- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The U.S. National Arboretum stands out for its lack of crowds as tourists flock to the nation’s capital this summer, cellphones in hand, searching for Pokemon.

Jillian Aldebron, a volunteer and visitor services manager at the arboretum, says that staffers haven’t seen a spike in attendance due to the popular augmented reality game, despite it being a prime location for catching the virtual critters.

Ms. Aldebron admitted that the staff originally had pondered the idea of using the Pokemon Go smartphone app to encourage people to visit the arboretum, but chose not to because they feared guests might trample on the collections of flowers, shrubs, herbs and other flora in search of fake fauna.

Pokemon Go employs a smartphone’s GPS to create a map of the user’s surroundings and the phone’s camera to project an image of a virtual monster to be caught. Woodland and water Pokemon abound at the arboretum.

The National Arboretum, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research service, contains more than 15 unique collections of plants from around the world. Situated on 446 acres adjacent to the Anacostia River in Northeast, the arboretum welcomes half a million visitors each year.

Guests can read a book under a white oak in the Gotelli Conifer Collection, explore the Bonsai Museum boasting a Japanese white pine that survived the atomic blast at Hiroshima — or search for Jigglypuffs in the Youth Garden.

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Throughout the summer, visitors are greeted by the vivid hues of 31 blooming crapemyrtles and meadow wildflowers that overtake multiple collections, making the arboretum look like a “painting with plants,” in Ms. Aldebron’s words.

The Herb Garden, which Ms. Aldebron notes is the largest in the United States, sits on two-and-a-half acres. Guests who visit this collection are met by the subtle hint of pepper because 2016 is the year of the chili pepper. Those playing Pokemon Go in this collection are likely to come across a Caterpie or a Weedle amid the 800 different herbs.

Atop a hill not far from the Herb Garden, the rare Hitmonlee occasionally can be spotted between 22 sandstone Corinthian columns that once stood on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol.

The Capitol Columns were part of the U.S. Capitol from 1825 to 1958, and were replaced when the front of the building was expanded. The columns landed in their current location in 1990 with the help of Friends of the National Arboretum.

Anyone searching for Pokemon in the Azalea Collection is likely to find a Spearow flying near the nest of a pair of eagles who made the arboretum their home in 2014. Nicknamed “Mr. President” and “First Lady,” the eagles are the first to live in the National Arboretum since 1947. First Lady has given birth to three eaglets over the past two years.

Ms. Aldebron says the staff is overjoyed to see eagles return to the area because it is a sign that the Anacostia River cleanup is working.

“It’s becoming eagle heaven,” she told The Washington Times.

Even though exploring the great outdoors may not be everyone’s favorite pastime, the National Arboretum is a hidden treasure in the busy town of Washington, D.C. Visitors can spend the day exploring the wide array of plant collections or catching all of the Pokemon the arboretum has to offer.

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