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Preserving Tradition: APHIS’ Role in Safeguarding Cherry Trees

Posted by Alexandra Scott, APHIS Public Affairs – Detailed in Plants
May 13, 2024
Dr. Joe Foster working with a plant

In a symbolic gesture of friendship, Japan ceremoniously gifted the United States with two live cherry trees at an event held on the D.C mall last month. The trees represent a future gift of 250 trees that will replace the historic cherry trees to be removed in a project to repair the Tidal Basin seawall that will begin this month. Cherry trees hold deep cultural significance in Japanese tradition and have become beloved symbols in Washington, D.C., celebrated annually during the Cherry Blossom Festival. However, the journey of these trees from Japan to the United States is not without challenges.

Over a century ago, the mayor of Tokyo learned of First Lady Helen Taft's admiration for Japanese cherry blossoms and offered to send 1,000 trees to beautify Washington, D.C., which he later increased to 5,000. Unfortunately, that first batch of 2,000 trees arrived infested with invasive insect pests and had to be destroyed. This event underscored the need for plant health protection, leading to the passage of the Plant Quarantine Act in 1912.

Today, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) plays a crucial role in safeguarding the United States against harmful plant pests and diseases. For the recent cherry tree gift, APHIS’ International Services team in Japan played a critical role conveying U.S. import requirements and securing special permits. PPQ and Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries officials meticulously inspected each tree, washed root balls, removed soil, replanted trees in sterile peat moss, and packaged them in pest-proof boxes for the flight.

Upon arrival and transport to the Beltsville, MD, plant inspection station, PPQ staff thoroughly inspected the trees to ensure they were free of pests and diseases.

The trees will now undergo further monitoring and care at the National Plant Germplasm Quarantine Center before being planted along the seawall in the future. This meticulous process ensures that the trees will be strong and healthy, preserving the tradition of the cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin for years to come.

PPQ's efforts to safeguard the capital's cherry trees not only honors a longstanding tradition but also serves as a testament to the importance of plant quarantine and the crucial role that APHIS plays in protecting our natural resources from invasive pests and diseases. Check out the full album for the cool pictures of the inspection process. View the USDA video version of this story.

Category/Topic: Plants