The cherry blossoms of Washington DC are a source of pride and attraction almost parallel to any of the federal district's many monuments. However, more than a century ago, DC wanted nothing to do with the Japanese trees — people actually questioned the point of cherry trees that didn't produce cherries. Thankfully, as National Geographic explains, David Hunter, a food hunter for the USDA who went in search of new plants to bring back and establish in America, fell in love with the sakura trees when he visited Japan and decided to plant some in his own yard to prove their worth.

Fairchild was well aware of U.S. aversion to foreign crops. But he avoided this dead end by ordering 125 sakura trees for his own front yard in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The Yokohama nursery owner was so pleased to have an American customer they charged just 10 cents apiece. The New York Times later explained this pride, imagining how great America would feel if it could take one of it’s proudest symbols—maybe Plymouth Rock, the Declaration of Independence, or the Emancipation Proclamation—and place it in a foreign capital. “Can you imagine what a gift would mean?” the newspaper asked.

These sentiments rang especially true for First Lady Helen Taft, who convinced President William Taft that importing the trees would significantly enhance the nation's capital's beauty. However, the first shipment sent from Tokyo was anything but successful. 

In the fall of 1909, when the mayor of Tokyo sent 2,000 young trees to Washington, they arrived barely alive, their roots cut too short and teeming with insects. Fearful of foreign pests, USDA entomologists burned them in a great bonfire on the National Mall. Only when Japan sent a second, bigger shipment of 3,020 trees, all tall and mature, did the trees make it into the ground.

Head over to National Geographic to read more.

Feature image via Flickr user Karen Blaha.