Tennessee's state capitol grounds in Nashville see pink blossoms each year. (©Rain0975/Flickr, Creative Commons)
Each March and April, several cities across the U.S. are bathed in a pink, spring-welcoming party.
Cherry blossom trees, native to Japan, are iconic greeters of warmer spring temps, providing blissfully bright selfies and travel memories. While some cities like Washington D.C. have several thousand trees, there are other cherry blossom destinations in the U.S. that are more off-the-beaten-path but just as pink during the peak bloom time.
Many cities in the U.S. have Hisakura trees—with single blooms—or Kwanzans and Shirofugens that have more than one flower within a bloom. All variations of cherry trees offer either white or pink blossoms and are a welcome sight each spring during bloom season. Here are 10 of our favorite high- and low-profile cherry blossom destinations across America.
Since the 1960s the University of Washington, or UW, sees cherry blossom trees burst into bloom all over its grassy area called the quad.
"There are approximately 130 cherry trees on UW campus," said Sara Shores, UW arborist. "The best place on campus to see them bloom is in the quad. It’s a party. However, if you miss that bloom time you can still catch the Hisakuras, Shirofugen, Kwanzans and Mt. Fujis, which bloom after the Yoshinos."
The original trees were donated to the city by Japan in 1939, planted in the arboretum. More than 20 years later, the arboretum was in the direct path of a major highway and the trees were hastily saved from destruction and transported to the university campus. Japan donated 12 additional Shirofugen trees and six Yoshino trees—variations of the cherry blossom trees—to Rainier Vista on the UW campus. Today, people flock to the university grounds to see the annual blooms.
There are places in the U.S. to see spectacular cherry blossom events, and then there's Washington D.C.
With more than 3,000 cherry blossom trees on National Park Service land throughout the city, D.C. is the best place to be outside Japan to see fields of cherry blossom blooms. The first few thousand trees were donated to the city by Yukio Ozaki, who was the mayor of Tokyo at the time. Since then, the Tidal Basin has served as the best place to see—and photograph—D.C.'s blossom spectacular. The city is inundated with blossom seekers for weeks during March and April, so know where to go and be prepared to battle crowds to see the blooms.
The Willamette Valley wine region produces more rosé than just the boozy blend at wineries: Salem, Oregon—one of the biggest cities in the mid-valley area—is home to 150 cherry blossom trees at the Oregon State Capitol mall.
The area's cherry blossom festival is a resurrection of a historic cherry festival.
"The history of the cherry blossom festival and cherry festival is more than 100 years old in Salem," said Stacy Nalley, Oregon State Capitol public outreach coordinator. "It had a lot to do with the local farmers and growers in the early 1900s. They had a parade, a king and queen cherry and even this group called the 'cherrians.'"
The annual festival centers around the peak bloom dates and in 2017 legislation went to the governor's office to make the third Saturday in March an annual cherry blossom day celebrated throughout Oregon. Beyond the annual festival, 12 local theaters banded together in 2017 to offer a cherry blossom theater festival during the State Capitol's cherry blossom events. There are also plenty of things to do, see and eat in Salem's downtown area, including a waterfront carousel and weekend improv troupe performances.
Brooklyn, New York
The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden is one of the oldest places to see cherry blossom trees outside the U.S.
"Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s iconic 'Cherry Esplanade' was planted in 1942: It is a broad grass lawn with walkways shaded by Prunus ‘Kanzan’ ornamental cherry trees," said Elizabeth Reina-Longoria, Brooklyn Botanical Garden director of communications. "Cherry Walk runs along the east side of Cherry Esplanade and is planted with several other cherry blossom varietals. The 100-year-old Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden also is planted with several weeping cherry blossom trees."
The 200 trees bloom later than many other locations in America, experiencing a peak time of April to May due to cold weather through much of the winter and early spring. The botanical garden has a bloom watch where visitors can see which of the dozens of trees are in bloom—and peak bloom—before visiting the gardens.
"Since the early 1980s, Cherry Esplanade has been the centerpiece of the Garden's annual Sakura Matsuri—Cherry Blossom Festival—which celebrates Japanese culture through music, dance, food and art," said Reina-Longoria. "Today it is the largest event in a U.S. public garden."
The International Cherry Blossom Festival is held in Macon, Georgia, each year from March to April. With 300,000 Yoshino cherry blossom trees, the area is known for the pale-pink blossoms.
What started as a horticulturists' pastime in the 1970s grew to be a city's identity. William A Fickling, Sr., was a local realtor who discovered a Yoshino tree on his property and grew several more trees from cutting of the first tree. In the 1970s, the first 500 trees were planted by community members and since then more trees have grown and the festival celebrating them has ballooned from a three-day festival to a month-long celebration of the blooms and trees that make Macon, Georgia, so special.
The Dallas Arboretum isn't a likely place to find more than 100 cherry blossom trees, and that's part of the fun for the arboretum staff.
"The start of this was when I planted the first 10 cherry trees 17 years ago thinking it would be fun to experiment," said Dave Forehand, Dallas Arboretum vice president of gardens. "The plan was to plant 10 every year that I was here. So as a result we’ve got about 150 trees here that bloom in mid-March. [...] It’s fun because there are people that don’t expect them here but they’ve done very well here."
The trees—and 500,000 other bulbs planted annually—are celebrated during a bloom festival that attracts visitors from all over the state.
The Missouri Botanical Garden is home to more than 40 Yoshino cherry blossom trees and hundreds of other related plants and trees that flower in the spring.
Walk through the different sections of the botanical garden to find different species and colors of blossoming cherry trees from early March to April. From the George Washington Carver Garden to the Japanese Garden, the area is bursting with white and pink blooms each year from early March to mid-April.
Onigri—Japanese rice balls—and yukatas—summer kimonos—are staples of the local cherry blossom and Japanese cultural festivals in Boston.
Offering prime riverfront views, the Charles River Esplanade is particularly covered in cherry blossom trees that bloom each year. This three-mile stretch of green space offers more than five miles of walking and biking trails among the blooms leading up to the historic Hatch Shell amphitheater.
With upwards of 1,000 cherry blossom trees planted throughout the city, Nashville is one of the prime places to be in the United States during cherry blossom season.
The Japan-America Society of Tennessee set out to plant 1,000 trees throughout the city and each year leads a blossom-centric festival, a cherry blossom walk, staring at Nashville's public square and heading the 2.5 miles to Morgan Park. The event is also known for colorful parades, children's activities and other events. The Tennessee State Capitol also has cherry blossom trees on its grounds for citizens and visitors alike to enjoy in the legislative plaza directly in front of the capitol and other areas on the grounds.
"Cherry blossoms, or sakura, have been a symbol of U.S.-Japan friendship since the Mayor of Tokyo donated 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, D.C. in 1912," said Ginger Byrn, Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival director. "There are also many other cherry trees planted in neighborhoods all over Nashville. The Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival Tree Planting Project has planted 900 Japanese cherry blossom trees in Nashville parks and neighborhoods since 2009. Our 10-year mission to plant 100 cherry trees each year will be complete in 2018."
Byrn said the event is packed with activities besides the blossom walk like taiko drumming and other traditional Japanese music demonstrations, martial arts instructions and other activities to celebrate Japanese culture.
The cherry blossom trees in the Japanese American Historical Plaza of Portland, Oregon, are celebrating more than 25 years of reminding American people that the United States is a land of immigrants that is filled with hope and cultural diversity.
The plaza—dedicated in 1990—is a symbol of remembrance for the Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. The park has several cherry blossom trees that wash the green space in a pink hue for days. There are 12 granite stones throughout the space that feature Japanese-American poets' famous works and make a stroll through the space both refreshing and enlightening.