The U.S. National Arboretum, in Washington, D.C., should be on your list of gardens to visit and visit regularly. The arboretum is home to collections of dogwoods, aquatic plants, azaleas, a fern valley, holly and magnolias and the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, to name just a few. In addition to the gardens, as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is a research arm, whose mission is to introduce new floral and nursery crop cultivars, as well as to develop new technologies for use in the nursery industry. They have also taken on the responsibility of collecting and maintaining germplasm to preserve the genetic diversity of woody landscape plants. Their work has led to the release of five new disease- or insect-resistant elm cultivars as replacements for American elm; four insect-tolerant red maples (Red Rocket, Somerset, Sun Valley and Brandywine) and a mildew-resistant lilac (Betsy Ross). Many superior cultivars of crape myrtle, viburnum, hibiscus, ilex and magnolia are widely distributed, thanks to their efforts. They have assisted in the development of biopesticides, resulting from Neem oil, Nicotiana (tobacco family) and Ardisia, to assist in the control of whitefly and other ornamental pests. Many basic studies are in progress to develop techniques to be used by researchers themselves, in their labs and field studies. There are currently 15 full time scientists, nine support scientists and five post-doctoral associates on staff, officed at one of four locations: Washington, D.C., Beltsville, Md., Glen Dale, Md., and McMinnville, Tenn. If you are unable to visit in person, explore the arboretum virtually by visiting their Web site www.usna.usda.gov/. There are descriptions of their latest research projects and plant releases, as well as a photo gallery, bonsai exhibit and a select number of herbarium samples on line. Fact sheets about their cultivar releases and pest management techniques are also available.
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