National Arboretum to sell off its overbred koi

A Koi captured in the water garder at the National Arboretum for the sell-off of the park's overbred fish.
A Koi captured in the water garder at the National Arboretum for the sell-off of the park's overbred fish. (Tracy A. Woodward - The Washington Post)
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010

There is nothing quite like leaving the snarl of downtown Washington traffic, the dusty car lots, the rusty garages and industrial nastiness of the District's Northeast gateway, and arriving at the U.S. National Arboretum.

Yes, that bucolic green space behind the long fence on New York Avenue.

It's gorgeous, like visiting an Umbrian countryside, a Japanese garden, a Provencal herb plot or a primordial fern grotto. It's like stepping inside a Monet or a Hokusai.


Oh, except for tomorrow, when the sell-off begins and certain obsessions are laid bare. It could get ugly.

Every few years, the beloved koi in the water garden surrounding the arboretum's main offices breed a little too much, so they are rounded up, sorted and sold off.

These are the fantastically colored fish that glide through the dark water like orange, gold, red or platinum ghosts. Or maybe it's more accurate to describe them as fantastically colored beggars.

If you go to the arboretum and walk along the water's edge, they will follow you, like hungry puppies. In the corner of the water closest to the 25-cent vending machine that spits out a fistful of stinky koi food, they gather like a mob, opening their mouths in pathetic O's, looking like the Beach Boys singing a constant chorus of "Barbara Ann." They jump onto one another's backs, out of the water, pleading for the little pellets.

Totally undignified. But terrific entertainment for kids.

Other than children who feed them candy, adults who accidentally feed them their car keys and a lone heron who has been stalking them the past few months (black dye in the water hides them a bit from him), they have few enemies.

Members of the Mid-Atlantic Koi Club arrived Thursday to help catch at least 100 for Saturday's sale.

They are sorted in holding tanks by size and will sell from $1 to $75, starting at 10 a.m. Get there early if you want to buy one because the demand for fish could exceed the supply. Three years ago, which is the last time the arboretum sold its koi, the place was packed to the gills with buyers, and 800 fish were sold. This time there will be a lot fewer available.

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