‘Tremendous Trees’ Photography Contest Winners
Above: Gotelli Maple, photo by Jane Margaret Dow, USNA Volunteer
We asked the U.S. National Arboretum staff to submit photos of their favorite trees and tell us why they are significant. The result was a selection of outstanding trees from throughout the Arboretum with both aesthetic and scientific interest. The winning images and accompanying photographer narratives are featured below, and are now on special exhibit in the Arboretum Administration Building.
Please note: a few winning photos are missing from this post, they will be added shortly.
Taxodium distichum var. distichum
Flowering Tree Walk
If you stand in the Fern Valley meadow and look across the road, there is a gracious stand of decades-old bald cypress, directly down the hill from the Capitol Columns. Through the years, these trees have suffered severe droughts, heavy loads of choking vines, and general neglect, yet they have survived it all. You’ve got to love a swamp native that grows well in an un-irrigated, sometimes neglected field. Part of their beauty is revealed by the Flowering Tree Walk pathway, showing them in the picturesque curve of the walk as it passes down though Ellipse Road, forming a small bald cypress island.
The conifers that are deciduous are among my favorite plants, and bald cypress has lovely needles that give the whole tree a soft appearance. Their beight green spring foliage darkens only a bit throughout the summer, and then the foliage turns a lovely golden to orangey brown in the fall, before the needles fall off and form their typical tumbleweed-like bundles. They are tough and stately trees that are a joy to see every day.
— Joan Feeley, Horticulturist
National Bonsai & Penjing Museum
This recent donation to the bonsai museum has quickly become on of my favorites in the collection. Since 90% of a bonsai’s value comes from the trunk, it is easy to see this tree is priceless. The longer I look at this tree, the more my attention is dawn down from the larger image to the intricate details found in the flowering ribbons of deadwood. This is what qualifies it as a masterpiece—its ability to draw you into a space for quiet contemplation.
— Aarin Packard, Assistant Curator
Flowering Tree Walk
Horticulturally, ginkgos are fascinating plants. They are sometimes called living fossils since evidence of their existence dates back to 270 million years ago. Ginkgos are gymnosperms, much like modern conifers, though they don’t appear similar at all. They have been cultivated by people for over 1,000 years and can grow quite large with a long lifespan. They’re naturally tough plants—several specimens in Hiroshima survived the atomic blast from around one mile away, while most other plants died. Although the fallen fruit (technically a sarcotesta, not true fruit) can become quite malodorous in an urban environment, the seeds inside are used in Chinese cooking and are quite tasty.
Aesthetically, these trees’ lives are somewhat like a person’s life. No season or year is the same, and their beauty is constantly changing. And hopefully, much like people, they improve with age.
— David Kidwell-Slak, Horticulturist
Himalayan White Pine
Gotelli Dwarf and Slow-Growing Conifer Collection
My nickname for this tree is the ‘fireworks tree’ because the branches hold clusters of long, drooping needles resembling a burst of fireworks. It is a large tree adapted to our mid-Atlantic growing conditions, and it is thriving.
— Chris Carley, Horticulturist
Magnolia virginiana x grandiflora
Holly and Magnolia Collections
This tree, a hybrid between two species of magnolia native to the eastern United States, is a large, attractive tree that dominates the upper field of the Holly and Magnolia Collections. Its evergreen foliage provides color and life through the winter, and it bears many large, white flowers in the spring. Under the foliage, the gnarled lower branches have rooted around the trunk. They give the plant character, while bearing witness to its age and history. More importantly, this tree is a significant part of the history of the Arboretum. Oliver Freeman, who created this hybrid and planted this tree, was the man responsible for overseeing this development of the new Arboretum in the 1930’s, and Freeman’s magnolia hybrids were the National Arboretum’s first research project when Freeman planted these trees here in 1934.
— Alan Whittemore, Taxonomist
National Herb Garden
Tucked away behind the Herb Garden hedge, this beautiful flowing crabapple is seen only by those who explore off the beaten path at the National Arboretum. This small tree demonstrates how our public displays benefit from the activities of our research and breeding programs, and from our collaborations with other gardens. The tree is descended from seed collected in China in 1908 by famed plant collector Earnst H. Wilson. Seedlings from Wilson’s collection were grown at the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts, and when Don Egolf, the National Arboretum’s prolific breeder of flowering shrubs, began a crabapple breeding project over 40 years ago, the staff of the Arnold Arboretum sent us seed from their tree. One of these seeds gave us the tree that now graces the meadow behind the herb garden.
— Alan Whittemore, Taxonomist
Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula‘
National Heb Garden
We don’t usually associate trees with movement, but the beauty of this tree is magnified by the elegant swaying of its cascading branches—no matter the season! Curtains of pinky white spring blossoms give way to glossy green leaves in the summer that become vivid yellow in the autumn. Even bare branches move gracefully in the chilling winds of winter.
— Kathleen Emerson-Dell, Museum Specialist
Tremendous Trees Map
We invite you to use the map below to locate the Arboretum staff’s favorite trees on the grounds.