That good man, my friends, is Michael James, the over worked assistant curator of the bonsai collection at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. He has very good ears. He heard my cell phone camera click from about 30 feet away. I say overworked because there isn’t an official curator at the moment, he’s doing the work of two. 

I had the opportunity, during my last tour of the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia areas, to visit the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum. My friend Erick Schmidt (find him on Instagram at @eschmidtpabonsai) set up a few days of bonsai tourism for me before I had to go to work. And I’ll tell you what,  I have enough photo sets of the trip for about 5 blogsposts. So this post is going to be just for the DC collection. I could actually do three just on this visit but, since I have unlimited storage now (which is a good chunk of change I might add) I’m letting this entry be a huge data whore for you to peruse, probably in multiple sittings (I am under no illusion that the majority of you read these posts whilst sitting in a burgundy padded chair, sipping brandy in front of a fire, chuckling jovially at my pithy jokes and terrible puns and muttering “good one old boy” under your breath. I’m read while you’re on break, in a graffitied toilet stall, between the business you are there for and washing your hands.) 

Anyway, here are some brothers in bonsai who were with me. From the left, Tony Green, intern or apprentice, Erick, my host, and Michael James, assistant curator.  

Tony is, surprisingly, from Florida. He’s been an intern for several months now, and he’s been adding to the apprentice blog (Click here! For the latest entry) regularly. He is also very committed to bonsai. Let’s just say that his salary doesn’t pay the bills to be able to live in DC. 

What’s funny is that as Erick and I were walking up we hear a loud “YO!” From the entrance just as we are coming up on Michael. It was Tony yelling towards us. He had heard that I was coming to the collection that day and was looking for us. 

As embarrassing as that is, being recognized like that, I’m glad he was waiting for me. You see, all the trees (and I mean all) had been turned around backwards to get a better distribution of sunlight. He took it upon himself to turn them back around so I could get proper pics. 

Here’s an example, this coastal live oak. I couldn’t tell you which is the front from these two pics. 

Can you? Thank you Tony, me and my readers appreciate it! 

Are you ready? I’m not going to try to identify all the trees unless I know specifically what they are. And I’m pretty sure I missed some too. But here I present to you, the trees from the National Bonsai and Penjing collection.
Starting in the Japanese pavilion, we have a Japanese black pine. 

A shimpaku juniper. 

An eleagnus (what’s called “gumi” in Japan I believe) 

A spruce, I think. 

White pine. 

Trident maple root over rock. 
I’d like to point out two things: The tea bags, which are used to hold the fertilizer. And second, many of the deciduous trees are looking a bit ragged. That’s from the summer heat and pretty normal. It’s mid-August in Washington DC, which means that it’s hotter and more humid than what I’m used to, in Florida, and that’s saying a lot. It used to be that DC was considered, by the military, to be such an extreme environment posting (both colder and hotter than usual) that the service men and women got hazard pay. 

A spruce. 

A white pine. 
Most of the white pines in bonsai are grafted onto black pine roots stock. Hence the bulge towards the roots spread. 

A crab apple. Which should be pronounced “crah-bapple” in honor of Mz. Crabapple from the Simpsons. 

A spruce. 

Maybe a hemlock? Too dark to tell. 

A Japanese maple. 

I think a quince. 

Root over rock trident. 

This trident was a Japanese princes favorite tree, gifted by the royal family. 

A Japanese maple. More of a yard tree. There are a few more from the Japanese pavilion but I’ll show them later.

Now, the North American pavilion. You’ll notice that the trees here will cover much more species, both traditionally Japanese and native ones, as well as many non-traditional styles and presentations. 

Like here, a coastal live oak, in a pine tree or semi cascade style. 

Mexican or montezuma cypress, a taxodium mucronatum. 


A California juniper with amazing deadwood. 

Guy Guidry’s bald cypress. 

A blue atlas cedar

Looks like an Atlantic white cedar. 

A ficus microcarpa “kaneshiro” I think. 

Acer rubrum forest. One of Vaughn Bantings trees. 

I’m not sure of this one. Maybe a boxwood or an ilex. 

Ficus natalensis, from David Fukumoto. 

A willow leaf ficus. 

Trident maple. 

This is an elm. Maybe a cedar elm. 

 Privet. I picked up two of these while I was in the area. 


A juniper. 

This is a buttonwood from the Queen herself, Mary Madison. 

A black pine. 


Cork bark pine. 


I always like to point out good roots on these trees, they are grown from seed and usually have terrible root spreads. 
Those tea bags again. 



A very formal pine

A very American bald cypress. Last time I posted about a flat-top cypress there was all kinds of controversy. 
This tree was designed by Vaughn Banting, who originated the flattop style. 
A very twisty juniper, maybe a Rocky Mountain variety. 

Harold Harvey’s bougainvillea. There are a total of three Florida trees there. 

Harold is from my club though. Bragging rights. 

Vaughn Banting has three as well. A sweet gum by him. 

I believe these are elms. 

Causurina, or Australian pine. Not really a pine though. 

This tree is spectacular. A wild American juniper. 

From Florida, and Marian Borchers, a parsley hawthorn, it’s even a native Florida tree. 


A mixed juniper planting. 

I think it’s a beech. 
Could be a son of a beech. 


Rocky Mountain. 

I caught Mr Green turning a tree. He was fast.  Notice the size, in a few pics you’ll see why. 

A very stark tree. Winter is coming. 

Here’s that elm that Tony was turning. Doesn’t look so big now, does it? 
This is a good time for me to point out that it is always best to see trees in person. Photos don’t do them justice. 

Especially the group plantings. They look so tiny. Chinese elm. 

This might be a larch. 



Ok, we are out of the North American area but some of these next trees are either from that collection or the Japanese collection. I’ve lost my way, there were too many trees.  

Red pine. 



I know this one, it’s a ponderosa pine collected by Dan Robinson. He called it “dancing Jackie Gleason” 

There’s some old deadwood on it 

Now some shohin. Not many really, I think they rotate them from the growing-out area (yes, I got to see there too, hold your horses..) 

This is a huge rock planting of cypress. 

A very twisty shimpaku in the old, natural, Japanese yamadori style. 
They don’t style them this way anymore. 


Now we enter the Chinese area. This is a water jasmine. 

One or two flowers left. 

A big Chinese elm. 


Black pine. 

A trident planting. 

Chinese elm

Trident root over rock

A dwarf bamboo planting

Chinese hackberry

Elm planting. 

Exposed root trident. 

Chinese elm. 

Trident planting. 

Hinoki cypress

Schefflera arboricola


Elm root over rock

Cork bark pine. 



The backside of a ficus microcarpa. 

I was very happy to see the correct binomial names at the Arboretum. 

The front side. 

A very natural looking Fukien tea. No S-curve there. 

Chinese elm. I like this one. 

Root over rock pine


A bougie with a withered trunk. 

It’s old too. 

Penjing could mean a planting of a tree, or trees, or rocks and trees or just rocks. 

I posted this elm on social media and someone said that this was the right side. 
I said at least it wasn’t the wrong side. 


Literati black pine

Trident over a tile. 



A spruce, I think. 

With a musician resting in the shade. 

I liked this exposed root trident. 

A sumac. 

A beautiful elm. 

One of those rock plantings I talked about. 

Grass planting. 

That’s it for the Chinese pavilion. You’ll notice a difference in style at all three pavilions. I won’t comment on it but I’m sure I’ll get comments on from the readers. 

Now, the backstage area. One of the perks of writing a blog. 

This area is for resting trees after repots….

Or newly donated pieces…..

Sick or weak trees….

Here’s an interesting tree from back home. 
It excited Tony, he couldn’t wait to get back to Florida to collect one. You see, it’s a highly invasive exotic in Florida that could use some removing from the wild. 
A Brazilian pepper tree. 
There are some amazing trees not on display in the back. 

Here’s a very new addition, it’s from Jim Doyle at Natures Way, an eastern white cedar. 

Tony thinks it would look better at this angle…..what do you think Jim? 

I even got to go into the quarantine greenhouse. 

I felt safe inside. Some people think I should be housed permanently inside one of these. 

A grow bed. Sometimes it helps to put a tree into the ground to gather strength. 

They have an indoor work area where they hold workshops, classes, and demos. Here’s Michael giving direction to a staff member. 

Some volunteers weeding, wiring, plucking needles etc. 

The next room holds the pot cage. 

Some practice wiring thingies. Cool. 

A per trait of Saburo Kato. He was instrumental in the original donation from Japan. 

I’ve purposefully kept the two most famous trees for last. 

The Yamaki Pine….

I could tell the story, but I’d rather send you to the web page with the official Story on the National Bonsai Federation website. Follow all the links. 
The tree is a survivor from the Hiroshima bombing during WWII. It was a gift of peace from the Japanese people to the USA. 

The tree is old. Almost 400 years old. Go to the link and read the story. I have no more words. 

And John Naka’s Goshin. 
John could be called the father of American bonsai. His tree, called Goshin, or The Protector of the Spirit. 

Each trunk (11 in number) is representative of one of John Naka’s Grandchildren. The trees are foemina junipers and the composition was made to represent a cryptomeria forest near a shrine in Japan. The work on the first trees was started in 1948. The final planting was done in 1973. It was donated to the Museum in 1984. 

It was his gift to the collection and it is perhaps the most recognizable bonsai in the world. 

To spend time with these two trees, with them all really, was a magical experience. Thank you Erick, thank you Tony, and thank you Michael for the time and all the trouble. I am honored. 

I can’t wait to go back. 

The next post, I think, will be a of a simple ficus Benjamina twin trunk composition. 

18 thoughts

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed the trip there! I’m always willing to visit the museum 🙂 Maybe a volunteer day or 2 there next time your up to get your hands on some of the trees? Something to look into for your next Pennsylvania bonsai tour 😉 Time it with a Potomac Bonsai club demo and wham! Bonsai extravaganza!


  2. Thanks for sharing this, you’ve done many of us a great service. Never seen a better photo journal of the collection.


  3. Thank you for the photographic tour. I am jealous of you being able to tour such a collection but also jealous of those beautiful trees.


  4. Wow, I love it. I was there in 2003 while in training, but working in FL. In OR these days. I don’t know I would refer to Brazilian Pepper as exotic, but certainly a non-native and most definitely invasive.


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