Washington DC

RIP Stumpy: America’s Favorite Yoshino Cherry Tree

RIP Stumpy! How do you say goodbye to a friend that is always waiting for you to visit in any season at any time?

In March 2024, Washingtonians learned that the National Park Service (NPS) would remove their beloved “Stumpy,” a frail Yoshino cherry tree with a hollowed-out trunk located on the Tidal Basin.

Most of us even think of the tree as a “him.”

To the world, Stumpy shows a stout stump but it is gutted. Its roots burrow into the packed wet mud. Two branches lean far to the left, a Yoga tree bending in the wind. Inhale. Exhale. Bend with the wind.

Last Blossom Season

This is Stumpy’s last cherry blossom season. The “little tree that could persevere” will be removed along with 157 other Yoshino trees as part of the NPS’ $113 million seawall rehabilitation project. In total, 300 trees will be removed. The project will start in 2024 so it will be finished by 2026 as part of the nation’s 250th anniversary of independence.

I discovered this tree when I moved to Washington DC in 2015. During one of my long 5-mile walks from my condo to the Tidal Basin, I noticed this deformed tree that seemed to lean on one side. Its branches stretched toward the Jefferson Memorial. It didn’t make sense how it survived the hard winters.

Mortality Spiral

NPS estimates this tree is 25 years old due to “the hollowed trunk’s lack of rings.” Brackish waters flood the tree’s roots twice daily during high tide. According to Mike Litterst, NPS communications chief, the tree is also the “victim of sun scalding, compacted soil, and fungi and is already in what botanists refer to as its ‘mortality spiral.’”

Saying Goodbye

NPS purposely timed their announcement of the cherry tree removal before the 2024 National Cherry Blossom Festival so Stumpy’s fans could come down to the Tidal Basin to visit this tree one last time during peak bloom.

Tidal Basin cherry blossom tree
Spindly but strong!

The crowds have been huge. You can expect to wait in line if you want to take a photo with Stumpy. Forget about getting more than a moment to say farewell. I am so glad that I rushed down to the Tidal Basin as soon as I heard the announcement to make a video of Stumpy—sans the crowds.

Stumpy’s Fan Club

I am one of the lucky ones because I joined this little tree’s fan club before he even had a nickname. The spindly Yoshino tree stole my heart. How could this tree be alive when by all appearances it was dead?

Yet every spring the tree would bloom anew. Nature threw a kimono of pale pink blossoms over its stick body. Its branches waved in the wind at the towering Washington Monument.

Who would not admire and ultimately fall in love with this decaying cherry tree?

Seasonal Splendor

The years passed quickly. I visited the tree during each of Washington DC’s four unique seasons. After the cherry blossoms fell off its branches, the tree turned green. Come autumn, its leaves changed to crimson and gold. Then winter crept into the nation’s capital. I always raced down to see this tree when snow covered its branches like a white blanket.

DC Japanese Cherry Tree

During the pandemic, I suspect many people discovered this tree during their solitary walks on the Tidal Basin. It became an emblem for staying strong during times of adversity. If a half-dead cherry tree could hold on and survive, couldn’t we do the same?

Reddit Post

In 2020, a person on Reddit mentioned this frail tree, nicknaming it “Stumpy.” He said “the tree was as dead as his love life.” The resulting news story turned Stumpy into an Internet sensation.

In fact, NPS gets more questions about Stumpy than any of the National Mall’s 24,000 other trees.

My Memories

Even though this is the last cherry blossom season that I will see Stumpy on the Tidal Basin, this tree will live forever in my memories.

Snow-clad, blossom-adorned, green-festooned, and golden-hue, Stumpy was a delight to me in all seasons.

Children’s Book

I want to write a children’s picture book about Stumpy. I would write it in the fashion of Margaret Wise Brown. To paraphrase her:

Nights and days came and passed
and summer and winter
and the sun and the wind
and the rain.
and it was good to be a little Stumpy tree
a part of the world
and a world of its own
all surrounded by the bright blue Tidal Basin Basin

in the shadow of Mr. Jefferson’s home

watching the moon set over Mr. Washington’s Monument.

Stumpy Clones

It is a salve to know that the U.S. National Arboretum will take clippings of Stumpy to propagate. This will provide genetic matches of this sturdy little tree “so that, in spirit, anyway, Stumpy can live on elsewhere on the mall,” according to a NPR report.

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  • Steph
    March 23, 2024 at 9:44 am

    I’m glad to hear that they will propagate some branches, but it sure is sad that they are removing a tree that has defied all odds for this long.

    • Terri
      March 23, 2024 at 4:09 pm

      I was so relieved that they will try to clone Stumpy. But it is no substitute for this special tree. It is hard to fathom how it has survived.

  • Bejal
    March 23, 2024 at 10:09 am

    I had absolutely no idea about Stumpy so Maliki once again for educating me Terri.

    • Terri
      March 23, 2024 at 4:08 pm

      I am happy to educate you through my blog! This quite a famous tree in Washington DC (and most of the US after all the news coverage).

  • Linda (LD Holland)
    March 23, 2024 at 11:38 am

    We visited Washington DC for cherry blossoms one year and we did not see Stumpy. Now I am sorry we did not. I saw all the news about Stumpy being removed. We connect through DC on Sunday as we head to Savannah. So I will toast Stumpy as I pass through!

    • Terri
      March 23, 2024 at 4:07 pm

      Please do toast our Stumpy as you connect through the DC Airport. I presume Reagan National Airport? This little tree deserves to be celebrated.

  • Jasmina
    March 23, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    I had no idea that there’s a tree with the name! It looks like a special tree.

    • Terri
      March 23, 2024 at 4:06 pm

      I think the tree earned this nickname because it doesn’t have a full trunk, just a stump. But it is still beautiful!

  • Tish
    March 23, 2024 at 2:19 pm

    Awww so sad for Stumpy!! I loved the endearing thoughts of the paraphrase and writing a book !! That would be so sweet and memorable! Thanks for the pics as well
    RIP Stumpy

    • Terri
      March 23, 2024 at 4:05 pm

      Thank you! Stumpy deserves his own children’s book. He already has his own calendar.

  • Sara Essop
    March 23, 2024 at 3:02 pm

    Stumpy sounds like such a special tree. It’s so sad that it’s life is coming to an end. Wish I had the opportunity to see it!

    • Terri
      March 23, 2024 at 4:04 pm

      I am heartbroken that my city will lose Stumpy. He is a very special tree!

  • Lisa
    March 23, 2024 at 9:31 pm

    Stumpy looked amazing in all seasons. So sad when an iconic landmark is removed. We love Washington but haven’t had a chance to visit during Cherry Blossom season.

    • Terri
      March 24, 2024 at 6:05 am

      I agree! I am quite frustrated that I can’t find my photo of Stump in the summer with green leaves. I wanted to do a four-season photo collage.

  • Laureen Lund
    March 24, 2024 at 1:27 am

    OMG I love him and I’m so sorry I didn’t meet him last spring when we were in DC. Such a great story! Farewell Stumpy! ♥️

    • Terri
      March 24, 2024 at 6:04 am

      I think a lot of people feel the same way. If you had met Stumpy on your walk around the Tidal Basin, you would fall in love with the tree!