Bonsai Collection at The Huntington
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About Bonsai •
Visitors to the Bonsai collection are treated an ever-changing display of one of the largest and finest public masterpiece bonsai collections in the United States. Started in 1968 with personal trees donated by the late Bob Watson, the bonsai holdings now number in the hundreds, representing many different species, styles and sizes, from centuries-old twisted junipers to majestic pines, stately elm forests, and more.
Contemporary bonsai designs follow ancient Japanese tradition in that they are intended to replicate the character of old trees found in nature, but with trees, shrubs or woody herbs grown in containers. Some bonsai in the Huntington collections are estimated to be over 1,000 years old. Most are much younger, but using current horticultural science, modern tools and advanced training techniques, each has achieved a masterpiece quality.
Bonsai Throughout History
Known as penjing in China, miniature trees can be found in Chinese scroll art, poetry, and even mythology dating as far back as the Eastern Han dynasty (25–221 A.D.). Tomb paintings from the Tang dynasty (618–907 A.D.) portray attendants carrying potted trees. Buddhist monks from China introduced miniature trees to Japan sometime around the 13th century. There the art form became highly formalized, reaching its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries. Bonsai gained worldwide exposure—and fashionable acclaim—at the Paris World Exposition in 1900.
Suseiki and Shohin
The Huntington collection is spread throughout two serene courtyards, with trees set on pedestals against a backdrop of hand-crafted fence treatments. The two courtyards are linked by the Harry Hirao Suiseki Court, which features a collection of American suseiki or viewing stones (expressive stones of special shape, color and texture) that visitors are encouraged to touch. Within the upper bonsai court, a water feature provides a calming backdrop for the smallest bonsai in our collection, the shohin or trees under eight inches tall.
No two visits to the bonsai collection are ever exactly the same, as trees are rotated throughout the year to highlight seasonal features such as flowers, foliage color and fruit. Occasionally, trees that encounter pests or disease are also removed from public display to enable treatment. While visitors may see 75 bonsai on any given day, these displays represent only a portion of the overall collection. Since 1990, The Huntington has served as the Southern California site for the Golden State Bonsai Federation collection. Today, this blended collection represents the long tradition of bonsai in Southern California and serves as a living legacy to our bonsai pioneers, as well as to our contemporary bonsai visionaries.