Today’s Factismal: The story about George Washington and the cherry tree is a fable, made up by a pastor to illustrate Washington’s honesty.
Urban legends can be fun. They can scare us, titillate us, or just make us sob for a bit. And perhaps the most famous urban legend of them all is the story about George Washington and the cherry tree. (A close second is Zachary Taylor and the deadly cherry ice cream.) Written by Pastor Mason Weems, it was intended to show the virtues of our Founding Fathers. Instead, it lingers on as a cautionary tale of what happens when good intentions lead people astray.
Though the story is a fable, the benefits of cherry trees is not. Named for the Turkish city that first introduced them to modern Europeans, these graceful trees are native to Asia, Europe and North America, and are popular all over the world. Cherry trees provide flowers for decoration, fruit for eating, and wood for furniture.
Every year, four million pounds of cherries are grown for food; 40% of those cherries come from Turkey and the United States. They were eaten by the Romans, prized by the British, and beloved of the Japanese. And no wonder! Cherries are excellent sources of iron, vitamin C, and yumminess. (OK, I made that last one up.) Cherries are also being investigated by medical researchers for their potential as weight-loss and inflammation control treatment.
The cherry tree grows best in temperate latitudes and has many adaptations to the cold northern winters. Like most successful northern climate trees, they are deciduous and drop their leaves every fall. The growing season for cherries is very short (2-4 months), and the seeds will not germinate unless they first become very cold; this prevents a seedling from sprouting just in time for the first frost. The trees grow very slowly and are not mature enough to bear flowers until they are five years old.
But when they do flower, watch out! The cherry tree provides an abundance of sweet-smelling, bright flowers. These flowers are prized in many countries, and were the reason for Japan’s gift to the United States in 1912 of more than 2,000 cherry trees. These trees were planted around the Capital in DC, where they became a landmark. Though none of the original trees survive today (most cherry trees die after just 20 years), their descendents are plentiful and are featured every year in the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
If you’d like to help preserve the cherry trees, then consider going to the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Or, if you live in the United Kingdom, then why not take part in the annual Bloomsday Challenge to find the largest cherry tree in the land?