The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum
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Bonsai & Penjing Collection

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Copyright Carlos Diaz

Understanding Our Collection

Bonsai and penjing are a living art form to be viewed, contemplated, and enjoyed. Bonsai and penjing specimens are trained primarily with a front view, but all sides should convey the spirit of a realistic tree or landscape. Appreciation is enriched by understanding the intent of the style as well as the meticulous attention given to care and training. The pot or tray is carefully selected to complete the composition: in penjing, figurines and landscape elements may also be introduced. The trees, front, style, training, and pot/tray can change through the years: plants grow, branches die, artistic intent changes, and the trees easily outlive their original artists.

Our 42 bonsai and penjing specimens represent seven styles. Our collection comprises very traditional materials, such as the Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora), a range of North American species, such as the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), and exotic non-hardy materials, such as the Benjamin fig (Ficus benjamina). The collection reflects contemporary plant selections and artistic interpretation as well as some iconic traditional materials treated in classic form. Our goal is to develop a high-quality collection focused on the rich diversity present in bonsai and penjing as it evolves in American culture. To this end, we are experimenting with a wide selection of native North American plants, rather than restricting ourselves only to traditional Japanese and Chinese materials.

Our collection is currently on display in the temperate house of the Conservatory. Due to space limitations, we exhibit a maximum of three specimens at a time. The specimens are changed each week. Since the hardy materials must spend their winters in dormancy they are not always available to be displayed. Instead, our non-hardy specimens are featured in the display during the winter months. Thus, no matter when you visit, you will find bonsai and/or penjing on display.


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