Suzzallo bonsai a symbol of peace, resilience and inclusion


Buildings and land | UW and the community | UW News Blog | Video

May 27, 2021

The potted junipers on the steps of the Suzzallo library are undergoing a transformation. Flanking the entrance to one of Washington University’s most beloved buildings, they are seen by hundreds of people crossing Red Square every week.

These 4-foot-tall bright green shrubs caught Le Zhen’s attention.

“They were only bushes, but they are junipers, very good size. And juniper is probably one of the most sought-after materials for bonsai, ”Zhen said.

A postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Bioengineering at UW, Zhen has a passion for growing bonsai – miniature trees that are pruned, fed and wire-trained to resemble their much older, full-sized counterparts living in nature. In Suzzallo Junipers, Zhen saw great potential.

He shared his idea and a few sketches with the UW Facilities staff, and his offer to give the trees a makeover was accepted.

Watch the timelapse of Le Zhen’s bonsai creation:

But Zhen had another reason for wanting to create bonsai trees.

“The recent incidence of anti-Asian hate crimes is on the rise across the country – this hatred is a negative association,” he said. “I wanted to bring something positive from Asian culture.”

Thousands of Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders attend classes and work at UW, and roam the Seattle campus every week. He hopes this prominent bonsai display will signal members of the wider AAPI community that UW is safe and welcoming. In fact, Zhen said, we could all enjoy a moment of comfort.

“Globally, everyone went through a very difficult time during the year of the pandemic. I hope people see this and gain a sense of calm, ”he said.

With the biggest changes already made – pruning the limbs to expose the ‘trunk’ of the tree and forming the branches with wire and twine – the Suzzallo bonsai will come to fruition over many years as the bonsai grows in. the shape designed for them.

The bonsai on the left, facing the Suzallo steps, Zhen named “Resilience”. It’s remodeled in a windswept style, reminiscent of a tree that has weathered storms and even has deadwood features. The tree on the right is called “Peace” and will eventually feature a larger trunk arching over smaller trunks in what Zhen calls a “parent-child” style.

Junipers will no longer need their tallest sections; if you see a small plastic pot that surrounds a section of the trunk, it is to help prepare that section of the tree for smooth removal.

Transformation of “resilience” juniper bonsai.Zhen

3 images showing the transformation of bonsai

Transformation of “Peace” juniper bonsai.Zhen

Tag (s): Department of Bioengineering • Le Zhen • UW Installations

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