The Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection at the Arnold Arboretum celebrates its hundredth anniversary in America this year. The plants were originally imported in 1913 by the Honorable Larz Anderson, upon his return from serving as ambassador to Japan. The core of the collection consists of seven large specimens of compact hinoki cypresses Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Chabo-hiba’—now between 151 and 276 years old—that Anderson purchased from the Yokohama Nursery Company. These plants provide a direct link to the early 1900s, when Americans and Europeans, infatuated with the Far East, were passionately collecting cultural artifacts from Japan.
Upon their arrival in the United States in 1913, the trees—then numbering around forty—resided at the Anderson estate in Brookline, Massachusetts. They lived there for nearly twenty-five years and were cared for by a succession of Japanese gardeners. The collection was donated to the Arnold Arboretum in two stages, initially in 1937 following Larz Anderson’s death, and later in 1948, following the death of his wife, Isabel. It was not until 1969, when Constance Derdarian was appointed curator, that a person knowledgeable in the art of bonsai took charge of bringing the collection back to health after years of neglect. Following Connie’s death in 1984, Senior Research Scientist Peter Del Tredici was appointed curator and further upgraded the care of the collection and initiated research into the origins of the plants in Japan. Colin Lewis, a specialist in bonsai art, has been working with Peter since 1998 to restore some of the large hinoki cypresses to their original “hachinoki” style. The fact that the Collection has survived the ravages of both time and occasional neglect for the past century is not only a testament to the care it has received, but also to the incredible durability of the plants themselves.
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 lone exception of three plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that were imported in 1911. The Arboretum plans a number of special events this fall to celebrate the beauty and historical importance of this singular collection of dwarfed plants; details will be announced this spring. Currently off display for the winter, the Collection will return to public view in April.