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National Bonsai and Penjing Museum--a Sight
to Behold By Alfredo Flores
June 11, 2003
Bonsai and Penjing Museum, part of the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington,
D.C., allows the general public to enjoy and learn about these interesting,
living art forms free of charge. The arboretum is operated by the
Agricultural Research Service, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief
scientific research agency.
Masters of Japanese bonsai and Chinese penjing techniques are
gardening artists, meticulously shaping miniaturized trees--ranging in age from
newborn to centenarian--to create a sense of full-grown trees in their natural
surroundings. They do this while only taking up the space of a small coffee
table. The art form has also spawned many North American bonsai artists, who
have made major additions to the museum's collection.
The museum opened in 1976, when the Nippon (Japan) Bonsai
Association donated 53 bonsai to the people of the United States to commemorate
the American bicentennial. Now, more than 200,000 people annually visit the
museum's collection of 150 plants located in three recently renovated pavilion
A penjing worth noting in the museum's collection is the
"Trident Maple," an example of the "root-over-rock" style. It has been molded
in the shape of a dragon, with one of its larger branches looking like the head
and another, the tail.
The technique for growing artistically shaped, miniature trees
in pots originated in China, where it was known as penjing, and subsequently
spread to Japan, where it was modified and known as bonsai.
The museum's oldest tree is a 400-year-old Japanese white pine.
This bonsai survived in a nursery about two miles from where the atom bomb was
dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. The most photographed bonsai in the
museum's impressive collection is "Goshin," meaning "Protector of the Spirit,"
which is currently displayed prominently at the entrance of the museum's
Read more about this national museum in the
June issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.