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Seattle will save cherry blossom trees on Pike Street, but the old ones still have to go

caption: Cherry blossom trees are commonly found around Seattle, such as in The Quad at UW.
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Cherry blossom trees are commonly found around Seattle, such as in The Quad at UW.

Eight cherry blossom trees near Pike Place Market were saved from the axe this week after locals spoke up, urging a sakura salvation. Now, the trees are on the chopping block again. But recent developments spurred the city to make new plans for this stretch of Seattle, and 24 new cherry blossom trees will eventually replace the old ones.

The 100 block of Pike Street is slated for a sidewalk redesign, which means the cherry blossom trees that line this street have to go. Seattle officials wanted to replace them with hybrid elms that would grow to arch over the street. The cherry blossoms have been blooming there since 1980. The city was planning to cut them down this week to get the job going, but Seattleites rushed to protect them, and the city paused.

On Friday, Mayor Bruce Harrell ordered that the eight trees be cut down to get the sidewalk job done. But, change of plans: They will replaced by 24 new cherry blossom trees.

“Cherry blossom trees are more than a symbol," Mayor Harrell said in a statement. "They invoke heartfelt feelings and represent decades of history — both the good and the bad — as part of our city’s deep connection to Japan. My own understanding of this is rooted in the experiences of my Japanese-American family, who were incarcerated at an internment camp at Minidoka, and their reverence for these trees and their magnificent bloom."

The mayor's office is pointing to an executive order issued this week which aims to increase Seattle's tree canopy. This will involve planting thousands more trees across the city. The mayor's office adds that 16 additional cherry blossom trees will be part of this effort and could be placed elsewhere along Seattle's waterfront, not far from Pike Place Market.

The new effort to increase the number of trees in Seattle comes shortly after a report stating that the city lost a tree canopy area roughly the size of Green Lake between 2016 and 2021. That adds up to about 255 acres of canopy. Seattle has a goal of 30% tree cover. It is currently at 28%.

RELATED: Emerald City keeps losing its greenery

“As I announced earlier this week through a new executive order and a proposal for a strengthened tree ordinance, we are committed to planting more trees — this allows us to act on that priority," Harrell said. "In listening to advocates of preserving existing trees, we weighed the trees’ declining health against a compelling vision of a new and safe corridor for the next 40 years and agreed on the importance of capturing their historical significance. The Pike Pine Streetscape Improvement project is a cornerstone in our efforts to rebuild downtown, and this commitment will ensure cherry blossom trees reach new generations of Seattleites for years to come.”

Cherry blossom trees, "sakura" in Japanese, are often a symbol of Japanese culture. Seattle's annual anime and Japanese pop culture event is called "Sakura-Con." The cherry blossom trees also have a reputation around the city. When the trees blossom at the University of Washington each year, it is big event, drawing considerable crowds, and producing a plethora of Instagram photos. The Washington Park Arboretum features a collection of cherry blossom trees, as does Jefferson Park and Green Lake Park. Seattle's Seward Park was the original location of the city's Cherry Blossom Festival (which now takes place at Seattle Center). The trees at Seward Park were first planted in 1929.

“We are so pleased Mayor Bruce Harrell and the city of Seattle are honoring the strong bond between Seattle, Japan, and Japanese-American communities with this commitment to plant 24 cherry blossom trees,” said Karen Yoshitomi, executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington. “Together, we will continue to commemorate and uplift our shared values and cultural history for decades to come.”

DID YOU KNOW?: Seattle has a tree map

The city of Seattle has an online tree map showing where 250,000 trees are located along city streets (trees on private property are not included). SDOT takes care of about 40,000 of these trees.

The map can show trees by type, such as ash, oak, or cherry. It also features "heritage trees," which are Seattle trees "distinguished by botanical, historic, or landmark significance such as size, age or uniqueness."

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