It was planted in 1625 and is still growing.
Image source: USDA-U.S. National Arboretum
The ancient Miyajima White Pine tree sits humbly in the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington, D.C., as a living relic of a day from almost 80 years ago that changed the world and the nature of warfare forever. Yes, besides its age, this special plant is also noteworthy because it survived the world’s first nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
The centuries-old bonsai tree was gifted to the United States by bonsai master Masaru Yamaki in 1976. At the time of the Hiroshima bombing, Yamaki and his family were regarded as some of the most respected bonsai growers in Japan and the entire world. They lived just two miles from where the bomb was dropped by American forces, killing 140,000 people and leaving lasting effects on the city. But the bonsai was unharmed.
How come? Well, the Yamakis’ house had very thick walls to protect a large nursery of yellow-green pine needle bonsais. It was the same construction that ultimately protected the trees from the severe heat and radiation generated by the atomic bomb. Although not all of the bonsais could be saved, this one did survive. And so did the entire Yamaki family, all of whom were indoors during the explosion.
The Yamakis then continued to care for the resilient tree until 1976, when they gave it as a gift to the United States — the very country that dropped the bomb. While handing the bonsai over, Yamaki only mentioned that it was a “gift of peace”.
It wasn’t until 2001 – when Yamaki’s grandsons paid a surprise visit to the collection – that the plant’s connection to Hiroshima was revealed. And although the museum doesn’t advertise this piece of the bonsai’s history, emphasizing it’s role as a gift of friendship between the two nations instead, it has recently added this information to its website.
“There’s some connection with a living being that has survived on this earth through who knows what,” says Kathleen Emerson-Dell, assistant curator at the museum. “I’m in its presence, and it was in the presence of other people from long ago. It’s like touching history.”