Before today, my only knowledge of bonsai trees came from watching Mr. Miyagi patiently train his trees in the Karate Kid. After my trip to the arboretum today, I’m certainly not ready to grow one myself, but I now know a wee bit about this fascinating art form.
The United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. has a wonderful collection of bonsai trees from all over the world in their outdoor National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. In 1976, the people of Japan presented the U.S. with 53 bonsai plants to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the U.S.A. Over 150 plants are now displayed.
Penjing is the Chinese art of arranging miniature trees, plants and other scenery artistically into a container. It is also known as tray scenery, potted scenery, potted landscape or tray landscape. Penjing predates the Japanese art of bonsai.
Bonsai is a horticultural art form in which plants are trained to look like large, aged trees, but in miniature. The Japanese prefer to use native species for their bonsai with the most popular being pine, azalea, and maple.
Here are a few fun facts I learned about bonsai and penjing:
- Bonsai are ordinary trees or plants, not specialized dwarf hybrid dwarfs. They are generally started from cuttings, not seeds.
- The bonsai tree is typically placed off center in its container. The asymmetry lends to the visual effect of the tree. More importantly, the center should always be left unoccupied as it is they symbolic meeting of heaven and earth.
- The average bonsai tree size is between 2 inches – 3.33 feet. They are kept trained by trimming branches and roots. Trees are repotted every two years or so and 30% of the roots are trimmed back at that time.
- Wire is also used on the branches and trunk to force the tree to grow into the desired shape.
- Some people mistakenly believe that bonsai techniques are cruel. Bonsai trees often outlive their full sized counterparts and are usually well cared for.
All photos were taken at the United States National Arboretum.