It took 25 years for anyone to figure out this bonsai tree survived the Hiroshima bombing.

This Japanese white pine tree is almost 400 years old.

This Japanese white pine is 390 years old, to be exact. Photo by Christa Burns/Flickr.

It lives in the U.S. National Arboretum as part of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, where it's the oldest tree in the collection.


It stands just a few feet tall and has carefully pruned piney branches extending from a short, mossy trunk.

Oh, yeah, and it survived the devastating Hiroshima bombing of 1945.

At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, two American pilots dropped a 9,700-pound atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Within minutes, the entire city had been leveled. Some accounts say everything within a four-mile radius of the initial blast was incinerated almost instantly.

Except, it seems, for this now-390-year-old Japanese pine tree, which miraculously survived despite being just over two miles away from the center of the blast.

In 1976, the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., received the tree from Japanese bonsai master Masaru Yamaki in celebration of the American bicentennial.

It wasn't until 2001, 25 years later, when Yamaki's grandsons came to visit the tree in person, that officials learned of its amazing journey.

How could such a tiny thing survive such a massive explosion?

Location, it turns out, and a little bit of luck.



You can barely even tell the tree withstood a massive atomic detonation. Photo by A. Currell/Flickr.

“Location, location, location," Jack Sustic, the bonsai's curator, told The Washington Post. “It was up against a wall. It must have been the wall that shielded it from the blast."

The tree is a true living memorial, and it is being honored this week as we recognize the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

If trees like this bonsai could talk, they'd tell the most amazing stories.

Methuselah is estimated to be about 4,846 years old. Photo by Chao Yen/Flickr.

That towering pine tree outside your window could easily be hundreds of years old. The great redwoods in California can live upwards of 2,000 years. And there's even a tree named "Methuselah" believed to be over 4,800 years old.

But measuring years lived doesn't tell you what a tree has experienced during its lifetime. This bonsai tree could soon actually become one of the last living witnesses to the brutal realities of World War II, and a lesson for all of us to appreciate those close to us lucky enough to come out of the war alive.

The National Arboretum's bonsai tree has already outlived its life expectancy but could continue to thrive for another 100 years or more.

As long as it's alive, so are the stories of the over 200,000 lives lost on Aug. 6, 1945.

True

Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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