The Kwanzan cherry is Madison Square Park’s most abundant variety of cherry tree. They grow to be 30-40 feet tall, and are prized for their spring blossoms. Their pink flowers bloom in clusters during April, just as copper-colored leaves emerge from the branches. Their leaves turn deep green for summer, and in the fall change to vibrant shades of orange.
Because Kwanzans are clones of one original tree, they do not bear fruit unless hybridized with other cherry tree varieties. Flowering cherries like the Kwanzan have a long history of cultivation in Japan. During the feudal period of Japanese history, exceptionally beautiful cherry trees were sought out in forests and presented as gifts to lords.
They began to appear in the United States around 1880, but remained relatively rare. It wasn’t until the botanist David Fairchild brought back several specimens from Japan to Washington, D.C. that they were truly embraced. Fairchild’s interest helped develop a relationship between the two governments, and in 1912, thousands of flowering cherries were gifted from Japan and planted around Washington, D.C.’s tidal basin.