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Arboretum Provides Breathtaking, Hassle-Free Cherry Blossom ViewingBy Alfredo Flores
February 26, 2004
Looking for an alternative to the overcrowded views of Washington, D.C.'s famous display of cherry blossoms? Look no further than the Agricultural Research Service's U.S. National Arboretum. The spring exuberance begins there in late February, when Japanese apricots burst into bloom.
The arboretum is located in northeast Washington, a few miles from the Tidal Basin that draws 600,000 visitors each springtime. The arboretum is an excellent venue for catching the Capital area's beautiful cherry blossom display in a relaxed, crowd-free setting. Its collection includes 135 cherry trees and 76 varieties on display.
In 1999, the arboretum released the cherry variety Dreamcatcher, a 25-foot-tall deciduous vase-shaped tree with dark-green foliage. Last summer, the arboretum released First Lady, a 25-foot-tall, upright tree with dark pink, single, semi-pendulous flowers.
In 1912, Japan gave 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees to the United States as a token of friendship. Today, only an estimated 125 of these trees are still alive. Yoshino cherry trees live an average of 50 years, so the few remaining original trees are at the end of their life expectancy. To prevent loss of this historic plant germplasm, scientists from the arboretum took cuttings from those cherries in 1997 and 1998. New trees grown from them will help the National Park Service--which oversees the Tidal Basin plantings--to maintain the genetic lineage of the original trees.
In addition to the cherry blossoms, visitors to the arboretum in springtime will find subtle woodland wildflowers along the paths in Fern Valley, where unfurling fern fronds, trillium and bloodroot can be seen. The fleeting flowers of Oconee bells are a special treat. Then will come the blazing color of azaleas, in April and May.
All this--and the famed Japanese bonsai at the arboretum's National Bonsai and Penjing Museum--are good reasons to visit the arboretum when new leaves begin to clothe the bare branches of the thousands of deciduous specimens in the collection.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.