Cover Photo: An  illustration  of a hand opening  a box—cherry blossoms flow out of the box. Ribbons of  yellow, white, blue, fill the  background.
Illustration by Sirin Thada for Catapult

Budding History: On Nationalism and Cherry Blossoms

Through myth-making and symbolism, the natural world comes to stand in for potent human ideals.

The Lives of Others

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Prunus serrulataPrunus pseudocerasus

European travelersPrunus serrulatawords of nineteenth-century botanist John Lindley

1893 handbook for young Japanese botanists“the queen/king of flowers in Japanese.”

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anthropologist Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney writes,

Alfred Crosby famously arguedintroduction of non-native species

Trace

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Japanese scientists have been collating dataninth century

arrive earlier

Instead of snow, pale petals dusted the ground in January.

When the cherries bloomed again in March, the pandemic was upon us. Wearing masks and sunglasses, my husband and I strolled with our dog beneath the cherries along the Wall. We marveled at their pinks against the grey. This was a land marked by loss—but the trees stretched their roots beneath it, and scattered the path with petals, indifferent perhaps. It seemed wondrous that cherry blossoms could hold the weight of histories we’ve laid upon them, even briefly, before the flowers fell again.

Jessica J. Lee is a British-Canadian-Taiwanese author, environmental historian, and winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature, and the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer Award. She is the author of two books of nature writing: Turning (2017) and Two Trees Make a Forest (2019), shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021. Jessica has a PhD in Environmental History and Aesthetics and is the founding editor of The Willowherb Review. She is a researcher at the University of Cambridge.