Cherry blossoms


Was He a Bad Boy?

Washington’s birthday is a proper time to think about cherry trees. Rather than question whether or not George did chop down the tree, and whether or not he had the honesty to admit to the act, I wonder what kind of a cherry it could have been. (The story, incidentally, is apocryphal, having been fabricated by Mason Locke Weems for his 1802 book, Life of George Washington; With Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself and Exemplary to his Young Countrymen. “Parson” Weems also wrote of Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Delaware River).

That cherry tree could very well have been something akin to the sweet cherries we can buy or grow today. Sweet cherrySweet cherries (Prunus avium), sometimes called bird cherries or, in their more wild state, mazzard cherries, were amongst the plants ordered from Europe by the Massachusetts colony in 1629. By 1650, there was a cherry orchard in Yonkers, New York, and before the end of that century, there were plantings in Rhode Island, Maryland, and Virginia. Trees became so abundant that in 1749, Peter Kalm wrote that “all travellers are allowed to pluck ripe fruit in any garden which they pass by, provided they do not break any branches; and not even the most covetous farmer hindered them from so doing.” So it is not unlikely that Papa Washington had a few sweet cherry trees planted at his farmstead along the shores of the Rappahannock River.

That abundance of cherry trees and cherries is interesting because here in the Hudson Valley, in Eastern US in general, sweet cherries are not an easy crop. Read more