Arboretum celebrates Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection centennial

by Jon Hetman, Director of External Relations & Communications
September 24, 2013

compact hinoki cypress

Arboretum celebrates Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection centennial

compact hinoki cypress

Compact hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Chabo-hiba’) #892-49*A, started in 1787, from the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection

Among the oldest surviving bonsai in America, the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection is a beloved treasure of the Arnold Arboretum and Boston. The centennial of the collection’s 1913 arrival in America is being celebrated by a class and theme tours at the Arboretum, and a special exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Festivities begin Saturday, September 28 with a class offering an in-depth exploration of the collection led by Peter Del Tredici, who has curated the Bonsai Collection at the Arboretum for nearly 30 years. Peter will speak about the history and significance of these unique dwarfed plants, give a detailed tour, and discuss the rigorous care regimen required to maintain their health and structure. The class will also feature a library display of a number artifacts related to the collection drawn from the Arnold Arboretum Archives. In October, a pair of free public tours provide historical and horticultural views of the collection; “Bonsai at the Arboretum” on October 19 at 2:00pm with Rhoda Kubrick and “Bonsai Matching” on October 20 at 2:00pm with Roberta Apfel.

Celebrations also include a special exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, October 2-14. Eight specimens drawn from the Larz Anderson Collection will be displayed and interpreted in the Museum’s courtyard and Chinese Loggia. The exhibition highlights the beauty and history of these magnificent plants and celebrates their unique connection to Boston and American horticulture.

While the sixteen plants that currently make up the Larz Anderson Collection are not the oldest dwarfed plants in the United States, they have been under cultivation longer than any other examples currently growing in North America—with the exception of three plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that were imported in 1911. The core of the collection consists of seven large specimens of compact hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Chabo-hiba’—now between 151 and 276 years old—that the Honorable Larz Anderson purchased while serving as US Ambassador to Japan. Shipped to America in 1913, the trees resided at the Anderson estate in Brookline and were donated to the Arnold Arboretum in two stages: in 1937 following Larz Anderson’s death, and later in 1948, following the death of his wife, Isabel.

Since 1984, the collection has been curated by Peter Del Tredici, who has overseen their specialized care and initiated research into their origins. Bonsai expert Colin Lewis has contributed his skills to the care of the collection since 1998, helping to restore some of the large hinoki cypresses to their original “hachinoki” style. Following the Gardner exhibition, the bonsai will return to public display at the Arnold Arboretum in their outdoor pavilion overlooking the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden, adjacent to the Arboretum’s Dana Greenhouse facility. The collection stays on display through mid November (weather permitting), and is stored indoors for winter before returning to public view in mid April.

Read a related Arnoldia article on the history [pdf] of the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection, and another detailing their care and restoration [pdf].

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