12 April 2021

The History of the Japanese Cherry Blossoms at the Utah State Capitol

Blooming cherry tree at Utah State Capitol, probably the Kwanzan variety. ca 1940s. From UDSH. 

The History of the Japanese Cherry Blossoms at the Utah State Capitol begins 100 years ago.

The construction of the Utah State Capitol was completed in 1916 and a special tree planting ceremony on April 15 1916 was planned to start beautifying the grounds. The first tree planted was a Norway Maple and several hundred of other trees followed, each planted by a distinguished member of the government or citizenry.

For this event in 1916, Mr. Shiro Iida, publisher of the Japanese newspaper Rocky Mountain Times in SLC, ordered several Japanese evergreens from California to be planted around the State Capitol.

The first reference that I could find to Japanese cherry trees was in March 1921 when the Japanese Association of Utah gifted the state with 4 Yoshino and 3 Fugenzo blooming cherry trees which were then planted by the state’s landscape gardener on the State Capitol grounds.

Additional cherry trees were planted in 1931, some donated by the Intermountain Japanese Association and some purchased by the State of Utah.

Throughout the 1930s cherry trees were donated to the capitol grounds by the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) of Utah, many of the trees were the Kwanzan variety with large double pink flowers.

When WWII began, the Japanese cherry trees on the State Capitol grounds were vandalized and security patrols were implemented 1943-1945.

By the mid-1950s, the cherry trees were struggling due to lack of caretaking and early frosts.

In 1958, Governor Clyde accepted 36 cherry trees from the JACL of Utah. JACL chapters in California also contributed to this gift to memorialize the Japanese who died in the Topaz Internment Camp during WWII.

During the Capitol renovation 2004-2008 the trees were removed, and several hundred Yoshino variety of cherry trees were planted around the Capitol grounds.

Sources: SL Telegram 1916-04-14; SL Trib 1921-03-19; SL Telegram 1931-04-12; SL Trib 1935-02-24; SL Trib 1958-05-05; Utah.gov

Of Note: I have seen some histories of the cherry trees at the Utah State Capitol indicate that the cherry trees were donated by the government of Japan as a symbol of friendship and reconciliation immediately following WWII. I found no primary sources to support this statement. There is an interesting history of an ordeal concerning importing of cherry trees from Japan for the establishment of the International Peace Gardens adjacent to the Jordan River in the early 1950s that I will tell in a separate post. As far as I can tell, all the cherry trees on the state capitol ground (past and present) were either purchased by the State of Utah or donated by SLC Japanese American residents, but always purchased from a domestic vendor.

1 comment:

  1. This is great content Rachel. I appreciate the dedication to primary sources and not following the narrative of so many secondary. I see even the state does officially say the the cherry trees were donated post WWII but no sources posted. Any news media only site the state's webpage or a history text that doesn't actually specify the timing of the donation. Have you reached out to anyone at the state to see how they're substantiating their claims? https://utahstatecapitol.utah.gov/explore/capitol-grounds/celebrate-spring-with-capitol-cherry-blossoms https://utahstatecapitol.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/02capitolgrounds.pdf