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Operation pest patrol: The cherry tree and the pest

Public Domain
The cherry trees in Washington D.C. were a gift from the Japanese government. The first batch of trees were infested with pests, and the federal government decided to burn them. Click on the audio player below to hear the story.

Operation pest patrol, Part III: When the country was figuring out its pest policies, it was also figuring out its immigration policies. And those two debates had some very dangerous overlap.Listen to Part I and Part II of the series.

David Fairchild and Charles Marlatt were childhood friends. In the early 1900s, they spent time as kids, digging in the dirt together and playing outside. They both grew up to be scientists working for the United States Department of Agriculture — Fairchild as a botanist and Marlatt as an entomologist. Fairchild travelled the world looking for plants to import to the U.S. Author Daniel Stone wrote a book called The Food Explorer about the life of David Fairchild. He says we have him to thank for so many fruits we now grow in the U.S. like avocados, mangos, and peaches. Marlatt, meanwhile, studied insects that could harm and destroy agriculture.

Over time, Marlatt and Fairchild started to argue. Fairchild wanted to import foreign plants and Marlatt was worried that the plants would bring in bad insects. Their fight happened publically, in front of the President of the United States and on the front page of the New York Times. Their story has to do with ladybugs and the cherry trees in Washington D.C., and their fight lead to the creation of the Plant Quarantine Law of 1912, which requires foreign plants to be inspected for insects before being imported. It’s a law that’s still on the books today.

Some researchers, like Jennifer Sedell and Dr. Jeannie Shinozuka, look back to this time period of Charles Marlatt and David Fairchild, and the story of the cherry trees and related pest policies, and say that when the country was arguing about borders for plants and insects, it was also having a debate about borders for people. And those two conversations weren’t happeningly separately.

Learn more about this history at the links below: