Featured Tree

Domoto Trident Maple

On February 20, 1915, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, a year-long fair showcasing new technology, fine art and wonders from around the world. The Pacific Bonsai Museum is fortunate enough to have one of these wonders here at the museum.

This trident maple originally came to the United States from Japan as part of a pair of bonsai. One tree went to San Diego for the Panama-California Exposition while this tree went to the fair in San Francisco. Already a large bonsai, it sat proudly on the verandah of the Formosa Tea House in the Japanese Garden and unsurprisingly caught the eye of many at the exposition as it earned both a gold medal and a first place certificate for specimen trees. At the conclusion of the fair Kanetaro Domoto, owner of the local Domoto Brothers Nursery and lover of bonsai, bought it.

Kanetaro and his brothers had immigrated to the United States from Japan in the mid 1880s and established one of the first commercial nurseries in northern California. They imported plants, including bonsai, directly from Japan and trained so many Japanese immigrants in the nursery business that they became known as the “Domoto College.” As interest in exotic plants grew so did the Domoto Brothers Nursery. By 1902 the Domotos were running a 35 acre nursery in Oakland, California, the first large scale nursery in the United States.

Toichi and Tree_Cropped

Toichi Domoto and the trident maple

Kanetaro continued to care for his trident maple for many years until, in the late 1920s, the nursery encountered financial troubles and the property was foreclosed. However, the receiver for the bank recognized how important the tree was to Kanetaro and allowed him to keep it. It was then moved to Hayward, California where his son, Toichi, had started his own nursery. Toichi showed the tree at flower shows around the area throughout the 1930s until he and his family were forced into internment camps during World War II. While interned he relied on friends to water the maple. Upon returning home after the war he found that the tree had sent roots through the bottom of its planter and had grown immensely. Over the next four decades Toichi refined and cared for the tree until he could no longer climb a ladder to prune it. Finally in 1990 after watching the leaves change color one last time he decided the tree should be loaned to the newly established Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and still, the Domoto Trident Maple sits proudly for all to admire. The tree, like the Domoto family, has persevered and despite the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II, both have recovered. Thanks to the family’s generous donation of the tree to the museum the Domoto legacy is ensured for future generations.