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Survivor of the Day: Japan Honors a 390-Year-Old Bonsai Tree that Survived the Atomic Bomb

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Ancient bonsai tree survived the atomic bomb in Japan.
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When America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, a great many things were destroyed in the devastating blast but some survived it to this day.

Marking the 70th anniversary of the bombing Aug. 6, the United States government will also honor the survival of a white pine bonsai tree that managed to live through it.

Housed in the National Arboretum in Northeast Washington D.C., no one guessed about the tree's significance until 2001.

The tree, donated by a bonsai master named Masaru Yamaki, was part of a 53-specimen gift to the United States for its 1976 bicentennial. Little was known about the tree until March 8, 2001, when — with no advance notice — two brothers visiting from Japan showed up at the museum to check on their grandfather's tree.

Ensuring the continued survival of such an important piece of the collection is no easy task. It falls to Jack Sustic, who has been the curator of the Bonsai and Penjing Museum since 2002.

Bonsai, Sustic said, refers not to the type of tree but rather the manner in which it is cared for. It is the blending of nature and art, he said.

On Aug. 6, 1945, a 9,700-pound bomb exploded over the city at 8:15 a.m. A walled nursery belonging to the Yamakis was less than two miles from the site of the bomb blast, but the ancient tree, Sustic said, was just far enough away to survive.

"Location, location, location," Sustic said. "It was up against a wall. It must have been the wall that shielded it from the blast."



Keep going little tree. In the words of Dr. Ian Malcom:

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