Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Of Cherry Blossoms and Plant Quarantines

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of the planting of cherry trees in Washington, D.C. The trees planted during the spring of 1912, however, were not the first ones imported from Japan for the beautification of the Capitol. Two years earlier, on January 6, 1910, 2,000 flowering cherry trees arrived from Japan and were inspected by the U.S. Bureau of Entomology. Although the Bureau lacked authority to inspect private plant imports, acting chief Charles Marlatt determined that the trees were afflicted with "practically every pest imaginable" and should be destroyed. President Taft subsequently ordered the burning of the entire shipment, which took place at the Washington Monument.

The controversy surrounding the cherry tree incident galvanized the passage of the Plant Quarantine Act of 1912, which established the Federal Horticultural Board and authorized plant quarantines. Prior to this, 39 states had enacted their own legislation regulating plant inspections. While the federal regulatory framework was being built, a second batch of 3,020 cherry trees was ordered from Japan. Fumigated before shipment and declared pest-free upon arrival, the first two trees were finally planted in the Capitol on March 12, 1912 by First Lady Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the Japanese Ambassador's wife.

A full account of this interesting intersection of international diplomacy and domestic horticulture can be read in "Cherry Blossoms, Insects, and Inspections" at the Law Library of Congress' blog, In Custodia Legis. The image above depicts two paired commemorative stamps recently issued by the USPS.

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