United States National Arboretum Collection Cherry Tree Files

Cherry trees along the Tidal Basin with the Jefferson Memorial in the background Introduction

The United States National Arboretum (USNA) Collection Cherry Tree Files spans the years 1809-1993. The collection is 6 linear feet and occupies 12 boxes. The files were assembled by Roland Maurice Jefferson, a botanist at the National Arboretum, in the course of researching and writing the 1977 USNA publication The Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees of Washington, D.C.: A Living Symbol of Friendship, during his career, and in retirement. Materials are primarily reproductions from the holdings of several different institutions, and the collection’s value lies in the fact that these materials have been brought together and logically arranged to document the history of Japanese cherry trees in Washington, D.C. There are no restrictions on use of the materials.

The files were originally included as part of the United States National Arboretum Collection (Manuscript Collection 186) housed in Special Collections, National Agricultural Library. In 2010, Special Collections received funding to rehouse and arrange the cherry tree files. The collection was arranged and described by Allyn Deming, Jean Larson, Sara Lee, Patricia Murphy, Nichole Rosamilia, and Diane Wunsch from 2010-2012.


Disclaimer

Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library (NAL) acquires, arranges, describes, preserves and makes available rare materials significant to the history of agriculture. Materials are obtained through donation or active collection in accordance with the established Special Collections collection development policy. Special Collections staff organize and describe materials according to archival principles and create descriptions and indexes to enhance access. Staff do not edit or otherwise modify the original materials. The views expressed in the collections do not necessarily reflect the policies of the National Agricultural Library or the United States Department of Agriculture.


Biographical Sketch

Roland Maurice Jefferson (1923-) was born on September 3, 1923 in Washington, D.C. to Edward Wilson Jefferson and Bernice Cornelia Bond. After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he attended Howard University under the G.I. Bill of Rights, or Servicemen's Readjustment Act. Jefferson graduated in 1950 with a bachelor of science in botany, and from 1951-1952 he pursued graduate studies at Howard. In 1956 he began work making plant labels at the United States National Arboretum (USNA), where he developed an inexpensive method for creating extremely durable photographically-processed metal labels. He was promoted in 1957 and became the first African American botanist at the USNA.

Recognizing that many crabapple plants were misidentified or misnamed, Jefferson spent the next decade studying and publishing on the crabapples in the USNA's collection. This work culminated in the 1970 publication of History, Progeny, and Locations of Crabapples of Documented Authentic Origin, in which he supplied the locations of 182 living crabapple species, varieties, and cultivars and furnished historical and genealogical data pertaining to this material. As a by-product of this research, Jefferson named and introduced a new cultivar, Malus sieboldii 'Fuji,' into cultivation.

In 1973, Jefferson began to compile historical and scientific data about the Japanese cherry trees planted in 1912 in Washington, D.C.'s Potomac Park. The USNA published his work in 1977 as The Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees of Washington, D.C.: A Living Symbol of Friendship which was later translated into Japanese.

Jefferson saw during his research that many of the surviving 1912 Japanese cherries were aged and dying. To save this original cherry stock, from 1976-1979 he took cuttings to be propagated at the USNA. In 1981, the Arboretum gave Japan 3,000 cuttings from the 1912 trees to replace lost Japanese parent stock. First Lady Nancy Reagan presented the Japanese ambassador with the President Reagan Cherry Tree, which Jefferson had propagated from the commemorative tree planted by First Lady Helen Herron Taft in 1912.

Jefferson undertook several expeditions to study ornamental trees and collect germplasm. In 1978 and 1979, he traveled to Holland, England, and Germany to study cherry and crabapple trees. From 1981-1983, he visited Japan several times to locate, study, and collect seeds and budwood from cherry trees. Concerned that he would not be able to collect enough of the seeds himself before they were carried off by birds and other animals, Jefferson enlisted the help of Japanese schoolchildren. He began a seed exchange program in which children in Japan collected cherry seeds in exchange for dogwood seeds collected by American children. In 1986, Jefferson led expeditions into Japan, Korea, and Taiwan to collect additional cherry seeds.

After retiring from the USNA in 1987, Jefferson continued to work to preserve cherry tree germplasm and to establish cherries throughout the United States. In 1995, he gave a lecture in Japan on the deteriorating condition of the original 1912 cherry trees in Potomac Park. Subsequent newspaper coverage of the issue prompted the National Park Service (NPS) to take action to preserve the genetic heritage of those trees. The USNA took cuttings, and at a ceremony in 1999 it presented the NPS with 500 propagated replacements for the dying cherries.

Jefferson also continued his correspondence with and assistance to the Normandale Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College in Minnesota. In 1984, the USNA provided the garden with cherry seedlings grown from seed that Jefferson collected in 1982 from a tree in Hokkaido, Japan. Throughout the 2000s, Normandale staff worked to introduce this hardy cherry into the nursery trade for planting in colder parts of the United States.

As of February 2012, Jefferson resides in Honolulu, Hawaii with his wife Keiko Ishisaki, whom he married in 1983.


Scope and Content Note

The United States National Arboretum (USNA) Collection Cherry Tree Files span the years 1809-1993 and contain materials which relate to the history of cherry trees introduced to the District of Columbia from Japan. The files were compiled by botanist Roland Maurice Jefferson beginning in 1973, throughout his career as a botanist at the National Arboretum, and in retirement. One of the products of this research was The Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees of Washington, D.C.: A Living Symbol of Friendship, a 1977 USNA publication he coauthored with Alan Fusonie of the National Agricultural Library. Most of the materials are reproductions or transcriptions of original records which Jefferson assembled from the holdings of several institutions, including the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); the Montgomery Library of the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden; the Library of Congress; the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., formerly the Columbia Historical Society; the United States National Arboretum; and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. Materials include correspondence, memoranda, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs, publications, and programs. The materials are in good condition and constitute nine series.

Jefferson synthesized information from many different sources to reconstruct the history of Washington, D.C.'s cherry trees, but he primarily used United States government agency records and historical newspaper articles. Jefferson organized the government records around several topics, including correspondence sent and received by Federal employees (Series II and Series III) involved in the establishment of cherry trees in Potomac Park; the planting and landscaping of parks and monuments throughout the District of Columbia (Series V); cherry blossom festivals in Washington, D.C. (Series VII); and cherry diseases and pests (Series VI). Because there is significant overlap among these topics, Jefferson often placed copies of the same document in multiple locations throughout the collection.

Most of the photographs (Series IX) were also produced by government agencies. Images depict cherry trees lining scenic waterways in Japan; the arrival, inspection, and destruction of Japanese cherries in the 1910s; the development and construction of parks and national monuments; and cherry trees in bloom throughout Washington, D.C. Photographs of cherries at the Maryland home of David Grandison Fairchild, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) botanist and plant explorer, are also included.

Jefferson's collection of published accounts (Series IV) of the cherry trees relies heavily on local newspapers such as the Washington Star and the Washington Post, but it also includes articles in magazines and other publications. These sources chronicle the history of Japanese cherry trees in Washington, D.C. through articles written about the first cherries shipped from Japan in 1909 to the cherry blossom festivities of the 1970s.

The files that Jefferson created for each person who played a role in introducing and establishing Japanese cherry trees in the American capital (Series I) make up a large part of the collection. They contain biographical information on key figures such as David G. Fairchild, Tokyo's Mayor Yukio Ozaki, and writer Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore.


Series Description

Series I. Document Files by Person. 1909-1986, No Date. 2.25 boxes.

Series I is organized by the names of those persons who played a role in establishing Japanese flowering cherry trees in Potomac Park, Washington, D.C. Materials included are letters, obituaries, biographical information, articles, hand-written notes made by Roland Jefferson and others, memoranda, telegrams, a bibliography authored by David Grandison Fairchild, press releases, reports, and lists. The materials are mostly photocopies of original materials held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Folders are in alphabetical order by last name of the individual.

Series II. Official Correspondence. 1909-1946, No Date. 2 boxes.

Series II includes transcribed or photocopied letters and memoranda detailing the history of Japanese flowering cherry trees established in Potomac Park, Washington, D.C. The materials are organized in chronological order.

Series III. Correspondence. 1909-1965. .75 box.

Series III is composed of letters from the public primarily asking for information about the history, significance, and blooming periods of the Washington, D.C. flowering cherry trees, and how to obtain cherry trees for their personal gardens. The items in this series consist of photocopies and transcriptions of original letters, and are arranged in chronological order.

Series IV. Newspaper Articles and Publications. 1909-1993, No Date. 2 boxes.

Series IV contains newspaper and magazine articles, pamphlets, and other publications which relate to cherry trees planted in the District of Columbia. The majority of the news accounts are from local papers such as the Washington Star and Washington Post. Most materials are photocopies of original documents; however, a draft outline and published copy of The Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees of Washington, D.C.: A Living Symbol of Friendship is also included. This series is arranged chronologically.

Series V. Plants and Landscaping of National Capital and City Parks. 1809-1979. 1.75 box.

Series V contains files which relate to the historical development, landscaping, and planting of national and city parks in the District of Columbia. Materials are photocopies or transcriptions of original documents and include correspondence, memoranda, newspaper articles, publications, reports, press releases, and Congressional legislation. Correspondence and memoranda from officials in government agencies, such as National Capital Parks in the National Park Service and the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, account for the bulk of materials. Topics include plans for development, landscaping, and planting trees and shrubs at various parks and monuments; purchase of cherry trees and other planting materials; inquiries from the public regarding park landscaping and maintenance and cherry tree varieties, blooming dates, and care; and the impact of storms and floods on cherry trees. This series is arranged alphabetically by subject and chronologically within each subject.

Series VI. Diseases and Pests of Japanese Cherry Trees. 1910-1975. .25 box.

Series VI contains materials compiled by Roland Jefferson which relate to the diseases and pests of Japanese cherry trees imported to the United States. Materials are primarily photocopies of original documents and include memoranda, correspondence, telegrams, newspaper clippings, reprints, and Jefferson's own correspondence and research notes. Correspondence and memoranda from officials in the National Park Service (NPS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) account for the bulk of materials. Topics covered include the infestation of the first gift of Japanese cherry trees in 1910; pests and diseases introduced to the United States by Japanese cherry trees; and USDA Quarantine 37 regulations preventing the import of a gift of trees from Japan during the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. This series is arranged chronologically.

Series VII. Cherry Blossom Festivals in Washington, D.C. 1920-1970. .75 box.

Series VII consists primarily of photocopies of original materials which document cherry blossom festivals held in Washington, D.C. Types of materials include memoranda, correspondence, programs, speeches and addresses, and newspaper articles. Subjects include planning and programming of the cherry blossom festivals; inquiries and comments from the public; and the donation from Japan of a memorial tablet, stone lantern, and the Mikimoto Pearl Crown. Noteworthy is the list of bloom dates from 1924-1958 found in Box 8 Folder 5. This series is arranged in chronological order.

Series VIII. Cherry Tree Documents held by the National Archives and Records Administration. 1907-circa 1973. .25 box.

Series VIII contains microfilm and photocopies of materials held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). It includes correspondence, memoranda, and reports from Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, Numerical File, 1906-1910 and Record Group 42: Records of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital. Materials from Record Group 59 relate to the shipment, inspection, and destruction of the first gift of cherry trees from Japan in 1910. Materials from Record Group 42 relate to the development of public buildings and grounds and to planting plans and materials for District of Columbia parks. This series is arranged chronologically.

Series IX. Cherry Tree Photographs. circa 1863 to 1979. 2 boxes.

Photographs primarily consist of print and negative reproductions from the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Images include the arrival, inspection, and destruction of the first batch of Japanese flowering cherry trees in 1910; cherry trees lining scenic waterways in Japan; portraits of David Grandison Fairchild and the various varieties of cherry trees he grew at his home, "In the Woods," in Chevy Chase, Maryland; the construction of Potomac Park and the Lincoln Memorial; and cherry trees in bloom around the national monuments and in parks in the District of Columbia. Images often have both print and negative versions; however, many exist in only one form. Also included are photocopies of images held by the Library of Congress. These primarily depict cherry and other commemorative trees planted in Washington, D.C. Each subseries is arranged chronologically.

  • Subseries IX.A. Prints.
  • Subseries IX.B. Negatives.
  • Subseries IX.C. Photocopies from Library of Congress.

Bibliography
Sources Used for Finding Aid:

Cunningham, Isabel Shipley. "Jefferson, Roland M." In African American National Biography. Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. Oxford University, Oxford African American Studies Center. Accessed February 21, 2012, http://www.oxfordaasc.com

Jefferson, Roland M. and Alan E. Fusonie. The Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees of Washington, D.C.: A Living Symbol of Friendship Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, 1977. Accessed February 21, 2012, http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/CAT78696066/PDF

Related Resources at the National Agricultural Library:

Jefferson, Roland Maurice Collection, 1911-2010. Manuscript Collection 347.

Russell, Paul George Papers, 1908-1959. Manuscript Collection 146.

Kensasho, Shokubutsu. Outline of Propagation of Japanese Cherry Trees Scheduled to be Shipped to the United States with a Description of Varieties Included. Yokohama, Japan: Imperial Plant Quarantine Service, 19[??].

Funatsu, Seisaku. Ko¯hoku o¯-fu [Paintings of Ko¯hoku cherry]. 1921. (Four albums of Japanese flowering cherry drawings presented to Roland Maurice Jefferson by Kanematsu Funatsu.)

Yoshikawa, Masao. Washington's Japanese Cherries. 1928. Accessed February 21, 2012, http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/CAT10892727/PDF

Related Collections at Other Institutions:

Fairchild, David Collection. Special Collections, Montgomery Library, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

General Records of the Department of State, Numerical File, 1906-1910. National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 59.

Jefferson, Roland M. Papers, 1905-1986. United States National Arboretum Archives, Collection 2.

National Cherry Blossom Festival Records, 1909-2000. Special Collections Research Center, The Gelman Library, The George Washington University, Collection MS2046.
http://library.gwu.edu/ead/ms2046.xml

Records of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital, 1790-1951. National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 42.

Taft, William H. Papers, 1784-1973. Library of Congress, Manuscript Collection MSS42234. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/eadmss.ms009245