Springtime in Washington, D.C. kicks off every year with the city’s famous Cherry Blossom Festival, when the fluffy pink cherry trees around the National Mall and Tidal Basin burst into bloom. Hundreds of thousands flock there to take in the beautiful flowers, making it one of Washington’s most well-loved events. It’s hard to imagine, but more than a century ago, this same area in D.C. stood naked without a cherry tree in site.

The story of cherry trees made their way to the U.S. is almost as remarkable as the blossoms themselves, and it might never have happened if not for a handful of unlikely adventurers and advocates.

For the full story, visit NationalGeographic.com/Culture.

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