Wind River Arboretum Trials and Bonsai Speculations
By Jerry Meislik
on the way to the Northwest Bonsai Association meeting in Portland
we visited the Wind River Arboretum located in the Gifford Pinchot
National Forest in Carson Washington.
The arboretum was established in 1912 by the US Forest Service
to determine the best trees to grow in the Northwest for timber
and commercial purposes. The study planted trees and seed into
the test fields and allowed them to grow untouched, more or less.
The trees that grew the largest and best would be selected for
tree farms and such projects.
your guess the results?
1. Broad leaved
trees and hardwoods were unsuccessful.
2. 165 conifers were planted, and many trees looked like they
would be more vigorous. In the long run they all failed to improve
upon the growth of the native Douglas fir, western hemlock and
3. Tests of less than half a century can be deceptive. Some trees
that were successful were killed after growing well for more
than 40 years, but then succumbed after severe weather.
4. Even trees native to the Northwest USA brought to the range
from the East of the Cascades failed. A few trees planted in
ornamental lawn areas where they are watered in summer drought
showed phenomenal growth. This area receives 90 inches of rain
but there are long dry summers with drought typically lasting
for 30 days that can stretch to 60 days.
5. Many pines did well for 40 years but one winter heavy snows
smashed most of these trees, most of which did not recover. Native
species were damaged as well but fared much better.
6. Species introduced from east of the Cascades failed from needle
diseases. Higher humidity west of the cascades may have promoted
7. In all 621 lots of seed and plants were tested.
Our Doug fir,
hemlock, lodge pole pine and noble fir have been introduced around
the world and grow at better rates than the native trees of foreign
lands. Our effort here, in the Northwest USA, has found no successful
exotic. The worlds best conifers already grow here.
are my conclusions and speculations?
growing trees in the ground without much care is not the same
as growing trees in containers as bonsai, in the long term many
trees that we are using for bonsai will fail. Either they will
die or have some growth or insect problem that will make them
unsuitable to long term bonsai culture.
2. In countries like Japan and China, with many years of bonsai
tradition, they use relatively few trees for bonsai. These successful
bonsai have been culled from many of their own native or regional
materials. This may be telling us that the trees they use are
the survivors in pots.
3. In the west we are now beginning the long process of determining
which of our native species do well as bonsai. Some of the trees
that we work with will be successful but likely many will fail.
Excitement about new species and varieties of tree for bonsai
may be overdone. Many of these will likely also fail the test
4. Work done to trees like severe reductions, extensive jin and
shari work may prove in the long run to be the ultimate demise
of these trees. It may take 10 to 20 years but these "damages"
may start a death spiral in the tree.
5. Our work with bonsai will take many years to determine which
species will be long time survivors and whether our manipulations
are detrimental. This does not mean we give up our bonsai efforts
but realize that much of what we do now may not last for many