The Washington DC Quarter Coin remembers Mrs. Taft planting the first cherry tree, one of the gift of thousands, on March 27, 1912.
Two historical sources provide more insight into the gift.
First, from The American Monthly Magazine of June 1912:
Blooms from Japan
The gift of three thousand Japanese cherry trees from the capital city of Japan to the capital city of the United States is a matter of national importance.
It is especially interesting to the Daughters of the American Revolution because of the close proximity of Continental Memorial Hall to Potomac Park, to which the addition of these beautiful flowering trees will in a few years suggest the attractiveness of a Japanese landscape.
With its long stretch of water front, Potomac Park has an unparalleled setting, and the lining of its river boundaries with the Japanese trees will unquestionably make it one of the most striking features of outdoor Washington.
During the last week in March the first tree, an imperial specimen, grown only in the gardens of the Emperor of Japan, was planted by Mrs. Taft, the Baroness Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, at the same time planting a tree of the same variety, the second to be placed in the park.
The tree planted by Mrs. Taft and the Baroness Chinda is known as the “Gyoi- ko,” or “Yellow Gown.”
Its blossoms are double, of a light greenish yellow, and very fragrant.
Its branches are slender and spreading. Only twenty trees of this imperial variety are included in the collection.
It was Mrs. Taft’s interest in Potomac Park which first suggested the idea of the gift to Madame Osaki, and on her initiative it was presented and accepted.
Next, from the Geographic News Bulletin of February 27, 1922:
How United States and Japan Entered a League of Flowers
Much was heard during the conference just concluded in Washington about the Anglo-Japanese Alliance; but did you know of a far older American- Japanese alliance — an alliance that was not political at all, but floral?
There is an interesting story connected with the presentation to this country by Japan of the famous cherry trees planted in Potomac Park, Washington, D. C, which led to the gift, in return, of American dogwoods, now growing in Tokyo.
Even Delicate Flowers Thrived
Although scattered here and there in America there were a few kinds of Japanese flowering cherry trees, it was not until 1906, when David Fairchild imported a large collection of them and planted them among the pines and cedars of his place “In the Woods” in Maryland, that it was evident how admirably even the most delicate kinds would grow and blossom here in America.
They were so successful and so charming that in 1907 he brought in two shipments, one of which he gave to the schools of Washington, D. C., and trees of the other were planted along Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Mr. Fairchild recounts the history of this exchange of flowers as follows:
“Scottish heather and Irish shamrock are no more closely intertwined with the national life of the Scotch and Irish than is the cherry blossom with the life of the Japanese.
“It is more than a matter of passing interest, therefore, that a Japanese gentleman, Dr. Jokichi Takamine, who has spent a large part of his life in America, should have made it possible for the mayor of his native city to give to the country of his adoption thousands of the trees which represent the spirit of his people.
Cherry Blossom Time Halts Legislature
“And now with the first warm winds of every spring, the pink and white blossoms of thousands of flowering cherry trees stand out against the marble whiteness of the monuments to Washington and Lincoln in the Speedway Park of Washington.
“For miles along the Speedway these trees are scattered, growing each year more beautiful and attracting more and more visitors.
“What a satisfaction it must be to Dr. Takamine to realize that throughout America there is a growing love and appreciation of this national flower of Japan and know that he has played so large a part in bringing this about.
“Was it in his mind that they might help the people of this country to understand how deeply there lies in the Japanese character a love for the beautiful?
“No one walking beneath these lovely flowering trees can fail to be impressed when he knows that they appeal so strongly to a whole people, that each spring all business stops and even the legislature adjourns in order that every one may have leisure to enjoy them.
“The idea of a field of cherries on the Speedway originated one afternoon during a visit to the cherry trees at ‘In the Woods’ of Miss E. R. Scidmore, a distinguished writer and interpreter of the Japanese, and it is through arrangements made by her with Mrs. Taft, who was then in the White House, the Mayor of Tokyo and Dr. Takamine, that three miles of the Speedway are planted with flowering cherry trees.
First Shipment Ill-fated
“The first shipment was an ill-fated one, for the 2,000 large trees which composed it were found to be so badly infested with injurious insects which were new to America that they could not be disinfected and had to be burned.
“The incident was an embarrassing one.
“Refusing to misinterpret the motive of the destruction of the trees, the then Mayor of Tokyo and his council and Dr. Takamine, advising with the scientific plant men of their country, decided to repeat the shipment, sending plants so free from insects and diseases as to elicit the admiration of American plant experts.
“This shipment arrived in the spring of 1912 and with simple ceremonies, in which Mrs. Taft, the Japanese Minister, and a few others took part, the first tree was planted on the Speedway.
“Three years later, Mr. Kuwashima, a friend of Count Okuma’s, who was spending the winter in Washington, was shown for the first time by Mr. Swingle and me photographs of the American dogwood, and it was then arranged that a shipment of the American dogwood should be made to Japan and trees of it be planted in Tokyo and little dogwood trees be distributed in the schools.
“Hundreds of plants and several pounds of seeds were sent him, and the Mayor of Tokyo, who sent the cherries to America, had the dogwood trees planted with great care in the city park there.
“Thousands of seedling American dogwoods were later sent out to the schools of Japan.
Dogwoods Also Growing Well
“Photographs showing how well the cherry trees are growing in Washington and the dogwoods in Tokyo have already been exchanged.
“Each spring as the school children of America admire the cherry blossom trees from Japan, the school children of Japan will look in wonder at the strange but beautiful, dog woods of America.
“No doubt they will suppose that to American children the dogwood means quite as much as their own cherry trees mean to them.
“Let us hope that this will encourage the children of Japan to even greater interest in their lovely cherry trees and stimulate the children of America to plant our beautiful dog woods in their dooryards.
“This would help our children to understand and respect the children of Japan.”
The Washington DC Quarter Coin shows with an image of the cherry blossoms in the city, circa before 1920.