European Cherry Blossoms Announce Spring

Guest post by Snoqualmie Valley Historian -David S. Battey

As a tree freak, I get pretty excited over the stunning spring blooms flooding the Northwest right now.  Most are cherry blossoms not planted by humans, and most are immigrants, just like us. 

The European cherry was introduced to the West Coast in 1847, when the Henderson and Elizabeth Lewelling family, including their eight children, came west from Salem, Ohio. They brought 700 grafted fruit trees in covered wagons and settled in the Milwaukee area in Oregon Territory. 

About half of the fruit trees survived the arduous trip. But their nursery stock and family received a boost just a few weeks later when William Meek brought his covered wagons full of plants west – and four months later, married their daughter, Mary Lewelling. 

Cherry Blossoms-Meadowbrook Photo Credit: Dave Battey

Henderson and William formed a partnership, and the Lewelling-Meek Nursery was born.  The nursery was the very first on the West Coast of North America.

But birds love cherries and spread seeds far and wide.  God, the pioneers and the birds took over from the Lewellings and Meeks. I expect some areas in what was then Washington Territory had European cherries planted by the birds even before they had settler’s orchards. 

A few of the early blooms we see each spring are plums, but most are imported cherry varieties and their offspring.   

The famous ‘Bing’ cherry, introduced by their orchard in 1875, coupled with ‘Royal Ann’, was the premier cherry variety for our Western Washington ancestors.  Bing appeared as a seedling in their Milwaukee orchard and is named after Lewelling’s Manchurian foreman, Ah Bing. 

Royal Ann, a ‘blush’ cherry-like Rainier, is a world-famous antique favorite named Napoleon.  The Lewellings lost their tag on the trip west and re-named it, Royal Ann.

When I was growing up, my grandfather Swenson had two giant cherry trees in the front yard of his farmhouse above the Weyerhaeuser Mill, a Royal Ann and a Bing.  Even today, many prefer Royal Ann over Rainier, saying it is “Softer, sweeter and more aromatic.”

We have a wild native cherry in Western Washington, Prunus emarginata, nicknamed ‘Bitter Cherry.’  This cherry has small fruit and much smaller and less exciting blooms, flowering much later than its European cousin, Prunus avium.

So, enjoy the legacy first brought to our area by the birds and the pioneers. They are now in full bloom and will soon provide more seeds for the birds to spread for our future enjoyment.

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