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Free to Use and Reuse: Cherry Blossoms

The Washington Monument rises above the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin. Photo: Carol Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division.

It’s peak cherry blossom season in D.C., that gorgeous week or two every year when the Tidal Basin and many neighborhoods around the city are filled with delicate clouds of pink. And delicate they are — even a soft breeze lifts a shower of petals from their branches into the air, fluttering, until they tumble to the ground.

Travel restrictions being what they are, the festivals are cancelled for this season. So we decided to bring a splash of that color to you. The images are from the Library’s Free to Use and Reuse sets of copyright free photographs, prints, drawings, woodcuts and whatnot. There are millions of them and they’re yours for the taking — print them out as big or small as you wish, use them for wallpaper or screensavers. In the past few months, we’ve highlighted classic movie theaters, genealogy, maps of discovery and exploration and so on.

The drive to plant cherry blossom trees in and around D.C. started in the 1880s. Eliza Scidmore, a prominent writer (whose brother was a diplomat in Asia) visited Japan in 1885, and, upon her return, urged the government to import and plant the trees in D.C. The idea was rejected, but Scidmore would eventually become the first female board member of the National Geographic Society and kept up her campaign. Several people imported trees to the region over the years, though, and these were very much admired.

In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, gave more 3,000 trees to Washington as a symbol of international friendship. The first two of these were planted during a ceremony on March 27 along the north bank of the Tidal Basin. Like more than 1,000 others, these were of the Somei Yoshino varietal, marked by their light pink color.

A sculpture of a Japanese lantern is set among the cherry blossoms along the Mall. Photo: Carol Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division.

In Japan, cherry-blossom viewing has been around for centuries. Below, a woodcut from the 19th century shows a young girl remembering a festival on the bank of the Sumida River. The first trees were planted there in the 18th century and the area — in Tokyo — is still a prime tourist spot. The girl is holding a doll that commemorates the Hinamatsuri, or Girls Day Festival. These type of prints were often used as frontispieces of novels and literary journals of the era and reflect the soft beauty of the trees they depict.

A 19th-century Japanese woodcut shows a young girl, holding a doll, remembering a cherry blossom festival. Prints and Photographs Division.

So. We’re sorry if you missed the blossoms in D.C. this year. But they’re here every spring, and we invite you back as soon as conditions permit.

Cherry blossom trees flanking the Tidal Basin with the Jefferson Memorial in the distance. Photo: Carol Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division.

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