On this bike ride I rode to the United States National Arboretum, which is located just two miles from the U.S. Capitol Building in northeast D.C., with entrances at 3501 New York Avenue (MAP), and at the eastern end of R Street. The arboretum was established in 1927 by an act of Congress after a campaign by the then chief botanist at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Frederick Vernon Coville. The Arboretum is a public garden, research facility, and urban “green space” operated by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service as a division of the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. The Friends of the National Arboretum, an independent, non-profit organization, also works to enhance and support the National Arboretum.
As the only federally supported arboretum, and one of the largest arboretums in the country, the National Arboretum plays a unique role. Functioning as a major center of botanical research and education, the arboretum conducts wide-ranging basic and developmental research on trees, shrubs, turf, and floral plants. It is also a source for independent researchers, with a library containing approximately 10,000 volumes and 90 publications concentrating in botanical literature.
Comprised of 446 acres, and bordered on the east by the banks of the Anacostia River, the arboretum breeds, grows and displays acres of trees, shrubs and plants. One of the most popular exhibits is the azaleas, with approximately 10,000 specimens planted throughout its hillsides. It was one of the first collections, and is such a sight to behold in early spring when the plants are in bloom that it was the azalea bloom that first prompted the Arboretum to open its doors to the public in 1949.
Also during the early spring, the arboretum is an ideal spot to enjoy cherry trees. Although the National Mall area may be more widely known for the spring cherry blossoms of its dozen species and cultivars of trees, the arboretum boasts the same 12 varieties as well as 64 more.
Visitors also enjoy a variety of other exhibits year round, from formal landscaped gardens to the Gotelli Dwarf, and the slow growing Conifer Collection. The Arboretum is also well known for its bonsai collection at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Other special displays include seasonal exhibits, aquatic plants, collections of herbaceous plants and a National Herb garden, the Asian Collections, native plant collections, and the National Grove of State Trees. Single-genus groupings include apples, boxwoods, dogwoods, hollies, magnolias and maples.
Another of the arboretum’s recent features and one of its most unique is The National Capitol Columns, comprised of 23 Corinthian columns that were part of the U.S. Capitol Building from 1828 until 1958. They are the remnants of the old east portico that were removed when the building was renovated and expanded. Originally destined for a landfill, the columns were rescued and put on display on a knoll near the Arboretum’s main entrance.
The arboretum is not only a good destination for a ride, but also allows riders to tour the grounds on their bikes. With a campus that includes nine miles of roads with little to no traffic, as well as multiple trails and paths, I’m going to have to go back many times to continue exploring all that it has to offer.