“They took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum”

June 29, 2012


“They took all the trees, put ‘em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em”
(Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi)

I first visited the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington, D.C., which is located within the United States National Arboretum, long before I started this blog and then again in 2005 when I took these photos. Surrounded by miniature trees displayed on pedestals and all neatly labeled, you can’t help but be reminded of Joni Mitchell’s famous lyrics. For those of you new to the world of miniature trees, bonsai is the Japanese art of growing miniature trees in containers, and Penjing is its Chinese precursor.

The collection began when the Nippon Bonsai Association donated 53 bonsai to commemorate the US Bicentennial in 1976, and has since grown to around 150 plants housed in three pavilions – Chinese, Japanese and North American. A fourth pavilion, the International Pavilion,  presents the related art forms of viewing stones (there were 6 viewing stones included in the original donation) and ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. There is also a stroll garden, a tropical conservatory and a special exhibits wing.

The Arboretum is open year round, except on Christmas Day, but the museum is also closed on further public holidays, which are all listed on their website, so it’s best to check before planning a visit. Unlike Joni Mitchell’s tree museum, admission here is free, and at just over 2 miles from the Capitol it’s a nice way to get out of the city centre – especially at the height of summer when it’s oppressively hot – without having to plan a huge day trip. The Arboretum’s website also offers a virtual tour of the museum.


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