Behind the Scenes at the Bonsai Museum:
Repotting the Ponderosa Pine Bonsai

The Western Yellow Pine (Pinus ponderosa), commonly called a Ponderosa pine, is one of the largest bonsai in our collection. It was the first tree collected in America to be added to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

Dan Robinson, a forester and bonsai artist, collected the tree in 1976 from a rocky outcrop close to White Pass in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington. It was dated to 150 years old, at the time, by a core sample.

Over the next 4 years, Dan shaped and trained the tree into a bonsai, which he affectionately named “Jackie Gleason Dancing.” In 1980, the National Forest Service chose this tree to present to the Museum in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Forest Service.

The oldest known Ponderosa is over 1000 years old. Ponderosa pines in the forests of the western states can reach heights of almost 200 feet, with diameters of 8-9 feet. Although much smaller, this bonsai presents a weighty challenge to the curators at the museum! Every 5 years it needs to be repotted, with old roots and soil removed in order to make room for vigorous new roots in a new potting mixture.

Photos below were taken by staff.

The pine is secured by straps while pot is released and lowered

Aarin Packard keeps a hand on the pine while Nathan Camp minds the rigging

Jim Hughes cuts away pot-bound roots


Still cutting…


Jim rakes out some of the old soil

The pot is prepared with screens over the drainage holes

Aarin raises the pot with a hydraulic lift while Volunteer Tom Inglesby
helps with positioning

Jim and Tom remove air pockets in the new akadama mixture

Poles, straps, and brute strength are needed to place the tree
back on its pedestal

The Ponderosa pine returns to its welcoming position in the upper courtyard

© 2006, National Bonsai Foundation
Supporting the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum -