50 Things Turning 50 in 2019

NASA, Getty Images
NASA, Getty Images

Celebrating the big 5-0 this year? You’re in excellent company. From the first manned Moon landing to Monty Python, here are 50 things marking a half-century on this planet (and beyond) in 2019.

1. First Manned Moon Landing

Apollo 11 began its historic voyage to the Moon on July 16, 1969. It reached its destination on July 20 and on July 21, Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface, with Buzz Aldrin following him about 20 minutes later. The mission marked the beginning of the U.S. putting a dozen men on the moon.

2. Sesame Street

On November 10, 1969, television audiences were introduced to Sesame Street (including an orange version of Oscar the Grouch). In the nearly 50 years since, the series has become one of television's most iconic programs—and not just for kids.

3. Stonewall Riots

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, The Stonewall Inn—a popular gay bar in New York City’s West Village—was raided by police. The incident sparked a series of riots in protest, and became the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. In 2016, the bar was named a National Monument.

4. Monty Python’s Flying Circus

The creators of Monty Python's Flying Circus
Alan Howard, Getty Images

On October 5, 1969, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam changed the face of sketch comedy forever with the BBC debut of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

5. The Internet

There’s been a long-running debate about when “The Internet” was born, with many tech-heads citing April 7, 1969 as the web’s official birthdate. That’s the day the first official Request for Comments, or RFC, was published—which included research, proposals, and ideas for the creation of true internet technology.

6. Woodstock

On August 15, 1969, a 600-acre dairy farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains became the site of one of the most defining music events in rock ‘n’ roll history. Though Woodstock’s organizers assured town officials that no more than 50,000 music lovers would show up, word spread fast and the final tally ended up being closer to 400,000—almost 100 times the town of Bethel’s year-round population of about 4200.

7. Fla-Vor-Ice

Those plastic tubes of frozen, flavored sugar water seem to be a part of everyone’s childhood—and with good reason: Fla-Vor-Ice made its grocery store debut in 1969.

8. The Gap

On August 21, 1969, Donald and Doris Fisher opened the very first Gap store on San Francisco’s Ocean Avenue. While jeans were a main attraction, the retailer looked a lot different back then: It sold Levi’s only (plus records, in an attempt to attract that coveted teenage demographic).

9. The Beatles’s Rooftop Concert

On January 30, 1969, right around lunchtime, The Beatles made their way to the rooftop of the Apple Corps building, their record label’s headquarters, for an unannounced performance. It was the first time in more than two years that the band had performed live, and they didn’t miss a beat. The Fab Four spent 42 minutes testing new material out on a crowd of onlookers. Eventually, a bank manager called the police to lodge a noise complaint—and the plug was pulled.

10. PBS

On November 3, 1969, PBS was founded as a successor to National Educational Television (NET) and quickly became the country’s preeminent broadcaster of educational, cultured television. Among its most popular series in those early days were Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Nova, The French Chef with Julia Child, and Masterpiece Theatre (some of which are still going strong).

11. Wendy’s

Wendy’s—the fast food burger giant that also makes a mean baked potato—was founded by Dave Thomas in Columbus, Ohio on November 15, 1969. The restaurant differentiated itself from the competition with its square burger patties, which were inspired by Kewpee’s, a burger joint in Thomas’s hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

12. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

On June 3, 1969, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar came into the world and made the tale of, well, a very hungry caterpillar that eats his way through the story and emerges as a butterfly a staple of bedtime stories around the world. More than 30 million copies of the children’s book have been sold since its original publication.

13. David Bowie's "Space Oddity"

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired David Bowie to write “Space Oddity,” the opening song on his second studio album that would become one of the artist’s defining hits. It was released on July 11, 1969—less than a week before Apollo 11 began its historic voyage to the Moon.

14. Peter Dinklage

On June 11, 1969, Peter Dinklage came bouncing into this world in Morristown, New Jersey. In 1991, he made his onscreen debut in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog. Today, of course, he’s best known as Tyrion Lannister—everyone’s favorite character Game of Thrones’s character and the series’ real star (according to math).

15. Funyuns

Looks like an onion ring, tastes like an onion-flavored chip. Funyuns have been offering the best of both worlds since 1969.

16. The Brady Bunch

Here's the story of a lovely lady, her architect husband, three daughters, three stepsons, one housekeeper, a dog named Tiger, and one jinx of a cousin—all of whom came together to create one memorable blended family sitcom. The Brady Bunch made its premiere on September 26, 1969.

17. Slaughterhouse-Five

On March 31, 1969, Kurt Vonnegut published what is arguably his most popular work, Slaughterhouse-Five—a semi-autobiographical novel based on his experiences as a POW during the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.

18. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their bed in the Presidential Suite of the Hilton Hotel, Amsterdam, 25th March 1969. The couple are staging a 'bed-in for peace' and intend to stay in bed for seven days 'as a protest aga
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On March 20, 1969, one of the world’s most famous couples—John Lennon and Yoko Ono—officially got hitched. Knowing that all eyes would be on them in the days following their wedding, they decided to book the presidential suite at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel and stage a week-long “Bed-In” to protest the Vietnam War and promote global peace.

19. Automatic Teller Machine

On September 2, 1969, the country’s first ATM started shelling out cash to Chemical Bank customers in Rockville Center, New York.

20. Cracker Barrel

On September 19, 1969, Dan W. Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Lebanon, Tennessee, where made-from-scratch fare was always on the menu. Today, the restaurant chain operates more than 650 locations across 45 states.

21. Chappaquiddick Incident

In the late-night hours of July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a one-lane bridge and into the water on Chappaquidick Island, Massachusetts. While Kennedy was able to escape the vehicle, his passenger—28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, a former staffer for Ted’s late brother Bobby—was not. Instead of calling for help, Kennedy fled the scene and didn’t report the incident for another 10 hours. Kennedy eventually pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month jail sentence, which was suspended. Though he remained an active politician for the rest of his life, the “Chappaquidick Incident,” as it came to be known, is often cited as a reason why Kennedy was never elected president (he ran unsuccessfully in 1980).

22. Tic Tacs

Introduced in 1969 as “Refreshing Mints,” Tic Tacs have cornered the market on teeny-tiny breath mints that make a fun shaking noise while resting in your pocket. Though orange and mint were the original (and still popular) flavors, dozens of new flavors have been added since then and the mints now sell in more than 100 countries.

23. "Sweet Caroline"

Neil Diamond sings 'Sweet Caroline' during a game between the Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox in the 8th inning at Fenway Park on April 20, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts
Jim Rogash, Getty Images

In June 1969, Neil Diamond released “Sweet Caroline,” which he later explained had been inspired by Caroline Kennedy. (He even performed the tune at her 50th birthday.) Whether you love the song or hate it, it endures—particularly as a theme at sporting events. For more than 20 years, it’s been played at Boston’s Fenway Park during every Red Sox home game. So good, so good, so good.

24. Jennifer Aniston

On February 11, 1969, Jennifer Aniston was born in Sherman Oaks, California to actors John Aniston and Nancy Dow. Though she rose to super-stardom playing Rachel Green on Friends, her roles weren’t always so glamorous: Her first gig was an uncredited role in 1987’s Mac and Me and she had a starring role in the awesomely terrible 1993 “horror” film Leprechaun. Aniston share’s her birthday with a host of other talented actresses turning 50 this year, including Cate Blanchett, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Lopez, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

25. Easy Rider

A seminal film of the late 1960s counter-culture—and one of the film’s that kicked off the New Hollywood era of filmmaking—Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s trippy road movie made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 1969. Hopper, who directed Easy Rider and co-wrote it with Fonda and Terry Southern, left France with the festival’s Best First Work award (and a soon-to-be-iconic film on his hands).

26. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Originally published in 1969, the first in Maya Angelou’s series of autobiographies delves into her earliest years, beginning at age 3, when she and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Arkansas. It culminates with a teenaged Angelou giving birth to her son, Guy, at the age of 16. The book confirmed Angelou’s status as one of America’s most original and important voices, and was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970.

27. “A Boy Named Sue”

On February 24, 1969—while famously performing live at California's San Quentin State Prison—legendary singer Johnny Cash debuted “A Boy Named Sue.” If the title and lyrics seem oddly whimsical for the Man in Black, that’s because the tune was written by children’s author/poet Shel Silverstein.

28. Firebird Trans Am

The first generation of Pontiac’s legendary muscle car began rolling off the assembly line in 1969 and continued being manufactured—with tiny tweaks over the years—until 2002. The vehicle earned an important place in pop culture, thanks to starring roles in Smokey and the Bandit and Knight Rider.

29. The Star Trek Finale

Given its pop culture dominance and impact on the science fiction genre, it’s hard to believe that the original version of Star Trek only spent three seasons on the air. But on June 3, 1969, early Trekkies watched as an evil scientist swapped bodies with Captain Kirk and attempted to take control of the Enterprise in the series finale, “Turnabout Intruder."

30. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather

The bestselling novel that led to Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning movie—and one of the only sequels in cinema history to be as good as, if not better than, its predecessor—was published on March 10, 1969.

31. The Concorde


Getty Images

While the origins of the supersonic jet that came to be known as the Concorde began back in the 1950s, it wasn’t until March 2, 1969, that the vessel—a.k.a. Concorde 001—made its maiden voyage. It would take another seven years for the plane to become a regular sight in the skies.

32. Paul Rudd

Hollywood’s most likeable actor was born in Passaic, New Jersey on April 6, 1969. Fifty years later, he’s stirring up all sorts of confusion and excitement amongst fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe following his unexpected cameo in the first trailer for this year’s Avengers: Endgame. Rudd shares a birthday with Matthew McConaughey and Dave Bautista.

33. Human Eye Transplant

On April 22, 1969, doctors at Houston’s Methodist Hospital made history when they performed the first human eye transplant on 55-year-old John Madden. While the transplant itself was technically a success, the donated eye had not been properly preserved, so Madden’s eyesight remained unchanged. "I don't know what they expected,’’ Madden’s wife said at the time. “They tell us that being able to transplant an eye and have movement in it is really something.”

34. Midnight Cowboy

John Schlesinger’s buddy dramedy about a goofy Texan (Jon Voight) and a sickly—albeit crafty—con man (Dustin Hoffman) teaming up to turn the 6-gallon-hat-wearing galoot into one of New York City’s most in-demand gigolos is the first and only X-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

35. Quartz Watches

On December 25, 1969—following 10 years of extensive research—Seiko debuted the Quartz-Astron 35SQ, the world’s first quartz watch. Even today, it's still logged as one of the great milestones in electric engineering.

36. Abbey Road

Abbey RoadThe Beatles’s eleventh studio album, and the final one on which all four original members recorded together—was released on September 26, 1969. (Let It Be came out on May 8, 1970, but was recorded before Abbey Road.)

37. Home Surveillance Systems

On December 2, 1969, Queens, New York native Marie V.B. Brown and her husband Albert were issued a patent for a home security system that allowed the owner to utilize a television set in order to see and hear whoever was at the front door.

38. Portnoy's Complaint

On January 12, 1969, the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint turned author Philip Roth into both an instant celebrity and a lightning rod for controversy for those who took issue with his frank depictions of sexuality. He maintained an impressive status as both until his passing in 2018.

39. The Saturday Evening Post’s Final Issue

After nearly 150 years of Norman Rockwell covers and iconic Americana, The Saturday Evening Post ceased publication in 1969. Though the print magazine was revived in 1971, its focus was much more on medical articles, so it was never again the same thing that it had been.

40. Wes Anderson


Tullio M. Puglia, Getty Images

The quirky, whimsy-loving director behind Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Grand Budapest Hotel was born in Houston, Texas on May 1, 1969. It’s in that very same city that Anderson attended high school at the St. John’s School, which would later play the titular role in Rushmore.

41. Capri Sun

Though Capri Sun—and its notoriously difficult-to-pierce-in-just-the-right-place juice pouches—didn’t make its way to the U.S. until 1981, the juice concentrate was first introduced in Switzerland in 1969.

42. Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin’s first studio album made its American debut on January 12, 1969, less than a year after the iconic rock band’s formation.

43. Cory Booker

Cory Booker, the longtime mayor of Newark-turned-New Jersey senator, was born in Washington, D.C. on April 27, 1969.

44. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Director George Roy Hill took the American western to dizzying new heights with the help of Paul Newman and Robert Redford when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released in theaters on October 24, 1969. Four Oscars followed.

45. RMS Queen Elizabeth 2

For nearly 40 years, the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2—better known as the QE2—was the grand dame of the Atlantic Ocean. As part of the Cunard family of ships, the luxury ocean liner made her maiden voyage on May 2, 1969 and continued to serve as a transatlantic shuttle between Southampton, England and New York City until 2008. In 2018, she reopened as a floating hotel in Dubai.

46. Altamont Free Concert

Free concerts didn’t work out quite as planned in 1969. Four months after Woodstock attracted an unprecedented number of guests to a dairy farm in upstate New York, the Rolling Stones decided to host a free concert of their own at California’s Altamont Speedway. While it’s often reported that the Hells Angels were officially hired as security for the event, some individuals involved in its planning deny this. But there’s no denying that several members of the infamous motorcycle club were indeed there, surrounding the stage, and reacting to the increasingly agitated crowd. By the end of the night, four people had been killed—three of them accidentally—while many more were injured due to scuffles of varying degrees of severity. Documentarians Albert and David Maysles were on hand to record the events, which they turned into Gimme Shelter, one of the most fascinating rockumentaries of all time.

47. Battery-operated Smoke Detectors

Smoke detector and smoke
iStock

You know that tiny device that wakes you up in the middle of the night making a racket just because its batteries are dying? But could also save your life in the event of a fire? It’s turning 50! Duane D. Pearsall invented the first battery-operated smoke detector on February 5, 1969.

48. The Manson Family

In 1967, following his release from a seven-year prison stint for forging checks and transporting women across state lines for the purpose of prostitution, Charles Manson moved to San Francisco and began assembling a devout group of followers—many of them young women—who were ready to do his bidding, whatever that might be. Though the “family” unit was formed a bit earlier, they rose to global prominence—much to the horror of everyday citizens everywhere—when a group of Manson’s followers murdered five people at Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s Los Angeles rental home on the evening of August 8, 1969. Tate, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was among the victims. One week later, police raided Spahn Ranch—where the Manson Family lived—and arrested 26 individuals, Manson among them.

49. Scooby Doo

On September 13, 1969, CBS viewers were introduced to the kind of trippy world of Scooby Doo and his gang of human mystery-solvers—Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Shaggy Rogers—when Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! debuted as part of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup. That most of the “mysteries” ended in the same way—with the gang pulling a mask off the monster that had been stalking them, only to find it was a human they knew—didn’t seem to hinder the classic cartoon’s popularity.

50. Turn-on

Several months before Monty Python’s Flying Circus made its debut, another sketch comedy show—one that included Albert Brooks among its writers—made its premiere on February 5, 1969 and disappeared just as quickly. Though two episodes were filmed, only one aired. Leaving the series to be remembered as one of the biggest flops of all time. (Yes, it’s important to commemorate that, too.)

15 Positively Reinforcing Facts About B.F. Skinner

Silly rabbit via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
Silly rabbit via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Burrhus Frederic Skinner was one of the preeminent American psychologists of the 20th century. B.F. Skinner founded “radical behaviorism”—a twist on traditional behaviorism, a field of psychology that focused exclusively on observable human behavior. Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions were cast aside as unobservable.

B.F. Skinner dubbed his own method of observing behavior “operant conditioning,” which posited that behavior is determined solely by its consequences—either reinforcements or punishments. He also coined the term "positive reinforcement." 

To Skinner’s critics, the idea that these “principles of reinforcement,” as he called them, lead to easy “behavior modification” suggested that we do not have free will and are little more than automatons acting in response to stimuli. But his fans considered him visionary. Controversial to the end, B.F. Skinner was well known for his unconventional methods, unusual inventions, and utopian—some say dystopian—ideas about human society.

1. B.F. Skinner invented the "operant conditioning" or "Skinner" box.

Skinner believed that the best way to understand behavior is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences. He called this approach “operant conditioning.” Skinner began by studying rats interacting with an environment inside a box, where they were rewarded with a pellet of food for responding to a stimulus like light or sound with desired behavior. This simple experiment design would over the years take on dark metaphorical meaning: Any environment that had mechanisms in place to manipulate or control behavior could be called a "Skinner box." Recently, some have argued that social media is a sort of digital Skinner box: Likes, clicks, and shares are the pellet-like rewards we get for responding to our environment with certain behavior. Yes, we are the rats.

2. B.F. Skinner believed that all behavior was affected by one of three "operants."

Skinner proposed there were only three “operants” that had affected human behavior. Neutral operants were responses from the environment that had a benign effect on a behavior. Reinforcers were responses that increased the likelihood of a behavior’s repetition. And punishers decreased the likelihood of a behavior’s repetition. While he was correct that behavior can be modified via this system, it’s only one of many methods for doing so, and it failed to take into account how emotions, thoughts, and—as we learned eventually—the brain itself account for changes in behavior.

3. He's responsible for the term "positive reinforcement."

B.F. Skinner eventually moved on to studying pigeons in his Skinner box. The pigeons would peck at a disc to gain access to food at various intervals, and for completing certain tasks. From this Skinner concluded that some form of reinforcement was crucial in learning new behaviors. To his mind, positive reinforcement strengthens a behavior by providing a consequence an individual finds rewarding. He concluded that reinforced behavior tends to be repeated and strengthened.

4. Some critics felt "positive reinforcement" amounted to bribery.

Critics were dubious that Skinner's focus on behavior modification through positive reinforcement of desired behavior could actually change behavior for the long term, and that it was little more than temporary reward, like bribery, for a short-term behavioral change.

5. B.F. Skinner's idea of "negative reinforcement" isn't what you think.

Skinner believed negative reinforcement also helped to strengthen behavior; this doesn't mean exposing an animal or person to a negative stimulus, but rather removing an “unpleasant reinforcer.” The idea was that removing the negative stimulus would feel like a “reward” to the animal or person.

6. B.F. Skinner taught pigeons to play ping-pong.

As part of his research into positive reinforcement, he taught pigeons to play ping-pong as a first step in seeing how trainable they were. He ultimately wanted to teach them to guide bombs and missiles and even convinced the military to fund his research to that effect. He liked working with pigeons because they responded well to reinforcements and punishments, thus validating his theories. We know now that pigeons can be trained in a whole host of tasks, including distinguishing written words from nonsense and spotting cancer.

7. B.F. Skinner's first book, The Behavior of Organisms, broke new ground.

Published in 1938, Skinner’s debut book made the case that simple observation of cause and effect, reward and punishment, were as significant to understanding behavior as other “conceptual or neural processes.”

Skinner believed behavior was everything. Thoughts and feelings were just unreliable byproducts of behaviors, he argued—and therefore dismissed them. Many of his fellow psychologists disagreed. Regardless, Skinner’s theories contributed to a greater understanding of the relationship between stimuli and resulting behavior and may have even laid the groundwork for understanding the brain’s reward circuitry, which centers around the amygdala.

8. B.F. Skinner created the "baby tender."

Skinner was fond of inventions, and having children gave him a new outlet for his tendencies. He designed a special crib for his infant daughter called “the baby tender.” The clear box, with air holes, was heated so that the baby didn't need blankets. Unlike typical cribs, there were no slats in the sides, which he said prevented possible injury. Unsurprisingly, it did not catch on with the public.

9. B.F. Skinner also developed his own "teaching machine."


Silly rabbit via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

You may have Skinner to thank for modern school workbooks and test-taking procedures. In 1954 Skinner visited his daughter’s classroom and found himself frustrated with the “inefficiencies” of the teaching procedures. His first "teaching machine"—a very basic program to improve teaching methods for spelling, math, and other school subjects—was little more than a fill-in-the-blank method on workbook or computer. It’s now considered a precursor to computer-assisted learning programs.

10. Skinner imaged an ideal society based on his theories of human behavior.

Skinner admired Henry David Thoreau’s famous book Walden, in which Thoreau writes about his retreat to the woods to get in greater contact with his inner nature. Skinner's "Ten Commandments" for a utopian world include: “(1) No way of life is inevitable. Examine your own closely. (2) If you do not like it, change it. (3) But do not try to change it through political action. Even if you succeed in gaining power, you will not likely be able to use it any more wisely than your predecessors. (4) Ask only to be left alone to solve your problems in your own way. (5) Simplify your needs. Learn how to be happy with fewer possessions.”

11. B.F. Skinner wrote a utopian novel, Walden Two.

Though inspired by Walden, Skinner also felt the book was too self-indulgent, so he wrote his own fictional follow-up with the 1948 novel Walden Two. The book proposed a type of utopian—some say dystopian—society that employed a system of behavior modification based on operant conditioning. This system of rewards and punishments would, Skinner proposed, make people into good citizens:

“We can achieve a sort of control under which the controlled, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than was ever the case under the old system, nevertheless feel free. They are doing what they want to do, not what they are forced to do. That's the source of the tremendous power of positive reinforcement—there's no restraint and no revolt. By careful cultural design, we control not the final behavior, but the inclination to behave—the motives, desires, the wishes.”

12. Some felt Skinner's ideas were reductionist ...

Critics, of which there were many, felt he reduced human behavior to a series of actions and reactions: that an individual human “mind” only existed in a social context, and that humans could be easily manipulated by external cues. He did not put much store in his critics. Even at age 83, just three years before he died, he told Daniel Goleman in a 1987 New York Times article, “I think cognitive psychology is a great hoax and a fraud, and that goes for brain science, too. They are nowhere near answering the important questions about behavior.”

13. ... and others were horrified by Walden Two.

Astronomer and colleague JK Jessup wrote, “Skinner's utopian vision could change the nature of Western civilization more disastrously than the nuclear physicists and biochemists combined.”

14. B.F. Skinner implied that humans had no free will or individual consciousness.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, Skinner wrote several works applying his behavioral theories to society, including Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971). He drew fire for implying that humans had no free will or individual consciousness but could simply be controlled by reward and punishment. His critics shouldn't have been surprised: this was the very essence of his behaviorism. He, however, was unconcerned with criticism. His daughter Julie S. Vargas has written that “Skinner felt that by answering critics (a) you showed that their criticism affected you; and (b) you gave them attention, thus raising their reputation. So he left replies to others.”

15. He died convinced that the fate of humanity lay in applying his methods of behavioral science to society.

In 1990, he died of leukemia at age 86 after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association. Proud of his work, he was nonetheless concerned about the fate of humanity and worried “about daily life in Western culture, international conflict and peace, and why people were not acting to save the world.”

10 Amazing Facts About Cherry Blossoms

iStock.com/Sean Pavone
iStock.com/Sean Pavone

Cherry blossom season is a major tourist draw for any city that’s lucky enough to grow these ornamental cherry trees. More than 1.5 million people are expected to visit Washington, D.C. this year for its National Cherry Blossom Festival (which kicks off on March 20, 2019) and Japan saw an influx of 2.6 million overseas tourists when its pretty pink flowers started to bloom in March of last year. In celebration of the arrival of spring, here are 10 things you might not know about the trees that produce such picturesque petals.

1. You'll only find cherry blossoms in a handful of countries.

Cherry trees lining a street
"Cherry Blossom Avenue" in Bonn, Germany
iStock.com/Iurii Buriak

Called sakura in Japan, the cherry blossoms of Yoshino and Kyoto are world-famous. Tourists flock to the country each spring to try their hand at a centuries-old activity called hanami, or “flower viewing.” You don’t have to fly to Japan to see them, though. In the U.S., the cherry blossoms of Washington, D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston are all beautiful in their own way. The flowers can also be viewed in many European and Asian countries, as well as Brazil and Australia in the southern hemisphere.

2. The cherry blossom capital of the world is in the state of Georgia.

A street lamp framed by cherry blossoms
iStock.com/mstroz

Believe it or not, the city of Macon in central Georgia is recognized as the “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World”—at least according to U.S. Congressional records. It’s home to 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees, while Washington, D.C. has fewer than 4000 trees. Those who organize the two cities’ respective cherry blossom festivals have engaged in some playful competition over the years. In 1987, representatives of the Macon festival sent army helmets to TV stations in D.C. “to dramatize the rivalry,” according to an article published at the time in The Record. Representatives in D.C. played it cool, with one spokesperson for the National Park Service stating, “I’m sure they have much more than we have here, but we’re still proud of our celebration.”

3. There are hundreds of cherry tree varieties.

Cherry blossoms
The blossoms of a Kanzan tree
iStock.com/Norimoto

Japan in particular is home to hundreds of types of cherry tree—possibly more than 600, by more liberal estimates. Some types bear fruit, while others don’t. The flowers of many trees change from dark pink to light pink to white throughout the different stages of blossoming, while others progress from greenish yellow to white to pink. One variety, called Kanzan, was bred to have “double blossoms”—or up to 28 petals on each flower, compared to the Yoshino tree’s five petals.

4. They don't bloom for long.

A cherry tree might only remain in bloom for one to two weeks. However, they only keep up their “peak color” for about three days, so it’s best to time your trip wisely if you’re visiting a cherry blossom destination from out of town. The timing depends on a number of factors, including location, heat, and daylight. In D.C., the florets typically start to appear in March, and peak bloom (when 70 percent of the flowers have blossomed) generally occurs in late March or early April. This year, the National Park Service predicts that peak bloom will occur from April 3 to April 6, 2019.

5. Climate change could be making them blossom earlier.

The projected peak bloom dates are right on track for 2019, but that hasn’t always been the case. Some scholars have suggested that the trees are blooming earlier and earlier as the planet gradually gets warmer. Dr. Soo-Hyung Kim, an ecophysiologist at the University of Washington who has studied the phenomenon, says that by 2080 we could expect to see cherry blossoms in D.C. as early as February.

6. You can get arrested for plucking a cherry blossom in Washington, D.C.

Cherry blossoms in D.C.
iStock.com/RobertDodge

Resist the urge to take a cherry blossom home with you as a souvenir. In D.C. at least, breaking off a blossom or branch is viewed as vandalism of federal property. Those who break this rule could receive a citation, or worse, be arrested. (Though usually, law enforcement officers prefer to issue warnings or small fines.) It goes without saying that it’s also illegal to climb the trees. If they sustain damage to their branches, they will never be able to grow new blossoms on that particular bough again.

7. The very first cherry trees to arrive in America were a complete disaster.

In 1909, Japan offered to send 2000 cherry trees to America as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. After all, just a few years earlier, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt had helped Japan negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese War. Despite the good intentions, the execution was disastrous. When the trees arrived in D.C. in January 1910, the trees were weak—due to overpruning of their roots—and they were also infested with wood-boring insects. Despite attempts to save them, the trees were ultimately thrown in a pile and burned.

Everyone was pretty embarrassed about the whole ordeal, but Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki made a joke to ease some of the tension. “To be honest about it, it has been an American tradition to destroy cherry trees ever since your first president, George Washington,” he said. “So there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, you should be feeling proud.” (Washington's cherry tree story turned out to be untrue, but we digress.) Another shipment of trees was sent, and by 1912, the healthy trees were successfully planted in D.C. by then-First Lady Helen Taft.

8. The cherry trees in one Dutch municipality have proper names.

Located in the largest park in the Netherlands, all 400 cherry blossom trees have proper names. Half of them have traditional Dutch women’s names, and the other half have Japanese women’s names. The Japan Women’s Club gifted the trees in 2000, and you can now find them at Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest) in the Amstelveen municipality.

9. Both the blossoms and leaves are edible.

Pocky snacks
Japan Crate

In Japan, no part of the cherry blossom tree goes to waste. The preserved leaves are used as edible mochi wrappers (a rice cake filled with sweet bean paste), and a number of seasonal snacks feature sakura as a key ingredient. Sakura-infused versions of Pepsi, Coke, tea, and even Starbucks lattes are all popular drinks. You can also find two varieties of Kit Kats—sakura and roasted soy bean, and sakura sake—as well as Pocky snack sticks that taste like sakura and matcha (green tea).

So what do cherry blossoms taste like? They have a “light, flowery, slightly cherry flavor,” according to Gabe Perez, social media director at Japan Crate, a subscription box service that ships many of the aforementioned snacks, plus other Japanese products, to customers.

10. They were the inspiration behind a record-setting LEGO sculpture.

LEGOLAND Japan, a theme park in Nagoya, set a Guinness World Record in 2018 for the largest LEGO brick cherry blossom tree ever made (although we’re not sure how much competition they had). The tree stood 14 feet tall, weighed over 7000 pounds, and consisted of more than 800,000 LEGO bricks.

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