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Historical Festival of Blossoms

Updated on March 22, 2017

My love of plants combined with finding out the origins of things, such as fossils, but of course, I began to investigate the origins of several plant species growing in my country landscape. Singling out my flowering shrubs and small trees, I discovered lots of interesting historical and cultural facts about them, and much more, including annual festivals celebrating these glorious varieties. Beginning with the first spring bloom (my favorite of all) is the forsythia. Next, following through in order according to their seasonal blossoming are three more varieties including; the sand cherry tree, apple blossom trees and lilac shrubs.


Forsythia In History and Culture

A native plant of Asia, the forsythia was first recorded in the Shennong Bencoa Jin, a Chinese book of agriculture and medicinal plants written between 300 BC and 200 AD.

Tao Hongjing, a Chinese poet, calligrapher, physician, naturalist, and the most eminent Daoist of his time, described the forsythia in this famous Chinese book of agriculture: Bitter and balanced, it mainly treats cold and heat disorders.

Forsythia is listed in Chinese medicine among 50 essential herbs chiefly valued for its antiseptic effects with powerful bacteria fighting properties

The genus is named after William Forsyth (1737-1804) a Scottish botanist who was head gardener and founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Botanical Smuggling: Forsyth's fellow Scotsman, Robert Fortune, smuggled forsythia plants and the know how to make Chinese tea from them and established the production of it in India. China has only recently recovered after 250 years, now leading India in tea production.

The Victorians used the flower as a symbol to express feelings; their meaning for forsythia is "anticipation", very fitting since it's one of the first signs of Spring all around the world.

The southern city of Forsyth, Georgia, USA, holds an annual Forsythia Festival in March to commemorate Spring, and so does Cabbage Town, Canada. Yet another forsythia festival is celebrated in Seoul, Korea where it's been mentioned that the famous Oksu Hill overlooking a local community appears as if someone painted it yellow resulting from the profusion of forsythia spring blooms.

USCGC Forsythia
USCGC Forsythia | Source

A River Tender Named After Forsythias

River tender, USCGC Forsythia, is a 114 foot vessel, one of three named after flowering shrubs. She was built to replace the stern paddle-wheel steamers by Avondale Marine Ways in Westwego, Louisiana and entered service in 1943. She was stationed at Sewickley, Pennsylvania until 1963 and then Memphis, Tennessee, until she was decommissioned in 1977.

Like all Coast Guard cutters, she was designed to aid navigation, but in particular, for our inland waterways conducting a multitude of tasks i.e. search and rescue, icebreaker, flood relief efforts, law enforcement and more.

WILD SAND CHERRY SHRUB (Prunus pumila) | Source

Origins of the Purpleleaf Sand Cherry

Hang on to your seats. It was a challenge to figure this one out, but after some stubborn digging around, I discovered that my ornamental tree, the Purple Leaf Sand Cherry (Prunus cistena), is a cross between a sand cherry low-growing shrub (Prunus pumila) and a cherry plum tree which yields dark colored berries (Prunus cerasifera). And the cherry plum tree is a cross between the (Prunus pumila) and various plum plants . . . talk about full circle! In the early 1900’s, breeders of the small cherry plum trees wanted to produce a fruit hardy enough to withstand the severe winters of the northern Great Plains. Even if they couldn't grow plums or cherries due to late frosts or extreme winter temperatures, they were finally able to grow cherry plums excellent for making intensely colored jam.

How did they accomplish this success story? By grafting plum trees with the hardy, low-growing sand cherry shrub (Prunus pumila) they conceived their resistant genus. When the early botanists discover the hardy shrub, native to the great interior plains of Nebraska and Kansas, and westward to the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, as well as isolated growths far east to Michigan, they knew they had something special. It had adapted to the most trying soils and situations, yet profusely produced large size cherries.

Yet the botanists of history experimented with the sand cherry shrub far more than crossing it with plums by cultivating high yielding cherries. Incidentally, there are several common names which made the research even more confusing, for example: Dwarf Cherry, Bessey Cherry, Eastern Sand Cherry, Great Lakes Sand Cherry, Prostrate Dwarf Cherry, Rocky Mountain Cherry, and Western Sand Cherry.

But this is not the end of the story. How did we end up with the purple leaf sand cherry ornamental tree that adorns many household landscapes, including mine? I will explain, but first you might need a break. Take a look, I have provided an interesting historical document written by American botanist Charles Edwin Bessey (1845-1915). He promoted the sand cherry for over twenty years which is why it's also sometimes called (Prunus besseyi).


So getting back to the cherry plum tree which we have established was cultivated from two varieties and bears fruit best for jams. Breeders took things one step further purely for the ornamental value to produce the purple leaf sand cherry tree sometimes called purple leaf plum tree which yields insignificant fruit, (Prunus cistena) growing in my yard. Phew . . . congratulations, you made it through the history of its cultivation and you also get credit for having an intense interest in horticulture!

BTW: The purple leaf sand cherry is extremely fragrant with a super sweet aroma!

Victorian meaning for Cherry Blossom: Education


Apple Tree Fun Facts

The native apple blossom, (Pyrus coronaria) commonly called crab apple, is the official state flower for Michigan, established in 1897, and for Arkansas, established in 1901.

The crab apple is on the sour side, not desirable for high production. It's quite fragrant, like that of the honeysuckle. Growers intentionally plant it amid cultivated orchards to help entice pollinators and also for cross pollination which produces higher yields of edible varieties.

Left to their own devise, apple trees can grow to 30 feet.

Today, Michigan ranks second in the USA behind Washington State for apple production. Arkansas celebrated a time in history as a top apple producer until 1927 when crops were hit with a double whammy from disease and severe frost.

China is the top producer worldwide producing almost half the total world sum of 69 million tons of apples in 2010.

Victorian meaning for Apple Blossom: Preference, Better Things to Come, Good Fortune

1947 Annapolis Apple Blossom Queen
1947 Annapolis Apple Blossom Queen | Source
1950's Annapolis Queen's Court
1950's Annapolis Queen's Court | Source
1939 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Queen's Court
1939 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Queen's Court
1957 Apple Blossom QueensCourt St Mary's College of Maryland
1957 Apple Blossom QueensCourt St Mary's College of Maryland | Source

Apple Blossom Festivals in Early Spring

Apple Blossom Festivals are too numerous to mention so I elected to feature a few of the oldest running.

Since 1906, the Blossomtime Festival is the oldest in Michigan where twenty-five cities and towns come together in the Spring, each with a queen who competes for Miss Blossomtime. The parade begins in St. Joseph and ends in the twin city of Benton Harbor.

Washington State Apple Blossom Festival in Wenatchee, Washington began in 1919.

St. Joe, Missouri began its Apple Blossom Festival in 1924.

Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Virginia began in 1924.

Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, Canada has celebrated with an Apple Blossom Festival beginning in 1933.

As in all the varied floral festivals, events are creative and unique, some with carnivals, golf tournaments, food fairs, arts and entertainment, band competitions, children's attractions, a queen's court, and last but not least, grand parades with marching bands and floral floats. The economic impact on the communities is most significant some of which attract a quarter million to a half million people each year.

2013 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival/Parade in Winchester, Virginia

Apple Blossoms in May at Crane's Apple Orchard in Fennville, Michigan (USA)
Apple Blossoms in May at Crane's Apple Orchard in Fennville, Michigan (USA)
  Pamona Roman Goddess of Orchards
Pamona Roman Goddess of Orchards | Source

The Apple Tree and Its Blossom in Culture and History

Pamona was Roman Goddes of Orchards watching over the care and cultivation of fruit trees.

The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated and improved over thousands of years. Alexander the Great is credited for discovering dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan, Asia in 328 BC.

Apples were introduced to England during the Roman invasion in the first century BC.

Apples were brought to North America by colonists in the 17th century.

The first apple orchard in the North America was planted in Boston by Reverend William Blaxton in 1625.

Apple varieties brought as seed from Europe were spread along Native American trade routes and colonial farms.

A seventeen-century herbalist recommended mixing apple blossom extract with a bit of rose water and some pig fat as a cure for rough, dry skin.

In Celtic myth, an apple branch bearing fruit, flowers and unopened buds was a magical key to the land of the Underworld.


When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd by Walt Whitman

This 1865 poem is part of a series written after President Lincoln's assassination which Whitman was known to have made reference as the "shepherd" of the American people. His words mourn modern world and the death of a nation's leader.

First four of the sixteen stanzas written by Walt Whitman


When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,

Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,

And thought of him I love.


Powerful western fallen star!

Shades of night—O moody, tearful night!

Great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!

Cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!

Harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.


In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,

Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,

With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,

With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

A sprig with its flower I break.


In the swamp in secluded recesses,

A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush,

The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,

Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat,

Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,

If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.)


Historical References of the Lilac Shrub

Lilacs are native to Eastern Europe and Asia. The colonists brought them to America in the 17th century.

Lilacs were first described by Pierre Belon, a French naturalist who had visited the court of Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of Turkey. In the 16th century, the lilac was brought to Vienna and it rapidly spread across Europe. Hybrids were so frequently grown by French nurserymen that France became synonymous with lilacs; many common lilacs today are known as "french hybrids".

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson planted lilacs in their gardens.

Mackinac Island in the upper peninsula of Michigan have original Victorian lilac plants, dating more than 150 years old.

The oldest living lilacs in North America may be those at the Governor Wentworth estate in Portsmouth, New Hampshire believed to have been planted around 1750.

Since 1919, the lilac has been the official state flower of New Hampshire because it symbolizes the hardy character of the men and women living in the Granite State.

Spokane, Washington's First Lilac Festival Queen, Shannon Mahoney
Spokane, Washington's First Lilac Festival Queen, Shannon Mahoney

Popular Lilac Festivals in May

Mackinac Island, Michigan since 1949

Highland Park, Rochester, NY since 1898

Lombard, Illinois since 1929

Calgary, Alberta (Canada) since 1989

Spokane, Washington since 1938 - In 1940, Shannon Mahoney was selected as the first Lilac Festival queen. In 1942 war conditions took precedence over community events. A flower show was held, however the parade was dispensed with, but the garden clubs remained active by giving lilacs to soldiers passing through Spokane on troop trains.

Victorian Meaning for Lilacs: (General) Beauty and Pride, (Purple) First emotions of love, (White) Youthful Innocence

Vote for your favorite landscape bloomer

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© 2013 Kathi


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    • kerlund74 profile image

      kerlund74 3 years ago from Sweden

      So beautiful photos, love the cherry blossoms:)

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 4 years ago

      Such detail you have here. Beautiful photos of flowers you have. I also like how there is a bit of a history lesson here. Voted up.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      Wow Kathi--what a beautiful hub!! Just gorgeous!

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 4 years ago

      Hi Kathi, I've been away, but now I'm BACK!

      I've missed seeing your Wonderful Photos and reading your Interesting Information. After looking at your Hubs, I know, SPRING is Finally here...I can Smell it!

      Thanks for the Treat, which I have Voted UP & Beautiful and Awesome too!

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 4 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Hi Patricia, I hope you are able to get those forsythias growing in your current landscape, they truly are intoxicating. When everything else is still brown or slightly getting green, they are flourishing with that bright sunny yellow. Thanks for the angels, right back attcha ♥

      Hi Nell, Is it the rainy season there right now? We've had our share here in the mitten state and the mosquitoes are horrible! I've got bites all over from working in the yard. Thanks for the vote and share! Kathi ♥

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi kathi, this was packed full of fascinating info, and the photos were awesome, being in England with the dark dull rain at the moment made this hub so very special. I never knew all about these gorgeous flowers, I just love to look at them when I see them growing, so this was fascinating, wonderful hub, voted and shared!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      O fossillady...

      I found myself in a paradise when I entered here today...the blossoms are among some of my most favorite.....we had all of these growing in one or all of our yards as I grew up.

      Forsythia is one of my all time favorites. I had purchased several to grow and then circumstances came and they traveled with me for a bit. Then on the last move they could not come. My goal is to have them once again.

      There is something intoxicating to me about those blooms.

      The information you provided too was also very interesting.

      thank you for sharing with us...have a lovely evening.

      Angels are on the way ps

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 4 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Hi Colin, thank you for your warm comments, as always very uplifting to the soul and makes me want to keep doing it!

      So you've been in the lake already? Today its back to cold and wet here, very unsummerish! Ugh

      I started part time last week back at the beach and beginning this weekend will be full time again. I'm going to try to keep up on the hub as much as possible . . . you know how it is!

      Hi to the kitties for me and thanks again for your awesome support dear friend! Hugs ♥

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 4 years ago

      Well you can be my Miss April Blossom anytime Kathi. lol

      I just sent you a nice card online at FB and posted this most remarkable hub presentation with a link back here.

      As always dear Kathi , everything you do at the Hub is like a true labor of love - and the history and the culture was very enlightening with your usual high standards of research and eye to detail.

      And of course your keen photographic eye for beauty.

      I have an eye too for a beautiful woman who can do it all and that lovely lady is you.

      Sending you warm wishes and good energy from Colin and his cats.

      I've been in the water for a quick dip now three days in a row - I think summer is finally here, I hope, lol.

      Are you working at your summer job again Kathi?

      lake erie time 10:35am

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 4 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Hi Jackie, I never knew about the value of forsythia, either, as a potion for illness and used in combination with other plants as a tea. Just goes to show ya, you learn something new everyday!! Thanks for stopping by, Kathi ♥

      Hi Vicki, thank you for the lovely comment and I agree, there's nothing better to put a smile on your face than getting close to nature, but in particular the lure of flowers! Good to see you, Kathi :O)

      Hi Alicia, I'm not surprised you like putting together facts with nature and photos cause you do such a great job of research and more on your hubs! Thank you for the kind compliment! Take care, Kathi :O)

      Oh Docmo, you are a kind friend and I treasure your opinion! Thank you, thank you for your feedback . . . it makes it that much more worth the effort when people like you come to visit! Hugs and love right back attcha, Kathi ♥

      Hi Eddy, thank you dear for your wonderful comment! Hope you are having a great day as always! Kathi :O)

      Hi Kim, so good to see you! Thank you for the kind words! Hope all is well, Kathi :O)

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 4 years ago from North Carolina


      You never disappoint. Your hubs are beautiful and informative. Per always, an enjoyable experience. Voted up and beautiful.


    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Wow what a wonderful hub Fossillady;a true gem and voted up,across and shared. This is indeed a token of your hard work. Here's to wishing you a greatday .


    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 4 years ago from UK

      Wow. Just wow. You're a woman after my own heart. curiosity, meticulous research, delightful historical facts combined with botanical erudition - all packaged in a beautifully formatted hub. this deserves an award. Absolutely awesome. This is a treasure. Much love and hugs. up/shared everywhere!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love the combination of nature, historical facts and beautiful photos, Kathi! They make a very interesting and enjoyable hub.

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      What a gorgeous Hub!Love your photos and your descriptions. For happiness, nothing like getting out and looking at blossoms and bees!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      How beautiful and informative. I certainly had no idea we could eat forsythia and that is one I will remember! Thank you. Interesting about your cherry plum too, makes me want to try something myself! Inspirational write! Up and across.

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 4 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Hi Billy, well thanks for being the first person to comment! Much appreciated and I know you'll have relaxing Sunday . . . me too! :O)

      Thank you for the nice compliment my dear Ruby . . . we are do for a trip aren't we. Hmmm, I'm think'n! ♥ XO ♥

    • profile image

      Always exploring 4 years ago

      O Fossi, This is absolutely beautiful!! The purple leaf sand cherry is gorgeous and so are the apple blossom and lilacs. I love Whitman's poems. Your history presentation is really interesting. Thank you Dear friend. Take me away, i don't care where..Hee...Hugs.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      The sand cherry is beautiful, and I love lilacs. Great information here...very interesting read my friend.

      Have a great Sunday!