Geneticists at the National Arboretum have developed a new type of cherry blossom to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the original gift of trees from Japan to the District of Columbia.
Back in 1912, when the cherry blossoms were planted along the tidal basin, there wasn't a whole lot of variation in trees available. But breeders have been busy since then, and the latest addition is a hybrid blossom called Helen Taft.
"What makes this tree different from the other Yoshinos you see on the Tidal Basin is its pink flower color," says Margaret Pooler, a research geneticist at the U.S. National Arboretum. "It starts out pink, and stays pink, and, in fact, it fades to even darker pink in the center of the flowers."
The hybrid was named for first lady Helen Taft, who came up with the idea of planting cherry blossoms around D.C. in the first place. The new breed, which is a cross between two different species, took 31 years to develop.
"The seed parent came from a cutting of an original tidal basin tree that was planted in 1912 by the Japanese ambassador's wife, Iwa Chinda, and the First Lady Helen Taft," says Pooler.
The new variety will help improve genetic diversity among cherry blossoms, which should help defend against diseases as well, Pooler adds. The Helen Taft hybrid has been released to commercial growers, but it won't hit nurseries for another five years.
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