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Plants: Gardens: Bonsai Pavilion

Some stand straight and regal, their leafy canopies shading the ground below. Some show signs of age and weather, gnarled trunks twisted and bent by the wind. Others display graceful sprays of springtime flowers. But the size of these extraordinary trees is measured in inches, rather than feet.

Bonsai, which is a combination of two Japanese words meaning "tree planted in a tray" has become a popular hobby and art form among gardeners since the late 1880s, when the miniature plants were first displayed outside of China and Japan. Bonsai's beginnings can be traced back to ancient China, where the tiny trees were favorites of the Chinese aristocracy. Having discovered this art form in their travels, the Japanese honed and refined bonsai growing techniques in their own country over the centuries, creating rules for the different sizes, types, and shapes and making these living sculptures a part of their culture and tradition.

The living art of bonsai is now enjoyed worldwide. The Safari Park's Bonsai Pavilion is a striking showcase for these extraordinary pieces, and it is the largest permanent display facility for bonsai in the western United States. Planned and constructed by members of the San Diego Bonsai Club, the San Pu Kai Bonsai Society, and the Safari Park horticulture staff, the Pavilion opened in 1987. Bonsai in the collection include evergreens, deciduous trees, flowering bougainvillea, California junipers, saikei, rock plantings, suiseki, and forests. At any given time, you'll find up to 60 bonsai displays in these tranquil surroundings, with benches that invite you to rest and experience the sense of timelessness that only an ancient art like bonsai can inspire.

Volunteer club members are available at the Bonsai Pavilion to answer questions on the third Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. Entrance to the pavilion is included with Safari Park admission.