Cherry blossoms have deep significance in Japanese culture and are a traditional motif in art, literature and cuisine. The ephemeral blossoms only last for about two weeks before fluttering to the ground, recalling the vibrancy and impermanence of life. The cherry is a symbolic national flower in Japan and is sometimes offered to other nations as a symbol of friendship.
Where are Philly’s Trees?
B: Memorial Hall
on Lansdown Drive, behind Memorial Hall
C: Belmont Plateau
along Belmont Mansion Drive overlooking the city
D: West River/Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
from south of Montgomery Drive north to Falls Bridge
E: Kelly Drive
north of Boathouse Row along the river
F: Art Museum/Waterworks
between the museum and the waterworks
Cherry Trees For International Friendship
It was in this spirit that the Japanese Government gave 1,600 flowering trees including cherry trees to Philadelphia in 1926 in honor of the 150th anniversary of American Independence. In 1998, The Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia continued this legacy and began a ten-year, 1,000 tree planting campaign, which was completed in 2007. The Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia celebrates the goodwill between Philadelphia and Japan as embodied by the cherry trees.
The Japanese Government and the Japan Cherry Blossom Association have made gifts of cherry trees all around the world. Besides Philadelphia’s Festival, there are Cherry Blossom Festivals across the United States, including Washington DC, San Francisco, and Macon, Georgia just to name a few. In 1952 cuttings from the original gift trees from Japan were donated to Japan by the United States to help augment cherry trees along the Arakawa River whose care had been neglected during the war.
The Cherry Tree Itself
While the majority of cherry blossom trees (sakura) are one of two common varieties, there are actually over 100 ornamental cherry tree species, each with different characteristics of hardiness, form, size, habit, blossom color and blooming periods. Blossom colors can be deep pink to white with any number of single or double petals ranging in size from 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches. Cherry bark and branches are also admired for their glossy beauty during the winter. Some species add to fall’s foliage display with a spectacular show of leaf color, and at least one species even blossoms in the autumn. Due to the large north-south geographic stretch of Japan, cherry blossoms bloom between January and late May, earlier in the south than in the north. The variable spring weather in Japan and the national interest in the delicate blossoms has led to the inclusion of sakura-zensen, or the cherry blossom blooming line, into news weather forecasts. These forecasts help with the planning of o-hanami, or flower viewing, a popular and centuries-old spring tradition that includes picnicking, singing and perhaps sipping sake under cherry trees in full bloom.