Article 76 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 6

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we return to the subject of design due to the response we have received from our followers. Design has meaning and message conceived in the mind of the artist regardless of the genre.

Introduction – to remind you of two opinions from bonsai masters Utsubo Monogatari and his written work ‘The Tale of the Hollow Tree‘, (circa 970) ‘where the tree’s beauty can only appear when shaped by the hand of man‘ and John Yoshio Naka “Don’t turn your tree into a bonsai, turn your bonsai into a tree.” A tree that resembles its wild counterpart, but times have changed, although traditionalists will predominantly adhere to the old ways modernists will opt for another path; we now look at some other examples of design. Sokan and Shakan

Sokan – known as twin trunk is quite common in nature but it is said not so much in bonsai design, the two trunks derive from one particular root method, where they trunks may split immediately above the roots, (nebari) or rise as one from the soil and then split after a few centimetres. The two trunks will each differ in diameter and height, the dominant trunk is relatively upright, whilst the secondary trunk will develop away from the main trunk which can be slightly slanted. Each trunk will develop their individual branches and foliage with each having a single crown or canopy.

Sokan or twin trunk example

Styling two trees into a single composition does require some consideration as both have to rise in close proximity from the nebari. Therefore, the nebari has to be exposed to show that the two trees are actually connected failure to do this renders the style incorrect. In addition, there should not be reverse taper where the two trunks split, branch selection is another factor in reducing any potential voids in the overall composition.

In this next image we see a Rowan/mountain ash Sorbus aucuparia in training, a large tree in the ‘Omono Dai‘ class (the first category for large bonsai trees 100 centimetres or 40 inches) and because of its height styling is a little more difficult to attain compared to trees of smaller sizes due to branch placement and amount of foliage produced. The right hand trunk is secondary to the left the (primary) yet both trunks are growing in close proximation curving to the left then taking a different path.

This tree collected in 2015 did not flower and fruit until 2021 and then only on the left hand trunk did this occur, (orange berries) hence it might prudent to refrain from pruning the right hand trunk’s branches to see if it will also flower and fruit. As the image shows there sufficient branches available that can be wired towards the centre to fill the void. This is a deciduous tree that will take a number of years to reach its potential.

Shakan – or slanting is a style having many designers in constant debate of where the design begins and ends as the case may be. According to the book of styles Shakan should be tall to show the trunk’s shape and movement, which may be slanting either right or left. The foliage should be minimal and would be in accordance to give the appearance of balance, stability and strength as would be found in nature. (shown in the following image)

Shakan or slanting example

However, some contend that the leaning style of a tree should grow at an angle of about 60 – 80 degrees relative to the ground, but if this is the case then not only has the Shakan style been completely changed from the original concept. It can be argued that it is not in keeping with the true Shakan style, so where is the dividing line if there is one. A tree’s shape (apart from the artist’s manipulation) is the result of element onslaught for example.

A tree subjected to wind blowing from a constant direction will be bent low to the ground, but much depends on the wind’s severity and strength described in article 69 ‘Design: a discussion’ part 1, this style is classed as Fukinagashi, (windswept) it is not Shakan. Take a look at the image below, the tree is quite remarkable considering it is a ceramic product listed on the website of ‘Dragon Art Studios’ – Poland under the title Sztuczne drzewko bonsai Sosna wykonanw W stylu ‘shakan’.

What is it’s design? – The trunk although slanting left is straight with what can be determined as a ‘live’ vein starting at the base, curling upwards presumably around the trunk (light brown on dark brown) then bending down and slightly back descending into the foliage. Looking through the catalogue of styles this design has Myoggi (informal upright) traits but this is ruled out due to foliage characteristics, the only other style that could be applicable is Han kengai (semi cascade) as the foliage descends below the rim of the pot, but this is also ruled out because of the straightness, height and length of the trunk.

At this juncture all we can say is that it is a remarkable creation in a design all of its own that attempts to mimic the art of bonsai culture, what it is is yet to be determined but it is certainly not in the Shakan style. Bonsai design is constantly changing as we have stated previously, traditionalists are adhering to the ways of the old masters whilst modernists progress along their own path.

But if these new styles are accepted how can they be categorised and who has the mandate to assume such responsibility, one cannot change the historical art and horticultural practices that have been in existence for over 6 centuries; we leave you to ponder on this. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 75 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 5

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we discuss the complexities of design, it’s meaning and message what the designer or artist is attempting to impart with their perspective and to attempt to make sense of it all in a rational manner.

Introduction Tanuki – is the Japanese word for Raccoon dog or Badger an animal known as the arch deceiver in Japanese folklore, meaning nothing is quite what it appears. The Tanuki technique is the marriage of a living tree affixed to an interesting piece of deadwood (often from an entirely different species) with the idea of creating a driftwood style composition, which is completely false.

This technique often known as ‘Phoenix Grafts’ (after the mythological Phoenix, which arose from its own ashes) is not currently accepted as part of the Japanese bonsai tradition and would not be displayed at a formal Japanese bonsai show. Nonetheless, many bonsai growers outside Japan consider Tanuki as an acceptable technique, because it reduces the amount of years to produce a deadwood bonsai specimen in the traditional way.

The combination of live and dead wood was usually restricted to coniferous varieties resulting in some surprising and effective displays, but now is a common practice with deciduous varieties. Yet combining live and dead wood is not that easy to accomplish if one wishes the outcome to have a natural appearance. There are two common approaches of how this technique can be achieved, (a) by surface fixation and (b) insertion method.

Surface fixation – the deadwood or host is cleaned, prepared long before hand to allow it to become weathered. The ‘live’ wood can be wrapped around the ‘dead’ wood and either screwed using stainless steel screws, brass nails, wire, raffia or plastic cable ties to make a permanent bond. But problems can arise using this method (a) infection from pathogens to the wounds made by the fixings, (b) ugly indentations in the ‘live’ wood made by wire, plastic and cable ties. Moreover, this method attaching ‘live’ wood to ‘dead’ wood takes some considerable time for the ‘live’ wood to conform to the contours of it’s new host.

Insertion method requires a more delicate approach as it involves the use of extremely sharp carving or power tools and one mishap can result in catastrophe. Once a ‘dead’ wood candidate has been selected, it needs to be treated to remove any decaying material and bacteria potentially harmful to the ‘live’ wood partner. The deadwood in the images shown below are roots from dead pines that were boiled for approximately 20 mins, allowed to dry and left to the elements for 2 years.

Tanuki deadwood

The left picture depicts the front and the right the rear in which you will notice a groove has been made via the use of a Dremel. The groove using the ‘keyhole’ method meaning wide enough to insert the ‘live’ material, but enlarged within to allow the plant room to expand and lock itself in place once inserted. Once both ‘dead’ and ‘live were aligned correctly wet raffia was used to secure the ‘live’ material in place that will eventually swell producing a rigid seam at the rear giving what can be deemed in all intents and purposes a natural entity although we know it is not. (Shown below)

Tanuki left = front right = back

A point of view – if we follow the guidelines of the Japanese masters the meaning of bonsai ‘bon’ – pot and ‘sai’ – tree is the marriage or coupling of the two components and nothing more. Thus we can argue that Bonkei (no ‘live’ material) Saikei (which has) and Hón Non Bó are not bonsai, they are landscape designs using figurines, rocks and structures. Moreover, Tanuki is not bonsai it is a combination of ‘live’ and ‘dead’ wood material often from different species, a fake composition set to deceive the viewer and many purists will concur with this viewpoint.

However, there will be arguments to the contrary some will contend that BonkeiSaikei, Tanuki and Hón Non Bó the latter modelled on the Chinese Penjing style are simply other art forms in the heady world of bonsai. (which is the umbrella term for miniature tree horticulture) If we had stuck to the purist points of view then would this ‘living art’ form have progressed in the way that it has.

If we think back to the first article in this discussion we note that many aspects in life, art, music, architecture and various other entities have radically changed through the eons. Is this the natural course of events of life’s rich tapestry that we are confronted with and should accept as we progress along the highway of a lifelong learning curve. The perception and/or concept of the artist/designer is what it is and we have the freedom to accept or reject what is presented.

This article on Tanuki is merely a discussion – ‘food for thought’ but, Tanuki is the arch deceiver in Japanese folklore meaning nothing is quite what it appears, thus the meaning of ‘covert’ and ‘overt’ comes into being; to be discussed at a later date. Meanwhile bonsai artist Peter Chan of Herons Bonsai gives a good explanation on Tanuki (link below) until next time, BW, Nik.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pc18yBpcqIo&ab_channel=HeronsBonsai – 1:06 min.

Article 74 – ‘Quarantine!’

Hi welcome to Taiga Bonzai, today’s post was intended to be a discussion on the infamous Tanuki design. This will be postponed till a later date as the question of quarantine is more appropriate given the time of year when bonsai enthusiasts are looking to add to their collection/s albeit purchased from a nursery, the wild, by air layering, cuttings or grown from seed.

Introduction – is quarantine really necessary, is it just a myth an urban legend – a supposed truth which is actually spurious or a superstition. From the knowledge gained via continuous research in horticulture, we have found that there is a need for plant isolation. Why is this – with spring now upon us growth is rapidly returning above and below the soil line and there are measures that have to be taken to ensure the health and vitality of the plant.

Soil microbiology – all soil mediums regardless of their origin contain bacteria, a teaspoon of productive soil can contain between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria. Some of these bacteria are beneficial including Bacillus, Arthrobacter, Pseudomonas, Agrobacterium, Alcaligenes, Clostridium, Flavobacterium, Corynebacterium, Micrococcus, Xanthomonas and Mycobacterium. But also within the soil structure are viruses which are obligate parasites of bacteria that can destroy a plant’s cellular structure often causing disease resulting in a plants demise.

For example, plant parasitic nematodes also known as eelworms a diverse animal phylum inhabiting a broad range of environments. Taxonomically, they are classified along with insects and other moulting animals in the clade Ecdysozoa and unlike flatworms, have tubular digestive systems with openings at both ends. The following image shows one of the most destructive of these worm-like creatures of which there are many.

Caenorhabditis elegans nematode. Credit Wikipedia

Foliage infestation – there are many pests and disease that attack plant foliage, some are visible to the naked eye but there are many that are too small to see. Nursery plants are notorious for harbouring pests and disease and should be inspected thoroughly prior to purchase. Arguably the question is how does this infestation spread? – In short it is via cross contamination, because the vendor has not taken the necessary precautions to prevent this.

For example, a shipment from mainland Europe to Scandinavia is being fulfilled and depending on the order, the vehicle will probably have more that one stop before the consignment is complete. The plants many different varieties tightly packed on moveable racks floor to ceiling remain in the dark till the load is full, then the journey commences till the destination is reached. It is during this time period when foliage of different plants brush together and contamination begins due to the vehicle’s movement moreover, pests have ample time to roam around moving from plant to plant feeding, laying eggs and spreading pathogens.

We know this to be fact because we were victims of vendor’s sub-standard attention to detail. A few years ago we purchased some Japanese maples including one that was infected with red spider mite Tetranychus urticae. Although the plant was inspected prior to purchase there was no visible sign of the insect on the foliage, the only other possibility is that it was hidden in the soil medium as they are apt to do. It has taken years to eradicate this pest, but due to its resilience it can hide undetected, until the time is right for them to reemerge and continue their destruction. Red spider mites are about 0.5 mm (about 0.02 inch) in length, hence they are difficult to see.

Red spider mite Tetranychus urticae

Taking into consideration what has been discussed thus far, there is no way of knowing what is concealed within the soil, in most cases the composition will be fine; but there is always the possibility that it is not. Indication that problems are looming is when the plant emits signs of ill health, via fungal infection which can include, mildew, rust, blackspot and other forms of blight; these can be treated by using synthetic fungicides. Pests including Scale, Sawfly, Pine knot-horn larva, Mealybugs, Carpenter Ants and Red spider mite will attack causing irreparable damage.

Collecting from the wild – can be enjoyable to some extent, but it is also hard work because much depends on the terrain for example. Derelict building sites if left untouched contain a multitude of species both coniferous and deciduous, these grow in cavities within the walls and in cracked concrete floors. Such places are considered hazardous especially if the structure’s stability is not known, hence when excavating plants one has to be extremely careful in order not to cause unnecessary damage.

If taken from the forest, the area around the plant has to be investigated to ascertain the size of the root spread which can vary considerably depending on the terrain. Should the area be strewn with rocks chances are that the roots will have developed under them in their search for nutrients and because of this, the plant cannot be harvested; which often the case. In this situation discretion is the better part of valour, replace the soil and tidy up the area giving the impression that it has not been disturbed.

Plants harvested from the wild are usually the best option because you know from whence they came, their health condition and surrounding soil medium which should be pH tested. In this case quarantine is not mandatory but advisable, because the plant needs a favourable location to recover from its ordeal. Conifers take longer to recover opposed to deciduous. For more information on this topic see Article 12 ‘Selecting material for bonsai part II’.

Air layering – is a simple but efficient way to clone one plant from its parent, plants use DNA in much the same way that other living beings including humans do. The cells in the clone contain a copy of the donor’s genome, that is translated into proteins and enzymes, which make the biochemistry creating more cells and growth. The cloned plant having a healthy root ball, can be removed from the donor, but should be potted in the same soil type as the parent plant; this ensures the continuity of nutrient supply. Cloned plants do not require quarantine, but isolation is advisable in order for them to develop.

Cuttings – usually from deciduous species can be dipped into rooting hormone powder and planted in a seed compost medium, alternatively they can be placed in a jar of water which after a few weeks will develop roots systems. The cuttings should be placed in reasonably sized pots to encourage further root development and isolated until they are established. Two good examples that are relatively easy to grow are the Ficus ginseng and the Sea buckthorn ‎Hippophae rhamnoides that are quite resilient and vigorous in their growth.

Seeds – are an inexpensive way of producing plants, but not all will germinate because (a) they have not gone through the stratification process and (b) they are sterile. An interesting experiment on testing a seed’s ability to germinate is via store purchased fruit, most varieties including plum, damson, peach, pear and apple seeds require stratification otherwise germination will not take place. Alternatively, mango, pomegranate and citrus varieties will germinate without the need for stratification and can develop into healthy plants. However, these varieties are temperate and cannot tolerate low temperatures in addition, their defence systems are rather poor when attacked by pests and disease. For more information on this topic see Article 12 ‘Selecting material for bonsai part I’ and Article 21 – ‘The Stratification of seeds’

In addition, Information on pests and disease can be found by referring to articles 20 ‘Pests and Diseases‘, ‘Unseen enemies’ series articles 62 to 66 and 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’.

Arguably purchasing plants from nurseries does reduce the time frame to some degree when trying to produce a potential bonsai specimen because they are established and can be shaped accordingly. Nonetheless, being aware of the factors involved that we have described can eradicate unwanted problems regardless of the species one opts for. ‘But what if a plant is inspected to the best of our ability only to find out later that there is an infection – what kind of redress is there?

Unfortunately not a lot, because of the following factors (a) you have removed the plant from the vendor’s premises, (b) it could be argued that cross contamination has occured from one of your other plants, (c) the plant has not been given the proper location as stated on the label i.e. full sun, part sun and shade or shade. Moreover, if the plant develops chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves) or wilt these are signs of overwatering or lack thereof therefore, your viewpoint although justified cannot be proven. A sympathetic vendor may give you a replacement plant if the discussion is amenable but that is the sum total.

If you are contemplating a purchase from a garden centre, nursery or department store make sure to be thorough in your inspection, it is also advisable to wear rubber gloves especially when handling such specimens as, Water Hemlock Cicuta maculata, Oleander Nerium oleander, Yew Taxus baccata and Box Buxus as all are extremely toxic. It is your responsibility to ascertain the plants welfare and condition – if in any doubt walk away. This discussion has given clear reason why the need for quarantine is justified; until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 73 -‘Design: a discussion’ Part 4

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post we discuss Bunjin or Literati because, the old adage of ‘less is more’ comes into being due to the sparseness of foliage and presentation of this particular style.

Introduction – according to bonsai master John Y. Naka in his book ‘Bonsai Techniques’, “The Bunjin style of bonsai is so free that it seems to violate all the principles of bonsai form. The indefinite style has no specific form and is difficult to describe however, its confirmation is simple yet very expressive. Bunjin is the Japanese terminology for this particular style, which first appeared in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.)

Bunjin or Literati – specimens were predominantly conifers, but as time passed deciduous species began to appear for example. Flowering and fruiting varieties Magnolia, family Magnoliaceae and Bougainvillea, family Nyctaginaceae. The edible fig Ficus carica and crab apple Malus pumila are commonplace as is ficus ginseng Ficus retusa, silver or weeping birch Betula pendula; there is no rule to state which species can or cannot be used.

Bunjin are usually tall with slender trunks that can be shaped according to the artist’s interpretation or conception of the style, but it should be remembered that there are different classes for bonsai heights. Small bonsai Kenshitsubo 2.5 cm to 8 cm, Shito 5 cm to 10 cm, Shohin 5 cm to 15 cm and Mame 10 cm to 20 cm. Are in reality too small to be considered for Literati, because they cannot do justice to the style, although there may be differences of opinion on this consensus.

Komono 15 cm to 26 cm can be used, but foliage has to be minimal with thin trunks otherwise the tree will not look aesthetically correct; a balance has to be maintained because, the tree is the picture and the pot is the frame in which it sits. Other classes suitable for Bunjin are the medium size range including, Katade-Mochi 25 cm to 46 cm, Chumono-Chiu 40 cm to 90 cm, Omono-Dai 76 cm to 122 cm, Hachi-Uye 102 cm to 152 cm and Imperial the largest and most majestic of all Bonsai between 152 cm and 203 cm.

However, not every tree species is suited for Literati design for example, Horse chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum and Norwegian maple Acer platanoides because of their leaf size. There is a consensus that by constant pruning leaf size can be reduced and there is truth in this logic, but can they be reduced enough to be considered for Literati design; probably not.

The image below is a Bunjin black pine Pinus thunbergii in the Chinese Collection on display at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in the United States National Arboretum; it was donated by Stanley Chinn. As the image shows the viewer’s eyes are first drawn to the pot relatively small, a round unglazed feminine container that suggests a delicate approach softening what can be deemed a masculine composition. The trunk’s movement twists and turns right, returning left where the apex with its drooping branches gives the sense of balance, which is simple yet expressive.

Image courtesy of Sage Ross

The next image depicts a Bungin Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis also housed at the United States National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, it has been given the Sharimiki treatment or ‘dead wood’ style of bonsai. This tree is planted in an unglazed round feminine container giving a delicate appearance. Sharimiki/Jin treatment suggest that the tree has befallen some catastrophe at some point giving the onlooker an appearance of age, although it is only 37 years old. Trunk movement slants right returning left near the upper part of the tree with the apex in direct line with the trunk’s base as it rises from the soil; foliage is compact giving the impression of a balanced composition.

Image courtesy of Carl Clifford http://cliffordsphotography.com

Designing deciduous Bunjin can result in problems due to their vigorous growth, mature trees are not as supple compared to coniferous, trunks can splinter or crack and branches are easily broken. Shaping is achieved by constant pruning and wiring, which can only be done after sap rising has concluded (end of spring depending on your particular zone) and then all wiring has to be monitored to avoid indentations in the bark. Scarred trunks and limbs render the tree redundant as a bonsai moreover, there are other points to be taken into consideration for example.

(a) Distance between the potential buds, (leaf nodes) if they are too far apart foliage will look open and sparse. (b) Leaf size, if the leaves are too big as with fronded (fern-like) types such as Jacaranda Jacaranda mimosifolia, Royal Poinciana Delonix regia, Honey Locust Gleditsia triacanthos and Mountain ash Sorbus sp. they will look out of context. The principle aim of Literati is ‘less is more’ meaning the foliage should be relatively compact and sufficient but not overbearing.

The final image is of a ‘Gumbo Limbo’ Almacigo Bursera Simaruba a deciduous species native to tropical regions of the Americas. The container a round unglazed feminine pot at first glance seems hardly sufficient to house such a large specimen, but this is what designer has opted for; which enhances the large bulbous lower trunk and it’s nebari. As the viewer’s eye line moves up the trunk we notice a slight kink to the right, above this point the trunk turns sharply to the left then back on itself with further movement to the apex. The lower branch is carefully shaped and positioned to fill the void at the first acute bend with the remainder of the foliage supporting the composition.

Image courtesy of Andy Kuz photo by candyjshirey

These three Literati/Bunjin examples are the result of what can be achieved from studying a specimen to ascertain what potential it holds for this type of style, which is quite unique in bonsai. Thus far we have discussed some of the classic designs found in the catalogue of bonsai styles and there are many more to consider, but at this juncture we will pause the discussion concluding with the controversial and infamous ‘Tanuki‘ design. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 72 – ‘Small but deadly’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai we have written much on pests and disease which cause problems for agriculture and horticultural communities worldwide, in this article we discuss a candidate that not only kills trees, but is able to create serious problems to humans and domestic animals.

Introduction – the ‘Maritime pine‘ or ‘cluster pinePinus pinaster is native to the Mediterranean basin covering a large area that includes, Portugal, Northern Spain, Southern and Western France, Western Italy, Croatia, Tunisia, Algeria and Northern Morocco. It is a hard, fast growing pine containing small seeds with large wings and favours this region’s climate of cool rainy winters and hot dry summers. Pinus pinaster is closely related to Pinus halepensis commonly known as the ‘Aleppo pine’, because both species share many of the same characteristics and pests.

Pinus halepensis also grows in the Mediterranean region in Malta, Montenegro, Albania and east to Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Southern Turkey, Palestine, Jordan and Israel. Both these species are subject to attack from Dioryctria sylvestrella, commonly known as the new Pine knot-horn‘ or ‘maritime pine borer‘ a member of the Pyralidae family, which occurs naturally in Europe, much of Asia and North Africa. This pest has been discovered as far north as the Arctic Circle but is more common at lower latitudes, where it does most damage.

Dioryctria sylvestrella moth and caterpillar courtesy of Frank Hecker – wikipedia

Dioryctria sylvestrella – is a small mottled brown and white insect with a wingspan of 28 to 35 mm, which flies in a single generation from June to October. The female chooses fast-growing, vigorous host trees on which to lay its eggs. The larvae attack buds, shoots, cones and young stems. Damaged tissue attacked by the rust fungus Endocronartium allow the larvae to enter the tissues and tunnel under the bark into the phloem. The larvae usually remain close to where they were hatched, but occasionally migrate to other parts of the tree.

Larvae pupate inside a mass of resin mixed with frass (shown below) which they produce and continue to feed within. Their boring activity causes large quantities of resin to flow from the wounds weakening the tree allowing fungi and other pathogens to gain entry eventually threatening the trees health. D. sylvestrella was first detected in the UK in 2001 and is different from the three other species in the genus by the fact that the subterminal line is generally smooth with a single waved kink at its midpoint, in the other three species this line is dentate from the mid-point to the dorsum.

Resin and frass of D. sylvestrella images courtesy of ‘Project Portugal’

Efforts to control – these species of pine are under threat, young trees have no defence and eventually succumb, older more mature trees are able to withstand the onslaught but are severely weakened. In Italy the powers that be have thought of several methods to control D. sylvestrella for example chemical usage however, horticulturists are against such practice their arguments are that there is little or no control and many claim that an effective chemical solution has yet to be found.

In addition, it is argued that a chemical approach would have serious consequences to the horticultural industry. Because if used its properties become airborne resulting in contamination of other crops including, olive, fruits and vegetable production rendering such unmarketable, hence loss of income not only to the horticulture fraternity, but also to the state. Moreover, no one in their right mind would consume contaminated food produce, because of the possible side effects if they are unsure of its origin, which is a stringent mandate of the EU.

Finding a solution – the agricultural sector meaning the farmers and growers are of the consensus that it is virtually impossible to prevent the onslaught of D. sylvestrella due to its abundance in the Mediterranean region and its ability to invade. However, studies on D. sylvestrella behaviour indicate that larvae when ready to metamorphosize are compelled to descend the tree and conceal themselves in the litter at the tree’s base. Therefore, preventing the larvae from doing so seems a logical solution in stemming the birth of the next generation of moths.

Traps have been manufactured that can encircle the trunk capturing the larvae as they descend, which are then disposed of. Although these traps are efficient they cost approximately 30 to 50€ each depending on the region, to some this may appear inexpensive; but in reality it is the opposite because much depends on the amount of trees one has on the land. Hence farmers and growers are designing and constructing their own versions as shown below.

Homemade larvae trap image courtesy of ‘Project Portugal’
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=project+portugal+no+29

This homemade version consists of plastic base and wall with a layer of foam affixed to the inner diameter to fit snugly against the contours of the trunk. A hole is drilled into the base where a tube protrudes downward to which a plastic bag containing tree litter is tied on. The larvae walk around the trap eventually falling down the tube into the bag, when the bag is full the larvae are disposed of. This homemade trap costs approximately 3€ to construct. It can be argued that sometimes even the most simplest of inventions are more effective than expensive chemical alternatives.

D. sylvestrella – is harmful to humans and domestic animals due to its ability to shed toxic hairs (called setae or spines) from its body, which it is apt to do when disturbed. According to James H. Diaz of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) “caterpillars bear highly specialized external nettling or urticating hairs and breakaway spines or setae to defend against attacks by predators and enemies“. These “can inflict serious human injuries ranging from urticarial dermatitis and atopic asthma to osteochondritis, consumption coagulopathy, renal failure and intracerebral hemorrhage.”

There are approximately 12 families of lepidoptera worldwide that are able to inflict serious injuries to humans and D. sylvestrella a member of the Pyralidae family is one of them. Andrea Seldeslachts, Steve Peigneur, and Jan Tytgat in their paper published online 2020 May 30. ‘Caterpillar Venom: A Health Hazard of the 21st Century’ states that “Depending on the family and species involved, some toxins provoke local urticating dermatitis, a burning sensation, allergic reactions, respiratory system problems and/or ophthalmia nodosa, whereas others cause systemic effects, including hemorrhagic syndrome, acute kidney injury and/oral phalangeal periarthritis.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7345192/

With domestic animals being inquisitive is their natural bent, prone to sniffing or licking, the effect of the toxic venom from the hairs (setae or spines) of D. sylvestrella has what only can be classed as a devastating tragic misfortune, in that there being no antibiotic treatment available at this juncture. These animals are at risk with the most vulnerable part being the snout a wet fur less surface around the nostrils of the nose called the rhinarium, if this is infected by venom the consequences are severe; hence contact with D. sylvestrella larvae should be avoided at all cost.

As we have stated pests and disease are a major problem in today’s world which have been highlighted through our recent articles ‘Bug apocalypse‘ and ‘Unseen enemies‘, not all can be attributed to mankind’s actions, but many can – we have a problem that needs our urgent attention; failure to address it will only lead to escalation. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 71 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 3

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we discuss the complexities of design, it’s meaning and message what the designer or artist is attempting to impart with their perspective and to attempt to make sense of it all in a rational manner.

Introduction – in part 2 we stated that in bonsai there are no figurines, structures or independent rocks which is the correct interpretation of the guidelines of this art form nonetheless, rocks are used in bonsai if a tree is attached to them in some way or form. Styles describing trees planted on or over rock are referred to as Deshojo, but the relation between root and rock create different terminology for example. A tree with its roots wrapped around a rock where the rock is at the base of the trunk, with exposed roots descending into the soil, is called Sekijoju. A tree with its roots clinging to a rock is referred to as Ishizuke. (ishitsuki)

Sekijoju – ‘Root over rock’ – the rock is at the base of the trunk, with the roots exposed to varying degrees as they traverse the rock and then descend into the soil below. Ishizuke (ishitsuki) – ‘Root clinging to a rock’ – the roots of the tree grow in soil contained within the cracks and holes of the rock. The rock may serve as a simple container with the tree escaping the container and forming its own shape, or may show a closer relationship to the rock’s shape, growing close to the rock and following its contours. The images below illustrate the difference between the two styles.

Sekijoju – ‘Root over rock’ Ishizuke – ‘Root clinging to a rock’

Creating these styles can be time consuming especially with young plants because the root ball has insufficient length and therefore, cannot be trained in this fashion due to the lack of stability. One way to solve this problem is to plant the tree in a large deep container to allow the roots to develop in length, alternatively planting the tree in the ground for a few seasons is another option. Once the tree’s root system has grown to the desired length it can be pruned and attached to the proposed rock. Here is a link to a video on root over rock.

Neagari – exposed root – The roots of the tree are exposed as extensions of the trunk free from soil, these can extend as far as one-half to two-thirds the total tree height, the image below depicts a tree that has gone through this process. Every second growing season the plant was re-potted but was elevated each time by 1.5 cm exposing the root system that hardened off until the desired effect was achieved.

Sabamiki – split or hollow trunk – this style portrays the visual effect of a lightning strike or other severe and deep trunk damage, which has been weathered over time. It is applicable to deciduous species, conifers, and broadleaf evergreens. The hollowed trunk is usually chiseled out, making a hollow that can range in size from a shallow scar to nearly the full depth of the trunk.

Sabamiki Maple

Sharimiki – driftwood – this style portrays a tree with a significant part of its trunk bare of bark. In nature, trees in the sharimiki style are created by disease, physical damage to the trunk, weathering and age. At least one strip of live bark must connect the leaves and living branches to the root system to transport water and nutrients. The bared trunk areas give a strong impression of age regardless of the tree’s conformation, so driftwood bonsai often fall outside of the conventional styles in shape and foliage.

Sharimiki by Sage Ross

Thus far we have given a few examples on different designs and how effective in appearance they can be to the viewer, but much depends on personal perception and concept. Our next post article 72 focuses on a serious pest that is devastating the Mediterranean basin – a problem of serious concern, but we will return to the design discussion in article 73. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 70 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 2

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we discuss the complexities of design, it’s meaning and message what the designer or artist is attempting to impart with their perspective and to attempt to make sense of it all in a rational manner.

Introduction – the term bonsai (bon ‘pot’ and sai ‘tree’) refers to the joining or marriage of the two components regardless of style be they single, twin or multiple trunked trees and/or forest plantations. There are no figurines, independent rocks or miniature structures, displays where such artifacts are used come under different categories. In Japan they are referred to as ‘Bonkei’ and ‘Saikei‘, but there is a distinct difference between the two ‘Bonkei‘ does not use ‘live’ material of any description whereas ‘Saikei‘ does. The Vietnamese version of ‘Saikei‘ miniature landscape is called ‘Hón Non Bộ‘. We will discuss the bonsai forest landscape first then move on to the other designs.

In bonsai Yose ue – Forest describes a planting of many trees, typically an odd number, the pot is shallow to emphasize the height of the trees, alternatively a flat slab of rock may be used. The trees are usually of the same species, with a variety of heights employed to add visual interest and to reflect the age differences encountered in mature forests. (For mixed-species plantings refer to the Japanese art of saikei) The aim is to portray a view into a forest with different perspective effects such as placing the smallest trees toward the rear to create depth.

If you are contemplating planting a forest you need to gather all the hardware materials before hand for example. The pot or flat slab of rock, wiring needed to anchor the plants, adhesives, wire mesh to create contours, moss, fertilizer pellets, drainage mats and correct soil medium. As for the design, a stroll in a forest with a camera will give you some idea, if this is not possible troll through the world-wide-web to get some inspiration; planning is vitally important to make the display work. (shown below)

A Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum) bonsai, North American Collection courtesy of Author Sage Ross

Bonkei – in Japan’s historical Shōsōin, housing seventh, eight and ninth century artifacts is an elaborate miniature tree display composed of a shallow wooden base, with carved wooden mountains and sand portraying a river and surrounding land. Small silver metal tree sculptures are placed in the sand to produce a table top design of a tree landscape. (shown below)

The earliest illustration of Penjing – Bonkei is found in the Qianling mausoleum murals at the Tang Dynasty tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai, dating to 706.

A ‘bonkei’ display is a temporary or permanent three-dimensional depiction of a landscape in miniature, portrayed using mainly dry materials for example. Wire, artificial plant making material, rock, papier-mâché, adhesives or cement mixtures and sand in a shallow tray as shown below.

Utagawa Yoshishige (1848)

‘Saikei’ is a Japanese art form derived from creating miniature landscapes and is quite similar to the Chinese art form of Penjing and Vietnamese Hòn Non Bộ wherein tray landscapes are made using soil, water and rocks on a single container or tray. The container is usually a large ceramic tray that has low edges and within are soil, rocks and pebbles arranged carefully to create a natural landscape. Some artists model their creations from actual landscapes such as a seaside, garden or mountain with living trees and forests. (shown below)

Saikei display courtesy of Wikipedia free encyclopedia

However, Saikei displays have become much larger and intricate through time and to give you some idea as to their creation, here are is a link where you can see Japanese master Masahiko Kimura creating one of his masterpieces. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Bonsai+empire+kimura%27s+bonsai+demonstration+youtube – 6:41 min.

Hón Non Bộ – is the Vietnamese version of Saikei and displays can be extremely large needing a small army to move them, but many table top varieties are in existence. Arguably Hón Non Bộ is the most sort after due to the Vietnamese attention to the finest detail, this is not to say that the Japanese version Saikei and the Chinese Penjing are not without the highest praise, after all it was the latter who were the first to create such works of art. Below are images of Hón Non Bộ.

Hón Non bộ

Are these designs a representation of reality or imagination what is conceived in the mind of the artist, there are many natural wonders in existence especially in the far east which entice designers to mimic for example, Vietnam’s islands and Phang Nga Bay, Thailand. Arguably it matters not from whence the inspiration came, because Penjing, BonkeiSaikei and Hón Non Bộ are marvels of design all having meaning and message. Until next time when we continue this discussion, BW, Nik.

Article 69 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 1

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we discuss the complexities of design, it’s meaning and message what the designer or artist is attempting to impart with their perception and to attempt to make sense of it all in a rational manner.

Introduction – there are two basic principles in understanding design, (a) ‘perception‘ – the act or faculty of perceiving or apprehending by means of the senses or of the mind; cognition. (b) ‘concept ‘ – something conceived in the mind, a thought or notion to test or implement new ideas. These two factors are strongly connected because from what is perceived by the mind can be conceived in other ways or forms.

The arts – to explain the above statement we offer these examples. The Sistine Chapel ceiling (Soffitto della Cappella Sistina), painted by Michelangelo and other leading painters including Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Pietro Perugino between 1508 and 1512; a cornerstone work of high renaissance art depicting the human form.

Michelangelo ‘The creation of Adam’

Other painters viewed art in different ways, English artist Laurence Stephen Lowry is famous for painting scenes of life in industrial districts often referred to as ‘matchstick men‘. Spanish painters Pablo Ruiz Picasso a post-impressionist (known as Cubism) and Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech was attracted to Cubism, but moved closer to Surrealism in the late 1920s. American painter Paul Jackson Pollock a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement was widely noticed for his “drip technique” of pouring or splashing liquid household paint onto a horizontal surface, enabling him to view and paint his canvases from all angles.

Perception and concept has had an effect on other art forms, music like painting has undergone changes, classical, the blues of the deep south, big bands including Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Glenn Miller; the music of the swinging sixties to what is being touted today. Fashion, cuisine, architecture and other art forms have been affected by perception and concept through time.

Bonsai horticulture which began in 6th century China has also received its fair share of perception and concept. The first fictional work regarding bonsai ‘The Tale of the Hollow Tree‘, by Utsubo Monogatari originating in the year 970 states “A tree that is left growing in its natural state is a crude thing. It is only when it is kept close to human beings who fashion it with loving care that its shape and style acquire the ability to move one.”

But what is Monogatari saying, does it mean that we can change and fashion our trees into any shape or form as many modern bonsai designers are apt to do, where the designed specimen has little or no resemblance to its wild counterpart. According to American horticulturist John Yoshio Naka “Don’t turn your tree into a bonsai, turn your bonsai into a tree.” A tree that resembles its wild counterpart to some degree, the aim of bonsai is to mimic or copy what we see in nature but in miniature form; no doubt there will be many differences of opinion on this hypothesis.

The catalogue of styles – lists over 30 classic artistic representations with many quite common and others rare due to the complexity of design. We will discuss a few of these classic designs to shed light on what to some may be a little difficult to comprehend starting with the formal upright.

Chokkan – (formal upright) according to the guidelines as depicted by the old masters, the tree has a straight, upright, tapering trunk. Branches progress regularly from the thickest and broadest at the bottom to the finest and shortest at the top. This gives the branches a triangular shape and symmetry with none pointing directly toward the viewer, which is sought after for a formal upright style. There should be strong surface roots (nebari) visible, moving from the base of the trunk downward into the soil and radiating evenly around the trunk.

In looking at the image below the picture on the left an actual living Chokkan bonsai arguably does not conform to the guidelines, because the branches 1. 2. 3. and 4. protrude outside of the triangular shape and symmetry in addition, the foliage is rather overbearing. The composition of tree and pot can be construed as rather mundane, but this is how the designer perceives this specimen to be as a representation of what is found in nature.

Chokkan

In the right picture (same tree) the foliage has been reduced and conforms to the required triangular shape and symmetry. Sharimiki and Jin have been added to the trunk and apex respectively to give the viewer an indication that the tree has befallen some catastrophe at some point. It can be argued that the right hand picture would glean more interest than the left hand picture due to enhanced character, but it all depends on personal design preference; be it acceptable or not.

Fukinagashi – Wind swept – this style describes a tree that appears to be affected by strong winds blowing continuously from one direction, as might shape a tree on a mountain ridge or on an exposed shoreline. The windswept characteristic can be applied to a number of the basic styles, including informal upright, slanting, and semi-cascade, multi-tree bonsai can also be developed with elements of the windswept style.

The image below is of a 10 metre plus conifer growing on the shoreline of a lake in Ontario Canada, the left hand picture depicts it’s current design shape and symmetry due to element onslaught. We know that this tree although leaning to the left will not topple over, because it’s root spread will cover an extensive area and thus stability is ensured. Looking at the right hand branch it appears that there is very little foliage if any and can be deemed surplus to requirements.

If this tree were in miniature form changes could be made for example, the right hand branch has been shortened and Sharimiki has been applied to distract the viewer’s attention away from the straightness of the main trunk, which could be reshaped if needed. The lower branches have been removed, others pruned, these could be wired into shape to create a more compact look. Such simple changes have arguably improved the tree’s overall symmetry and composition keeping it within the wind-swept style. This is only one concept of design and although some might agree with this viewpoint others will differ.

We understand the viewpoints of Utsubo Monogatari and John Yoshio Naka because both have valid argument, but it is you the designer who makes the ultimate decision. In the next discussion on this subject we look at more classic designs, one of them being Penjing landscapes the Vietnamese Hón non bó and Japanese Bonkei versions. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 68 – ‘Finding the front’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai, in this article we answer a recently posted question of how to determine the front of a tree.

Introduction – all bonsai material regardless of the species (conifer or deciduous) will have certain characteristics that allow you to decide which is the front and which is the back. The signs that allow such determination are: 1. the Nebari or root system, 2. trunk and its movement, 3. branch configuration 4. the tree’s overall style and/or potential; we are referring to trees that have some maturity a minimum of 4 to 5 years old – not saplings, which lack such characteristics.

This Cotoneaster Lucidus now 19 years old – rescued from a garden centre’s waste bin in 2003 had no potential whatsoever, to solve the problem it was decided that the focus of attention should be aimed at developing the nebari. Every two years the plant was re-potted but was elevated each time by 1.5 cm exposing the root system that hardened off until the desired effect was achieved. The left branch was trained in a horizontal position and the right branch out and down to balance the composition, then finally placed in a shallow ceramic container.

Arguably the greatest teacher is nature itself, a walk through a woodland, forest, bog, swamp or mountainous terrain will reveal a wealth of information for example. Exposed roots systems, gnarled and twisted trunks and branches that have suffered severe weather patterns and this is what we try to imitate. However, when removing plants from the wild one has to be careful, permission has to be granted from the land owner; there are three posts on ‘Selecting material for bonsai’ part 1, April 15 2016 – part 2, April 23 2016 and part 3, August 06 2017.

Nebari – this Fukien tea Carmona retusa reveals it’s 5 root system in a ‘claw’ like manner allowing the viewer to see through it, left hand and front roots are dominant giving the impression of strength and stability, the root on the right although smaller balances out the above two roots whilst the two roots at the rear are in support. If we had of shown this tree in reverse the whole perspective of strength and stability would have been lost. Of course there are cases where this can not be achieved especially if there is no prominent root system, one then has to rely on the trunk and its movement for inspiration.

Fukien Tea Carmona retusa

Trunk and movement – staying with this Fukien tea for the moment – as the image shows there are acute turns in the trunk both left and right starting from the base to the apex, hence there is much movement and one might argue that such movement is rather excessive. Moreover, the foliage is masking the middle and upper portions of the trunk, but in our defense we are not the designer/s of this specimen, it came into our possession in 2013 as an import probably from Asia; where in that part of the world bonsai growers tend to be a tad more zealous in their approach to design.

Branch configuration – all trees regardless of the species have either dense or open foliage for example, Betula pendula commonly known as the ‘Silver’ or ‘weeping birch’ has open foliage and branches that droop down, Picea glauca has dense foliage often detrimental to the tree’s health as the inner branches are deprived of sunlight; hence they wither and die. According to the bonsai guidelines a bonsai should in all intents and purposes resemble its wild counterpart, branches should be evenly spaced from the base to the apex where they will be more abundant. As we have stated nature itself is the best teacher Autumn/spring is a good time to view trees as their branch placement is easier to see. Below is a hand-drawn image to give you some idea of the guidelines.

Branch placement

Seasonal change – the Northern hemisphere at this juncture is in the depths of winter, hence collection is virtually impossible for obvious reasons; in temperate zones seasonal change does occur but it is generally gradual. Of course there are instances where adverse weather patterns can have dramatic effects for example, a cold front with record-level snowfall caused major problems in most parts of the Attica region of Greece – Wednesday 17th February 2021.

Venturing into the interior – in August 2017 we obtained this Ginkgo biloba also known as the maidenhair tree, it is the only living species in the order Ginkgoales, which first appeared over 290 million years ago. The leaves are unique among seed plants, being fan-shaped with two veins radiating out into the leaf blade instead of a central vein that is found on other plants.

Ginkgo biloba before and after work

The left image depicts the tree after purchase, the right image shows the tree in summer 2021 the question is how did we arrive at the final design as the tree had no potential. Venturing into the interior to discover trunk movement and branch placement, measurements were taken to mark the lengths of each section, then duplicated on paper. Having discovered the tree’s potential the design was formed, foliage and branches were pruned – the lower branch on the right was jinned; the tree’s nebari is visible and will develop over time.

As stated the right image shows the tree in early summer, we could have pruned it back but decided not to, it was time to give the tree a break from the shears. We hope this article will give you some idea of how find the front of your tree specimens and should you require more information then the book Taiga Bonzai ‘Simplifying the Art’ is available. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 67 – ‘Pursuing the vision not the money’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post we share our perception meaning the organization, identification, interpretation of information in order to represent and understand the presented information or environment and present it in a professional manner. 

Introduction – this article is for those who constantly send messages to Taiga Bonzai (T.B.) with comments including “Great site with innovated, interesting and educative articles on many topics, but I see that you don’t make money, let me show you how” and “why don’t you go on YouTube you can make money there.” There are reasons why we do not partake in such ventures, these will be explained and although we will probably be criticised for our point of view, we appreciate your concern and the interest shown.

The vision – T.B. pays a higher annual subscription for the privilege of preventing companies regardless of their intentions be they fair or foul from advertising on our site. We have been in operation since February 2016 – an on-going project filled with unique and engaging content unravelling the complexities associated with the world’s ‘oldest living art form’ via simplification.

The articles are educative informative discussions covering the many aspects of bonsai horticulture, read by our followers world-wide whom we invite to share views and ask questions, which many have entered into; we also engage in topics that are of a major concern including pests and disease.

Advertising – is a form of selling where communication is intended to persuade an audience or individual to purchase products or services regardless of whether they need them or not. Of course advertising if implemented in a professional manner does have its uses as vendors need to inform the public of their products, but it increasingly invades public spaces and in many cases is a constant annoyance.

For example if the vendor’s message fails to create interest they change strategy adopting different tactics including, unsolicited commercial email and other forms of spam that have become so widespread they are a major irritant to internet users and a financial burden on internet service providers.

YouTube – is an audio visual channel where countless people portray their various activities for example, homesteading, mechanics, restoration, culinary, bonsai horticulture and much more. The tools used, drones, various cameras, microphones and editing platforms have greatly improved over the years, but although are less expensive than broadcast equipment they are inferior unable to take the abuse they are put through. This evidence is borne by the people whom use said equipment that are constantly having to replace it due to misuse.

Arguably some of the footage aired is acceptable, but much of it is indifferent; it is what it is a ‘home video’ lacking in structure, content, context and directive failing to captivate the audience. However, we do not condemn this practise far from it, good luck to those who use YouTube as a platform to boost ratings gain sponsorship and if financial incentives are the reward then so be it.

T.B. – owns broadcast film equipment readily available should it be needed and as a professional filmmaker the old adage of ‘quality not quantity’ still remains our watchword, a perspective applied to all that is undertaken regardless of its genre. But as the pundits persist in saying “YouTube video presentations do not have to be broadcast standard” which, is a ludicrous and morally unacceptable statement; “If a task is worth doing, do it well or leave it alone“, you have all heard that phrase at sometime in your lives.

Bonsai horticultural practises are abundant on YouTube covering a number of topics including, seminars, workshops and demonstrations, but in the main the quality leaves much to be desired. To add to this a new approach has to be devised, one that has structure, content, context, meaning and message as governed by the laws of film language and its narrative structure, which the vast majority of YouTube presentations fail to adhere to. Professional filmmaking takes time to complete from the initial concept to the finished presentation.

Another important factor to consider is once one starts a YouTube channel, one has to continuously work at it on a regular basis to maintain a following and although some succeed in their endeavours, many fail. Moreover, the content has to of a moral standard according to YouTube guidelines whatever they are and failure to follow the rules can result in unwanted consequences.

For the foreseeable future Taiga Bonzai will remain in its current status – a platform continuing to write educative articles for our followers. Perhaps were are missing out by not chasing the filthy lucre, but do we want to go down the road of no return, not at this juncture – we prefer to pursue the vision not the money. Until next time BW; Nik.

‘filthy lucre’

Nota bene: In the last article 66 Unseen enemies update’ we gave reasons why restrictions were imposed due to unprecedented message problems, this has now ceased henceforth restrictions are now removed. However, should the onslaught reappear they will be reinstated; if you wish to contact us our email address can be found in the ‘about’ section at the top of the article.