tree variety combines two place names: Yoshino Mountain in Nara prefecture, which is famous for its cherry blossoms, and Somei, a place in Edo (now Komagome in Toashima Ward, Tokyo), where the trees were often grown. This fast-growing variety is suitable for planting along avenues or in parks. Somei Yoshino was one of only three varieties of cherry blossom trees that survived the repeated floods around the Tidal Basin in the 1930s. The 1912 gift included 1,800 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Takinioi (Cascade Fragrance)

Takinioi (Cascade fragrance), 1921
Takinioi was another of the varieties that survived the Tidal Basin flooding in the 1930s. The 1912 gift included 140 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Fugenzō (Fugen's Elephant)

Fugenzō (Fugen’s elephant), 1921
The name of this variety refers to Fugen Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva (enlightened being) Samantabhadra, who is often depicted riding a white elephant. Fugenzō existed as early as ca. 1555, during the Muromachi Period (1336–1573). The 1912 gift included 120 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Ariake (Daybreak)

Ariake (Daybreak), 1921
This variety, which features light pink petals with deeper pink at the edges, has a strong fragrance. The 1912 gift included 100 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Mikurumagaeshi (Cart Turning Back)

Mikurumagaeshi (Cart turning back), 1921
Mikuruma refers to a vehicle used to transport important dignitaries and courtiers. The name of this variety can be interpreted in different ways: it may be intended to evoke a passenger in such a vehicle who, after viewing the beautiful cherry blossoms, felt compelled to return and admire them again. The 1912 gift included 20 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Fukurokuju (God of Longevity)

Fukurokuju (God of longevity), 1921
Fukurokuju is the god of longevity and one of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune in Japanese mythology. U.S. First Lady Helen “Nellie” Taft, who loved cherry blossoms, arranged for 90 Fukurokuju cherry trees to be planted near the White House grounds prior to the 1912 gift. The 1912 gift included 50 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Shirayuki (White Snow)

Shirayuki (White snow), 1921
In 1909, Manabu Miyoshi, a professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo and an expert on ornamental cherry trees, named this variety for the blossoms’ resemblance to snowflakes. The 1912 gift included 130 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Kwanzan (Barrier Mountain)

Kwanzan (Barrier mountain), 1921
This variety of sato zakura (domestic cherry) is sometimes also referred to as Kanzan or Sekiyama. Kwanzan was another of the three varieties of cherry blossom trees to survive the Tidal Basin flooding in the 1930s. The 1912 gift included 350 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Ichiyō (Single Leaf)

Ichiyō (Single leaf), 1921
This is a multilayered variety with very large blossoms. The outer petals are light pink, while the interior is white. It is called Ichiyō because a couple of its stamens, visible in the center of the flowers, are leaf-shaped. The 1912 gift included 160 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Gyoikō (Robe Yellow)

Gyoikō (Robe yellow), 1921
This variety is distinctive because its petal color gradually shifts from green to yellow and finally to deep red at the center. The name refers to a spring green color that was historically associated with elegance and nobility and often used in clothing. The Gyoikō were all planted on the White House grounds. The 1912 gift included 20 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)

Jōnioi (Upper Fragrance)

Jōnioi (Upper fragrance), 1921
This is one of three varieties listed in the shipping record that have a fragrance. While the flowers are similar to those of Takinioi, Jōnioi blossoms face upward, while those of Takinioi turn to the side. The 1912 gift included 80 trees of this variety. (Kōkichi Tsunoi, 1921, LOC, Smithsonian Books)
Nadine Daher About the Author: Nadine Daher is a digital intern at Smithsonian magazine. She is a senior at Northwestern, where she studies journalism and international studies. Read more articles from Nadine Daher and

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