The United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. covers 446 acres and offers 9 miles of roads, which may be toured by car, by bicycle, or on foot.
Major gardens and collections include the Azalea Collection, Dogwood Collection, and Fern Valley. The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum showcases the art of bonsai and its precursor, penjing. The museum began in 1976 when the Nippon Bonsai Association donated a collection of plants to the arboretum to celebrate the US Centennial. This museum keeps separate hours from the arboretum and, in addition to the outdoor gardens, offers an indoor exhibition space to showcase the art of bonsai. The National Herb Garden was dedicated in 1980 as a gift from the Herb Society of America. All plants, shrubs, and trees in this garden are considered “herbs,” meaning they are plants that serve a functional purpose. The National Capitol Columns arrived at the arboretum in the 1980s, although they had been a permanent fixture of Washington, D.C., since 1828. The columns were originally designed to support the dome of the Capitol, but went unused when it was discovered that the dome would be too big for the columns and thus appear to be unsupported. The columns currently stand tall beside a reflecting pool among 20 acres of open green space. From the Capital Columns, visitors may begin the Flowering Tree Walk.
The park is home to a pair of mated eagles named Mr. President and the First Lady. The eagles’ nest is viewable online through a live camera as well as at the park through a viewing scope accessed just below the Azalea Collection. Cameras and scopes are provided in partnership with American Eagle Foundation (AEF), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the DC Department of Energy and Environment, and the Alfred State, SUNY College of Technology. The eagles have nested in the arboretum in a poplar tree and are raising a pair of eaglets, Honor and Glory, who recently hatched in March of 2017.
The arboretum functions as an important contributor to botanical and agricultural research, and has a library with over 11,000 volumes. Collections at the library include a special collection of books on ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, dating back to the 17th century.
History: The arboretum was established in 1927 by a vote of Congress and is currently administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. In addition to the arboretum in northeast Washington, D.C., the arboretum manages research locations in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Tennessee in close partnership with several colleges and universities. Research goals include the development and testing of technologies and genetic improvement for commercial gardening industries as well as the collection and preservation of plant genetic material. The arboretum is currently in the process of developing and implementing a four-year strategic plan to update the educational and programming policies and to restructure the arboretum’s priorities and relationships. The 2013-2017 strategic plan has embraced the new slogan, "Rediscover the National Arboretum. . . Where science meets beauty." Today, the arboretum hosts over 500,000 visitors annually.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Private tram tours of the arboretum are available. The tour must be reserved at least 3 weeks in advance. Tram tours offer a taped 35-minute non-stop tour of the park in an open-air, covered tram. Private guided tours are also available for groups of 10 or more, either from your group’s vehicle, or via a walking tour. Walking private tours visit the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, the Friendship Garden, and the National Herb Garden as well as the terrace and pool of the administration building. The facility provides a map to visitors and has a downloadable app, which supplements the arboretum’s signage and offers visitors a tour from their own device.
Public education programs include hikes, lectures, workshops, and demonstrations. Visitors must register for programs in advance, and they often sell out. The full-moon hike is among the frequently sold-out offerings. The 2-hour brisk walk takes visitors through the gardens, meadows, and woods after dark. Azalea Collection tours educate guests on the research arm of the arboretum and its contributions in developing hundreds of new varieties of azaleas. The Kid’s Climb for children aged 4-14 allows kids to climb trees using an arborist’s harness. The National Bonsai Museum offers several events of its own, including World Bonsai Day, a Bonsai Basics Workshop, and a special exhibit of Satsuki azalea bonsai.
Back to: Things to Do in Washington, D.C.
3501 New York Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002, Phone: 202-245-2726