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.

Article 66 – ‘Unseen enemies update’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post we share some of the comments we have received regarding article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’ and this series ‘Unseen enemies’.

Introduction – the viewpoints of our readers are many and varied with all having concerns on the ever increasing problem of pests and disease that are threatening our very existence. But to discuss them all at length would make this article far too long therefore, we will take a small selection 10 in total in reverse order and we thank all whom have commented on our articles. In addition, there were also questions that will be answered at the end.

  • 10. Amy Hardcastle – “I had heard of the problem with declining insect populations but I did not realise the situation was so severe, I do now! Thank you.”
  • 9. Leon Sanchez – “Your post unseen enemies 4 re: ‘Portugal confirmed its first case in 2019 on lavender’ certainly shows the severity of the problem with the deadly disease Xylella fastidiosa, congrats.”
  • 8. Gillian P. Simmonds – “Taiga bonzai certainly knows how to get people’s attention on topics that most fail to understand, we do have problems and I do agree they need to be addressed, please keep writing.”
  • 7. Jonas Olsson – “Great work, you have given the powers that be a strong clear message will they listen! I sincerely hope they do otherwise we will be in serious trouble.”
  • 6. Lilian Gough – “Many bloggers write good work but yours is on another level, your work is artistic informative and a pleasure to read if only there were more like you.”
  • 5. Heinz Muller – “Bug apocalypse and unseen enemies really drive the message home here’s hoping the bureaucrats take note, very good articles.”
  • 4. Andrew Billings – “Talent is a hard to find in these days especially on subjects such as yours – you are able to get the message across, enjoyable reading, I look forward to more.”
  • 3. Galen Jonak – “It’s hard to come by well-informed people on this topic, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks”
  • 2. Taren Vanlier – “May I simply say what a relief to uncover a person that really understands what they are talking about on the internet. You actually know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people really need to check this out and understand this side of the story. I can’t believe you’re not more popular given that you certainly possess the gift.”
  • 1. Dalton Beitz – “I’m amazed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is an issue that not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something concerning this.”

The questions – there were many on pests and disease for example, how to eradicate them and by what methods, the protection of forests and woodland, tighter restrictions on importation, new phytosanitary regulations and will there be any detriment to bonsai horticulture.

1. Eradicating pests and disease – “What methods of eradicating pests and disease are currently in use and what is the success rate?”

For aeons agriculturists and horticulturists around the globe have been trying to halt the onslaught of pest and diseases that have devastated crops, forests and woodland. Many of these unwanted entities have arrived either by wind (pathogens) and wing (Insecta) and through packaging in more recent times. To date over 1 million species of insects have been discovered and described, but it is estimated that approximately 10 million exist on earth. For plant pathogens there are over 100 for every tree species. (60,065 in total)

Many we know of and are able to eradicate via insecticide and fungicide, but many chemicals are no longer effective and/or are not available for general public use for obvious reasons. Pesticides widely used include Cypermethrin, Glyphosate, Lambda Cyhalothrin, Chlorpyriphos, Cypermethrin Acetamiprid and Profenos Cypermethrin. However, insecta can become immune for example, the cotton bollworm Helicoverpa armigera has documented resistance to 49 pesticides. Pathogens are able to mutate and many are not affected by fungicide sprays and in some cases there is no chemical cure; hence the success rate is minimal to say the least. Science has to find solutions that are safe not just for humans but also the environment.

2. Woodland and forest protection – “What methods or practises are in place to protect forests and woodland?”

Practically all foresters are knowledgeable regarding the health and status of their plants and are able to detect problems quite quickly when symptoms appear. However, there are diseases that attack tree root and water conducting systems for which the signs are not visible until it is too late for example, Armillaria and Xylella fastidiosa. Anthracnose and Fire blight are visible as they attack foliage and small branches, infected trees by the above die within a short space of time, hence they are normally removed and burnt to avoid further contamination.

Aftermath of Xylella fastidiosa

Borers are perhaps the most harmful to trees, Asian Longhorned beetle Anoplophora glabripennis (China and Korea), Bronze Birch borer Agrilus anxius (United States), Emerald Ash borer Agrilus planipennis (China), Sirex woodwasp Sirex noctilio (Worldwide) and Dutch Elm Disease DED (UK). Evidence of their existence are particles of wood dust at the base of the trunk the result of tunneling into the tree’s cortex where eggs are laid and eradicating them is extremely difficult. 

3. Tighter restrictions on importation – “You have brought to awareness through your articles the problems with pest and disease control, will tightening the rules further reduce the problem?”

The World Trade Organization (WTO formed on January 1st 1995 with 164 members) is an intergovernmental organization that regulates and facilitates international trade between nations. Governments use the organization to establish, revise and enforce the rules that govern international trade. However, there are 14 countries who are not members including, Aruba, Eritrea, Kiribati, Kosovo, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Nauru, North Korea, Palau, the Palestinian Territories, San Marino, Sint Maarten and Tuvalu.

Therefore, it is extremely difficult to enforce rules and regulations further if there is stiff opposition, because trade rules for agriculture remain an extremely sensitive issue. This is particularly the case when agricultural imports carry the threat of disease. Nonetheless, under the rules of the WTO member countries are allowed to restrict the importation of agricultural products from diseased regions should potential risks be apparent.

4. New phytosanitary regulations – “What do these new rules entail and can they be enforced?”

Every country on the planet is a sovereign nation and has the supreme right to make or change laws as it so desires regardless of what treaties or agreements are in place. However, the nations in the EU block have to abide by the rules laid down by the commission, but the UK has parted company with the block and has no obligation to adhere to any mandate. The latter passed new phytosanitary regulations in January 2021 due to diseases that are now rife in Europe, any country wishing to trade with the UK has to abide these new measures. Such mandates are regulatory in other nations including Australia, North America, Canada and Russia.

5. A detriment to bonsai horticulture – “Will these new restrictions have an effect on the bonsai fraternity?”

We are researching and monitoring new laws and what we can divulge is the from the 1st January 2022 according to the UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs

“All plants, plant products and other objects categorised as either ‘regulated and notifiable’ or ‘regulated’ must be accompanied by a Phytosanitary Certificate – All plants, plant products and other objects categorised as ‘regulated’ will require pre-notification, but only if instructed to do so upon submitting a customs import declaration.”

Since leaving the EU, importing goods from the UK has and is an arduous affair with more paperwork and additional import duty costs and these new regulations now in situ just exacerbate the issue. Meaning purchasing bonsai products from the UK will not be impossible, but extremely tedious and time consuming. No doubt the EU will probably reciprocate due to their petty minded bureaucracy because of the UK’s actions. However, there are many bonsai outlets on mainland Europe and other countries where the restrictions although in force are less rigid.

We wrote article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’ because we were asked to do so, ‘Unseen enemies’ was a follow on because the two are connected. It was felt that these issues not high on governments agenda needed to brought to the public awareness due to the severity of the current situation, which if not addressed will spiral out of control.

Turning to another issue that is of great concern to us, is the vast amount of comments we have received on one post in particular article 50 – ‘Used, Abused and Unloved’. In the previous 2 days the total exceeded over 1,000 and today (Saturday 8th January) another 480 were lodged, this colossal amount on one article is unprecedented; hence investigation is in progress.

The comments themselves were not malicious in any shape or form quite the opposite and many required a response, but dealing with them is time consuming therefore, rules have been tightened in the hope that the onslaught will decrease. For example, (a) Comment author must fill out name and e-mail and (b) Users must be registered and logged in to comment. T.B. is not in favour of imposing restrictions we want our site to be available to all, but for the moment necessity compels. Until next time, BW, Nik.  

Article 65 – ‘Unseen enemies’ Part 4

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post the final one in this series we look at the points of view of others whom have various opinions on how to tackle the ever increasing problem of pests and disease; a major threat to our very existence. But whatever course of action deemed necessary taken either by individuals, communities and/or sovereign nations, there will always be stiff opposition and the threat of sanctions of one description or another due to bureaucracy and petty mindedness.

Introduction – thus far we have highlighted the many factors responsible for the present situation that we as humans now face all of which are of our own making. The financial cost of it all to date has been phenomenal and will continue to ensue rising exponentially where sustainability, (meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs) will not be possible; bringing us to the point of no return. We now view some of the directives of nations whom are attempting to arrest the situation from their own perspective.

United Nations FAO -at a conference in Rome 3rd April 2019 Bukar Tijani assistant director general for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Consumer Protection Department stated that. “With increased trade and travel, the risks of plant pests spreading into new areas across borders is now higher than ever before. Each day we witness a shocking number of threats to the well-being of our plants and by extension to our health, environment and economy.”

FAO estimates that annually between 20 to 40 percent of global crop production is lost to pests. Each year plant diseases cost the global economy around $220 billion and invasive insects around $70 billion. “Many farmers and governments grapple with warding off highly destructive pests and diseases that are – on top of everything else – also new to them. The International Plant Protection Convention IPPC provides them with the tools and knowledge to keep their plants healthy and prevent pests from jumping borders.” added Tijani.

New IPPC standards adopted – 1. fumigation methods, this is in response to growing concerns over fumigants that can be harmful to human health and the environment. The standard sets requirements for temperature, duration, fumigants and quantity to make fumigation effective and puts forward solutions to lessen fumigations environmental impact by using recapture technology to reduce gas emissions. 2. Diagnostics protocols that describe procedures and methods for the official diagnosis of six pests, including the oriental fruit fly Bactrocera dorsalis and Xylella fastidiosa ensuring a correct diagnosis is essential to catalyze rapid actions to manage the pests.

B. dorsalis has affected trees such as avocado, banana, guava and mango in at least 65 countries. In Africa, import trade bans due to oriental fruit fly infestations cause annual losses of around $2 billion. Xylella fastidiosa is a deadly bacteria that attacks economically important crops such as olive, citrus, plum trees and grapevines. Since 2015, it’s been rapidly spreading from the Americas to Europe and Asia. Once the disease infiltrates a plant, it is there to stay, it starves the plant of water until the plant dies or becomes too weak to grow fruit. X. fastidiosa costs $104 million per year in wine losses in California and in Italy the bacteria has led to the decline of 180,000 hectares of olive groves destroying many centuries-old trees; a loss of €390 million over three years. X. fastidiosa constitutes a threat not only to Italy but to all the Mediterranean region’s economy.

X. fastidiosa is not known to be in the UK however, there have been outbreaks of the disease in mainland Europe in France, Italy and Spain. Portugal confirmed its first case in 2019 on lavender hence, the UK Government is concerned about how to prevent the disease being accidentally brought into the country on imported plants. In 2020 Lord Framlingham a Conservative peer asked the Government what the UK’s regulations are regarding X. fastidiosa.

UK regulations – were to introduce measures to strengthen the protection of plants from certain pests and diseases, including Xylella. They were made under article 52 of the EU Plant Health Regulation allowing the UK to take additional temporary national measures if they inform the European Commission and put forward a technical case to request EU measures against a specific pest, but those measures have not or will not be introduced in time to mitigate the risk concerned.

Moreover, the UK Government has argued that current EU emergency measures on Xylella do not address risks highlighted in the UK’s pest risk analysis on the disease. In particular, it is not clear if or when the EU emergency measures will be reviewed to address these risks and ensure a greater degree of assurance of disease freedom, in relation to plants of those species being moved in the EU and introduced from third countries. As such, there remains an unacceptable level of pest risk and this instrument introduces national measures under article 52, in the absence of EU requirements.

The European Commission’s response – in a decision on 4 June 2020, the European Commission said that it informed the UK the new national measures “that go beyond the existing requirements, are not supported by most recent scientific justification and are disproportionate.” It stated that the UK “should amend the UK Official Controls Regulations of 2019, by removing the amendments concerning Xylella fastidiosa and Ceratocystis platani which were made to those regulations by the UK Official Controls Regulations of 2020.”

On 19 June 2020, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stated that the UK disagreed with the European Commission’s conclusions and that it was disappointed that “the opportunity has not been taken to extend the UK measures across the EU, providing enhanced protections for the EU’s member states.” Defra argued “that the biosecurity threat regarding the pests had not changed and the rationale for introducing stronger requirements remained.”

The department said it continued to encourage stakeholders and industry to “employ risk management practices which maintain the robust protection and assurance that the Defra regulations provide.” Defra also stated that The Animal and Plant Health Agency and the devolved administrations will continue to carry out intensive inspections of imported plants, taking account of risk factors such as origin, presence of insect vectors and suspect symptoms. “We will keep the need for any further actions under review in light of the ongoing risk situation, including developments in the EU and the results of our own surveillance.”

The Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) is also in agreement, plant health is increasingly under threat. Climate change and human activities have altered ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and creating new niches where pests and diseases can thrive. At the same time, international travel and trade has tripled in volume in the last decade and can quickly spread pests and diseases around the world causing great damage to horticulture, crops and the environment. New statutory controls on importing plants and plant products into the UK to safeguard plant health. “Meaning that plant material entering the UK will require a phytosanitary certificate (PC); the EU plant passport is no longer valid in the UK.” 

The U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE – (USDA) state that world trade has significantly increased over the years to meet the growing demand and at this moment in time (December 2021) America is the only country to import more than it exports. USDA researchers Michael Livingston, Craig Osteen and Donna Roberts argue “That this increase in agricultural imports raise the risk of inadvertently introducing foreign pests and diseases.” which has been proven to be the case. For example, the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle introduced in the 1990’s are creating serious damage to trees in the Northeast and Great Lakes States.

More recently Ralstonia solanacearum, a bacterial pathogen that damages potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and other horticultural products was detected on greenhouse geraniums imported from Kenya and Guatemala. “The cost of foreign pests and diseases can also include the temporary loss of export markets, such as when Japan, Korea and other countries suspended imports of U.S. beef when bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was detected in an imported cow in December 2003.” Studies by the National Plant Board, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Technology Assessment and others report that foreign pests and diseases cause billions of dollars of economic losses to U.S. agriculture each year, while also adversely affecting ecosystem values and services.

These cost estimates include sizable public expenditures, including emergency funding to address new pest or disease threats and outbreaks. Today, 21 Federal agencies are responsible for some aspect of managing foreign pests and diseases in the United States. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has by far, the leading role accounting for about $9 out of every $10 that the Federal Government spends annually on prevention and control of foreign pests and diseases. Annual expenditures for APHIS programs ranged from $1.1 to $1.5 billion between 2003 and 2007 including, emergency expenditures for programs such as increased BSE surveillance in 2004-06 and the introduction of import bans.

In evaluating such bans, economists try to measure the benefits of imports against the management production market and/or resource costs that might be associated with an outbreak of a disease or pest. Studies show that this varies on a case-by-case basis. Import bans have reduced total welfare in some cases, because the cost of disease establishment was out weighed by the consumer benefits from imports. For example, APHIS estimated that the annual net benefits of replacing a long standing ban on imports of Mexican avocados with more targeted phytosanitary measures totaled about $70 million, providing analysis support for USDA’s decision to grant Mexico full access to the U.S. market in 2007.

A recent study by an ERS economist, which examined options for policies to reduce the risk of entry of the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly), illustrates how economic analysis can inform public decision making. The medfly is a serious pest for many fruit and vegetable crops and is known to exist in 65 foreign countries. (hereafter referred to as quarantine countries) APHIS allows imports of fresh produce from these countries only if they have been treated to eliminate medfly larvae. Currently, eight treatments are approved for the medfly. One of the most widely used is cold treatment, under which produce imported for fresh consumption must be refrigerated according to specific schedules (temperature-duration combinations) before allowed entry into U.S. markets.

Australian viewpoint – pests and diseases are a significant social, economic and environmental burden for Australia. They can affect primary production productivity; access to export markets, public health and
amenity; conservation of biodiversity and the natural and built environments to our individual and collective detriment. These effects can reveal themselves through increased costs of production, loss of or restrictions to export trade, reduced tourism, loss of biodiversity, greater public health costs and reduced public amenity.

Some introduced pests and diseases such as pest animals (rabbits, foxes, carp), weeds (blackberry, mimosa), animal diseases (Johne’s disease) and plant pests (potato cyst nematode) have become established over time in Australia with no prospect of eradication. Some of these pests and diseases may have economic, environmental or social impacts of national significance. Consequently, a nationally coordinated approach may be required. Given the shared responsibilities for their management among stakeholder groups, the effective management of nationally significant threats requires clarity of policy direction, priority, roles and responsibilities.

Governments at the national, state and territory levels; industry and individual landholders have invested jointly and individually in pest and disease management over many decades. These investments have been made across the biosecurity continuum onshore, at the border and offshore. Managing biosecurity is critical to a sustainable and productive agricultural sector and healthy environment. It protects our farmers and our environment from the impacts of serious pests and diseases that can significantly increase the costs of production and market access, domestically and internationally and affect our native flora and fauna. Effective management of established pests and diseases also assists Australia to meet its obligations with respect to international trade.

Under the Coalition of Australian Governments Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity signed in 2012, Australian governments are progressing reforms to strengthen the national biosecurity system. The objective is to deliver more effective and more sustainable biosecurity outcomes for governments, industry and the broader community. One focus of this agreement is to establish a national framework for managing established pests and diseases of national significance. Consistent with emerging policy across numerous portfolio areas, there are opportunities to:

  • move away from government enforcement as a primary means of managing the impacts of established pests and diseases
  • adopt approaches in which the nature and magnitude of investment is determined by the extent and balance of public and private benefits
  • focus public investments on strategic functions including addressing market failure
  • promote more collaborative working arrangements between government and those stakeholders directly affected by established pests and diseases rather than have stakeholder groups acting in isolation.”

World Trade Organisation (WTO) – Kamal Saggi and Mark Wu in their World Trade Review Volume 16 Issue 2nd April 2017, pp. 279 – 302, state “Global exports of agricultural goods exceeded $1.7 trillion in 2014, with food accounting for over 80% of the total value.” “Such cross-border movement of food and agricultural goods helps ensure the sustenance and economic well-being of billions around the world. Yet, trade rules for agriculture remain an extremely sensitive issue. This is particularly the case when agricultural imports carry the threat of disease.”

Not surprisingly then, under the rules of the World Trade Organization member countries are allowed to restrict the importation of agricultural products from diseased regions. However, if governments could do so without limitation then this freedom could quickly devolve into a protectionist excuse that has the potential to seriously thwart trade liberalisation in the agricultural sector.”

Saggi and Wu argue that relevant WTO rules therefore, “must seek to balance two competing objectives providing sufficient flexibility for sovereign governments to regulate imports from diseased regions,” while simultaneously culling out protectionist measures for which the threat of diseased imports simply serves as an excuse for keeping imports at bay. “Getting this balance right is tricky, in 1994, Uruguay Round negotiators drafted the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) to spell out in detail the requirements that a WTO member must follow when seeking to ban or restrict imports of agricultural goods.”

Summary – our journey began with the dawn of time mentioning microbes and bacteria, arrival of plant life, dinosaur era, the early hominins and their eventual adaptation to community life and trade. To say that as a species we have evolved through a ‘life-long’ learning curve into a civilised society in reality is a misnomer, one only has to look at history and the present day shenanigans to substantiate this fact.

We know that every country has its own endemic pest and disease problems, some have invaded other lands by wind and wing a natural phenomenon and also by the hand of man resulting in consequences on a catastrophic scale, which we have little chance of eradicating. Because (a) we cannot see the problem until it is too late and (b) we lack the technical knowledge of how to arrest the situation. Yes there are many chemical solutions that can be used, but not all are effective especially with the many of pests and diseases we have mentioned in these articles. Moreover, these chemicals are not only dangerous to human health they eek into the soil killing microbes, earthworms, nematodes and other much needed creatures.

It can be agreed that commerce is an important factor in the modern world, but our attention to detail has been lackadaisical to say the least. Countless goods have been exported in infested packaging worldwide – the pests and disease have escaped multiplying in their millions ravaging agriculture and forestry. Many nations are now spending billions to eradicate pests and disease and the cost is escalating, whilst poorer under developed countries whose national GDP is practically non-existent suffer in silence and starve.

As stated at the beginning “whatever course of action deemed necessary taken either by individuals, communities and/or sovereign nations, there will always be stiff opposition and the threat of sanctions of one description or another.” Yet nations continue to blame each other instead of looking closer to home, it is imperative that we find common ground to seek solutions to curb the never ending invasion of pests and disease world-wide, failure to do so will result in devastating consequences.

As a species we rely heavíly on an array of factors vital to our very existence including technology, transport, housing, energy, education, medicine, clean water, forestry and agriculture for our immediate needs. If these are not protected then we face the inevitable – a world of devastation, dire water scarcity, where famine and pestilence rampage amok. Is this a world we want our children’s children and their descendants to inherit?

Image courtesy of Thanh Nien News

It is nearly 2 years since covid 19 reared its ugly head – many countries are now in phase 4 and a new variant Omicron has emerged, over 5 million lives have been lost due to ignorance and official incompetency and the figures are climbing. In reality, nations government’s handling of C19 has been a blatant scandalous failure moreover, diseases including Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Syphilis and Chlamydia, Scarlet Fever, Measles, Mumps, Whooping Cough and Legionnaires disease once eradicated are now returning in many parts of the world.

We wrote this series of articles to highlight the problems man has created and battled with for aeons, a predicament that is now escalating unprecedentedly. If the powers that be are inept in controlling C19 when scientific knowledge is available, how can they solve this issue where idiosyncrasy and bureaucratic meddling will undoubtedly ensue; the popular myth (although untrue) “Nero fiddles while Rome burns” is appropriate here. American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) stated that “Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities – Fact is not.” These articles are not fictional tales of realism, they are reality. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 64 – ‘Unseen enemies’ Part 3

Hi, and welcome to Taiga Bonzai, in this post we continue our journey bringing to light the catastrophic failures of mankind’s idiosyncratic actions.

Introduction – according to the Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and its network of 500 member organisations, there are 60,065 species of trees in the world, many are rare and threatened with extinction. If we multiplied the number of tree species with the number of known pests and disease all with different triggers, the statistics would not only be bewildering but also incomprehensible. Here we highlight more increasing problems the world has to face beginning with a few examples of the many deadly diseases for which at this juncture there is little or no control.

DiseaseArmillaria Root – according to Guido Schnabel of the Clemson University School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences, “Armillaria root rot caused by the fungus Armillaria tabescens wreaks havoc on rootstocks, killing young and old peach and cherry trees before spreading to neighbouring trees.” “Between 1987 and 1992 Armillaria root rot caused an estimated $3.86 million to the peach industry and between 2000 and 2002, more than $1.5 million in damage to the Georgia peach industry.”

The first symptoms of an Armillaria infection are chlorotic leaves, stunted growth and sudden collapse of shoots, an obvious sign that infection is there is due to the presence of clusters of mushrooms around the base of an infected plant. Fungi sprouting from an A. mellea infection are honey-coloured to dark brown and have a domed cap. “Depending on species, the mushrooms may or may not have an annulus around the stalk or caps that are more disc-shaped.”

Armillaria mellea

This devastating disease can be caused by other Armillaria species as well, A. mellea is the primary pathogen in northern states causing premature peach tree decline, with the potential for significant annual losses. In Michigan, the predominant fungus is A. ostoyoe found in tart cherry orchards, unfortunately there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to protect trees and Armillaria infections have taken many prime orchard sites out of production causing a huge loss of revenue.

Anthracnose – high on the list of devastation is widespread and considered an important disease in most countries. It is caused by a group of fungi in the genus Colletotrichum, that attacks leaves, twigs, flowers and fruits of a great number of tree and shrubs.

Anthracnose disease

Apple scab is a common disease of apple and crabapple tree varieties, as well as Mountain ash Sorbus and pear. It is caused by a fungus Venturia inaequalis that infects leaves and fruit, leaving the latter unsuitable for eating. Leaf spots are olive green at first, later turning dark brown to black. Infected fruit turns colour in a similar fashion, ending up brown, corky and deformed.

Apple Scab disease

Thousand canker disease – affects many plants including walnuts Juglans sp. It is mainly found in the Western United States however, black walnuts trees in Tennessee were found to be infected in the summer of 2020. It is vectored by walnut twig beetles Pityophthorus juglandis and forms small cankers around their galleries. As time progresses these small cankers coalesce to girdle branches and stems and trees can be infected for years before symptoms become visible for example, foliage in the upper branches of declining trees wilt and become yellow. Once a tree begins to decline it is often dead within a few years and at present there are no chemical management solutions to control the disease.

Walnut twig Beetle

Thus far we have given examples (albeit in brief) of the devastation caused by some of the many thousands of insects and disease, adding more examples would probably substantiate the argument further, but this task has already been accomplished. In the book ‘Taiga Bonzai – Simplifying The art’ (Revised Edition), 2 chapters reveal extensive information on these subjects, c.13 concentrates on ‘Pest and Disease’ and c.14 discusses ‘Toxicity’ nevertheless, we will return to this topic in part 4.

We now turn our attention to plants needed for our survival namely fruit and vegetables starting with one of the world’s oldest fruits the humble apple, the bureaucracy over production, the controversy surrounding it and the diseases that attack various species of this particular fruit.

The appleMalus domestica, its ancestor Malus sieversii originated in Central Asia 4 thousand years ago. Today there are 7,500 apple varieties throughout the world – 2,500 of which are grown in the United States. In the 2019/2020 crop year, China was the leading producer of apples its production amounted to 41 million metric tons, the European Union came in second place with approximately 11.48 million metric tons.

The UK has been producing apples since the Roman occupation (AD 43 to AD 410) however, production is now in serious decline due to bureaucracy and trade problems with the EU, hence growers are given payments to burn their orchards. Natural England and the National Trust claimed 60% of England’s orchards had disappeared since the 1950s and have launched a £500,000 project aimed at halting the decline. The crisis has been even worse in some areas such as Devon, which has lost almost 90% of its orchards. According to David Bullock, the head of nature conservation at the National Trust, “Traditional orchards have been disappearing at an alarming rate. We are in real danger of losing these unique habitats.” ( April 2009)

The orchard – Apples trees need space to grow, dwarf varieties require a minimum of 5m, standard trees need a distance of 9 to 11m. But this distance is inadequate because, as the trees mature they spread out, thus the risk of cross contamination from bacterium and fungal spores increases. In 2017 the total area harvested in the world for apples was 4,933,841 hectares. But, apples are not the only fruit produced, other varieties include apricot, pear, peach, plum and damson, hence the land mass required increases – these varieties predominantly cultivars are also susceptible to attack, thus the orchard becomes the playground for disease.

Such diseases include: Fire Blight a contagious disease affecting apples, pears, and some other members of the family Rosaceae. It is a serious concern to apple and pear producers and is believed to be indigenous to North America, from where it spread world-wide. Powdery mildew Podosphaera leucotricha a fungus that forms a dense white fungal growth (mycelium) on the host tissue affecting leaves, buds and shoots. Black Rot and FrogEye Leaf Spot Botryosphaeria obtusa attack fruit, leaves and bark of apple trees, Phytophthora Rot a soil-borne fungal disease by the pathogen Phytophthora sojae causes seed rot and attacks roots and stems; trees infected by such pathogens are usually destroyed.

However, there are apple tree varieties that are said to be disease resistant for example, Liberty, Freedom, Dorsett Golden, Enterprise, Goldrush, Pristine, Arkansas Black and Williams Pride which are American cultivars. European apple trees include, Topaz, Herefordshire Russet and Otava, but can the claims of being disease resistant to all insects and pathogens be substantiated – in short the answer is probably not. But arguably much depends on a particular climate zone; arid, humid, wet and cold. Moreover, these zones harbour other pests for example, the Round headed apple tree borer, European red mites, Red banded and oblique banded leaf rollers, Rosy aphids, Woolly aphids, Green fruit worms, Leafhoppers and Japanese beetles.

Horticultural methods – Generally speaking there are two schools of thought when growing crops either by conventional methods or organic. Conventionally grown is an agriculture term referring to a method of growing edible plants such as fruit and vegetables. This method of cultivation often use fertilizers and pesticides which allow for higher yield, out of season growth, greater resistance, longevity and greater mass. It is opposite to organic growing methods which attempt to produce crops without the use of synthetic chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones) or genetically modified organisms. (GMO)

Organic versus Conventional – people have very strong opinions on which method of horticulture is better, some advocate a preference for organic because it is healthier, tastes better and growers refrain from using pesticides. But there are negatives to this approach, fruit and vegetable yields will suffer due to the inevitable onslaught of pests and disease during the growing season for example. Many insects attack Brassica species the most common are diamondback moth Plutella xylostella also called cabbage moth, tobacco cutworm, aphids and many others. Hence more is planted to compensate for the loss and although organically grown food is preferable and more beneficial to consumers because it does not contain chemicals; it is more expensive.

Conventionally grown (GMO) – uses seeds that have been genetically modified to grow plants that have a faster growth rate, higher yields, are said to be pest and disease resistant and are cheaper to buy nonetheless, there are negatives to this approach. The use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on fruit and vegetables may eradicate many known pests and disease, but also kills insects that are beneficial for example, the lady bird beetle Coccinellidae a predator extremely proficient in eradicating aphids and scale colonies.

Additional problems arise because conventional horticulture often results in the soil being malnourished moreover, over spraying of pesticides can lead to greater resistance creating ‘super pests’ that cannot be eradicated. This will eventually lead to the development of stronger pesticides causing serious side effects in those whom consume the product.

Other nations Nilaparvata lugens the brown plant hopper (BPH), is a planthopper species that feeds on rice plants Oryza sativa L. These insects are among the most serious pests of rice a major staple crop for more than half the world’s population. They damage rice directly through feeding and also by transmitting two viruses, rice ragged stunt virus and rice grassy stunt virus. Up to 60% yield loss is common in rice cultivars attacked by this insect. BPH is found throughout Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, North and South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

Nilaparvata lugens

The brown plant hopper is dimorphic and can be either ‘macropterous’ (long wings) or ‘brachypterous’ (short wings) forms. The macropterous forms are migrants and invade new fields/paddies, adults usually mate on the day of emergence, and the females start laying eggs from the day following mating. Brachypterous females lay 300 to 350 eggs, whereas macropterous females lay fewer eggs; the eggs hatch in about six to nine days.

In Asia, India has the largest area for rice cultivation occupying 29.4 % of the global area, but has the lowest yield. The conventional paddy growing practices are in crisis due to social, biological and technical setbacks, yet there is a growing demand for rice due to ever burgeoning population. Rice demand in 2010 was estimated to be 100 million tonnes and this would increase by 50% in 2025 to assure food security in the world’s rice-consuming countries. However, with water becoming scarce many fields are drying out and coupled with increasing infestations of Nilaparvata lugens causing yield loss, it will difficult to fulfil the demand.

The cotton bollworm Helicoverpa armigera is a major pest of cotton Gossypium spp. maize, Zea mays, pulses, Fabaceae tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum and sorghum bicolor throughout most of the world, but has only recently arrived in the Americas where it is rapidly spreading. It has documented resistance to 49 pesticides and is one of the most polyphagous and cosmopolitan pest species. 

Helicoverpa armigera

This species of Lepidoptera is found in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Africa and South America. The adults emerge from the soil in the first 3 weeks of May and 2-6 days later and oviposition begins; a period lasting between 5-24 days. Within this time frame, a female may lay up to 3180 eggs up to 457 in 24 hours singly and mainly at night on various crops. Including, chickpeas, cotton, maize, okras, tobacco, tomatoes; when temperatures rise to 25°C, the eggs will hatch in 3 days and larvae immediately begin crop infestation and devastation. When fully fed, the larvae descend to the soil after 1-7 days pupate in an earthen cell 2-8 cm below the surface.

Pesticides – of which there are many used to control Helicoverpa armigera including, Lambda Cyhalothrin, Chlorpyriphos, Cypermethrin Acetamiprid and Profenos Cypermethrin, but as stated previously this pest has documented resistance to 49 pesticides. Moreover, as these articles thus far have pointed out many pests and disease cannot be eradicated.

In 2020 global pesticide usage was estimated to increase from 2 million tonnes to 3.5 million tonnes with China being the main user 1,763,000 tons followed by America 407,779 tons, Brazil 377,176 tons and Argentina 196,009 tons. One may argue that pesticides are beneficial for crop production, but extensive use of pesticides can possess serious consequences because of their bio-magnification and persistent nature.

Diverse pesticides directly or indirectly pollute air, water, soil and overall ecosystem which cause serious health hazards for living beings, one only has to look at the tens of thousands of lawsuits filed against Monsanto (now part of Bayer) over their chemical ‘Roundup’. In the final article of this series part 4 we look at the arguments in the attempt to halt the global invasion of pests and disease; until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 63 – ‘Unseen enemies’ Part 2

Hi, and welcome to Taiga Bonzai, in this post we continue our journey trying to make sense of mankind’s actions both past and present and the consequences that have happened and those that will inevitably occur at some future juncture; it is not a question of if – it is a question of when.

Introduction – In part 1. of this series we discussed the appearance of bacteria, microorganisms and plant life, the dinosaur era to early mankind, trade via the silk road, pests and disease, the Justinian plague, rules and restrictions. In this article we reveal some of the effects of mankind’s blunderous decisions.

The Microbe – as we have stated science has told us that microorganisms can exist in a single-cell form or a colony like bacteria and fungi and although they are often associated with dirt and disease, most microbes are beneficial. But as we are aware there exist those microbes, fungi and pathogens that have lethal potential as the inhabitants of Guanahaní (San Salvador) found to their cost courtesy of Christopher Columbus and his entourage when they arrived there on 12th of October 1492; the result human infectious diseases, mayhem and death. Evidence shows that mankind has shaped the world in his own volition, but in reality the outcome is questionable.

The stowaways – another example of man’s irresponsible behaviour – on December 7th 1941 at 7:55 a.m. (Hawaii time) the Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto attacked the American naval base at Pearl harbour and according to Gill, G. Hermon (Royal Australian Navy 1939–1942. ‘Australia in the War of 1939–1945’. Series 2) “Over the course of seven hours there were coordinated attacks on the U.S. held Philippines, Guam and Wake islands and on the British territories in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong.” This prompted the Americans and British to step up military armament production as further confrontation on the territories of Australia and New Zealand was deemed imminent.

As armament production increased it was packed in wooden crates and transported to the docks where it stayed prior to being loaded on to transport ships, during this inactive period many insect species entered the crates possibly to find shelter; once the crates reached their destinations and were unloaded the insects were free to wander. In 1945, the first wasp Vespula germanica endemic to the Northern Hemisphere was discovered at an air force base near Hamilton in New Zealand; it has been suggested that a hibernating queen had arrived in a crate containing aircraft parts from Europe.

Vespula germanica

V. germanica was also found in Tasmania in 1959 and by 1978 had crossed the Tasman Sea and entered Australia, now countless colonies are common place in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia. V. germanica nest in cavities that include holes in the ground, spaces under homes, wall crevices, eaves and rafters. This predator having no known enemies attacks bee hives, a major problem for the Australian and New Zealand honey industry and if provoked will attack all including humans with devastating results.

According to Elle Hunt in her article for ‘The Guardian’ (Jan 17th 2017) analysis shows that “Australia’s bees and wasps revealed to be as dangerous as its snakes, more than half of deaths from bites and stings between 2000 and 2013 were the result of anaphylactic shock.” Was the introduction of V.germanica to Australia and New Zealand a simple mistake or a blatant error of judgement? Whatever the arguments the consequences are dire these two countries have a major problem on their hands. Similarly much can be said of other nations whom transport their merchandise around the globe with the same complacent attitude.

The invaders – Borers are perhaps the most harmful to trees, The Asian Longhorned beetle Anoplophora glabripennis native to eastern China, and Korea has been introduced into the United States, where it was first discovered in 1996, and in Canada and several countries in Europe including, Austria, France, Germany, Italy and UK. This beetle is believed to have been spread from Asia in solid wood packaging material. A. glabripennis primarily infest maple, poplar, willow, and elm trees. In the United States it has attacked birch, katsura, ash, planes and Sorbus; In Canada on maple, birch, poplar and willow and in Europe on maple, alder, birch, hornbeam, beech, ash, planes, poplar, Prunus, willow and Sorbus.

The Bronze Birch borer Agrilus anxius is a wood-boring Buprestid beetle native to North America numerous in warmer parts of the continent where it thrives. It is a serious pest on birch trees Betula frequently killing them and if this insect came to Europe there would be no hope for Birch forests as the trees have no resistance against this species of insect; hence the effect on Scandinavia’s Birch industry would be catastrophic.

The Bronze Birch borer

The Emerald Ash Borer Agrilus planipennis, a devastating alien pest of ash trees was first detected in Europe in Moscow in 2003. Its outbreak in the cities of European Russia seriously damaged plantations of Ash trees Fraxinus pennsylvanica introduced from North America. This alien pest posing a major threat to ash trees all over Europe has spread to Ukraine and the south of European Russia and severely damages the green ash F. pennsylvanica; research indicates that will appear in other European countries soon with the potential to destroy F. pennsylvanica plantations.

Emerald Ash borer

The Chinese emerald ash borer found its way to America via international shipping, when it gained its freedom it was greeted with a fresh new smorgasbord of North American ash trees Fraxinus americana, thus making itself a new home in which to reside. To date the amount of devastation to millions of ash trees is now in the tens of millions across 25 states.

Airborne invasion – We know that many pests and disease have migrated throughout the world by conventional methods, in the packaging containing merchandise and sometimes in the merchandise itself; mainly via land sea and air. However, these modes of transportation is not the only way for pests and disease to migrate to other realms. There are those whom are able to take to the wing and reach altitudes of 2,000m some actually fly, whilst other drift on the air currents. For example, the Desert Locust Schistocerca gregaria a periodically swarming, short-horned grasshopper from Africa destroys thousands of hectares of crops on its migration eastwards, these pests can easily reach and altitude of 2,000m and cover a distance of up to 200 km in a single day.

Those that tend to drift on the air currents and travel vast distances include pathogens that are microscopic, the average size of most bacteria is between 0.2 and 2.0 micrometer, (diameter) – fungal spores typically range in size from 2 to 50 μm in diameter, with most allergenic spores in the respirable size range of 3 to 10 μm. Such pathogens when earthbound are able to create their own colonies if conditions allow and can attack vulnerable vegetation including food crops, flowering/fruiting plants and trees; at this juncture methods of control are inadequate. The old adage that ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is meaningful, but the devastation of ‘unseen enemies’ only becomes visible when it is too late to react.

Sirex noctilio

Sirex woodwasp (Sirex noctilio) a species of horntail native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa is an invasive species in other realms including Australia, New Zealand, North and South America and South Africa where it has become a significant economic pest of pine trees especially Pinus radiata. The wasp can attack a wide variety of pine species, although some species seem to be more susceptible than others and stressed trees often are attacked. It is believed that this insect was introduced on unprocessed pine logs imported from Europe.

P. radiata were first planted in the late nineteenth century in Australia, Chile, New Zealand and in South Africa during the early 1900’s, their excellent growth provided the basis for thriving lumber and paper industries. During 1920’s and 30’s the lumber industry stagnated because the demand for small logs from thinning operations decreased, hence thinning ceased which made plantations susceptible to S. noctilio and its associated fungus, Amylostereum areolatum. By 1947, high levels of tree mortality were occurring, primarily in the un-thinned plantations causing devastation to the lumber and paper industries.

Adult sirex woodwasps vary in size from 9 to 36 mm (0.35 to 1.42 in), during oviposition the female will lays 2 eggs often with a mucoid substance and a symbiotic fungus to feed on once hatched. This mucoid substance is toxic to trees as are the ascospores from symbiotic fungus Amylostereum areolatum a species of crust fungus originally called Thelephora areolata, it was given its current name by French mycologist Jacques Boidin in 1958.

The hidden menace – Dutch elm disease (DED) first appeared in the north-west of Europe about 1910 and between 1914 and 1919, several Dutch scientists carried out influential research on the cause of the disease. According to this disease “Is one of the most serious tree diseases in the world.” The fungus that causes the disease is spread by bark beetles triggering foliage and tip dieback in all of Britain’s native elms: English elm Ulmus procera, smooth-leaved elm U. carpinifolia and wych elm U. glabra. The disease first spread to Britain in the 1920s, where it killed 10-40% of elm trees. Although the initial epidemic died down, a more aggressive species of Dutch elm disease fungus was accidentally introduced into Britain in the 1960s.

Hylurgopinus rufipes Scolytus schevyrewi Scolytus multistriatus

A second epidemic took hold of lowland central and southern Britain where there were English elms in the early to mid-1970s and by 1980, most mature English elms had died. Scattered pockets of mature elm occasionally survived where the geographic situation has facilitated an effective and continuing sanitation control programme. By the late 1980s the bark beetles used up most of the mature elms that they relied on for breeding material, so beetle populations declined and the disease virtually disappeared from many southern and south-western areas.

In 1982, Forestry Commission research on the biology of Ophiostoma novo-ulmi, an extremely virulent species from Japan has devastated elms in Europe, North America, Asia and now is spreading across across Eastern Europe. (Romania to Poland) This suggested that the disease would not decline in intensity or contrast to the first epidemic, caused by O. ulmi. The new pathogen, O. novo-ulmi, would return in a continuing cycle to attack the following generation of small elms once they were large enough to support beetle breeding.

Cryphonectria parasitica a pathogenic fungus a member of the Ascomycota (sac fungi) native to East Asia and south-east Asia was introduced into Europe and North America in the early 1900s spreading rapidly causing significant tree loss in both regions. This disease came to be known as ‘chestnut blight’ due its infestation of Chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) and has had a devastating economic and social impact on communities in the eastern United States. Once a tree begins to decline it is often dead within a few years and eradication efforts by cutting and burning the infected plants/trees have mostly failed; at this present juncture there are no chemical management options for control.

Chestnut Harvesting

Thus far the consequences of mankind’s actions over the millenia do not paint a good picture, in fact the problems we have tried to solve many of which we cannot are only increasing at an alarming rate. As stated there are no chemical management options for control, should we concentrate our efforts to find more potent solutions to eradicate pests and disease; we have already tried this approach see article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’. In part 3 of this series we continue the journey uncovering more catastrophic failures, until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 62 – ‘Unseen enemies’ Part 1

Hi, and welcome to Taiga Bonzai in article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’ we discussed a topic that was hot news to many horticulturists and conservationists at the time re: the continuing decline in insect population that is causing great concern as they are vital to our survival.

Introduction – this 4 part series ‘Unseen enemies’ discusses an even bigger issue – the increasing problem of pests and disease that is devastating the world’s tree and crop plantations and the ultimate effect on society. How this phenomenon occurred is the result of mankind’s actions. Since the dawn of time these actions have caused catastrophic consequences in many ways, now the world is facing unprecedented challenges that will be extremely difficult to resolve. Have we reached the point of no return – some believe that we have past it whilst others are more complacent, ‘yes these situations need to be addressed but they can be resolved’; but can they?

During our travels around the globe we have been privy to some extraordinary and amazing locations, returning to them at a later date we note that many have been destroyed – piles of rubble, barren land, some are now heavily polluted – rife with pestilence and disease. Such experiences do not wane, they remain strong and clear in the mind. How have we arrived at this juncture, follow our journey as we try to shed some light on the issue.

The beginning – according to scientific research vegetation had evolved on Earth approximately 700 million years ago and fungi and bacteria approximately 1,300 million years prior, this evidence is based on the earliest fossils of those organisms. The general consensus is that organisms also called microbes are beneficial for example, they keep nature clean by helping break down dead plants and animals into organic matter.

However, in the dinosaur periods Triassic (251.902 to 201.3 million years), Jurassic (201.3 to 145 million years) and Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) we know creatures that roamed the planet were predominantly herbivores; but not all. Carnivores also existed and confrontation between the two resulted in carnage on an immeasurable scale. All animal and vegetable life whilst decaying gives off a rank fetid odour attracting bacteria and pathogens to take hold and multiply and thus eventually spread and infect. Fortunately early hominins had yet to evolve hence were oblivious of the problems of that time.

Paleolithic Age

Mankind’s contribution – the Hunter-gatherer culture developed among the early hominins of Africa, with evidence of their activities dating as far back as 2 million years and according to Richard B. Lee & Richard Daly of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers “was humanity’s first and most successful adaptation, occupying at least 90 percent of human history“. In addition, it is understood that through archaeology, anthropology, genetics, linguistics and the advent of writing from primary and secondary sources this information is relatively common knowledge.

Colin Tudge in his book ‘Neanderthals, Bandits and Farmers: How Agriculture Really Began’. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press (1998) contends that.”The Neolithic saw the Agricultural Revolution begin between 10,000 and 5000 BC in the Near East Fertile Crescent” (Mesopotamia). During this period humans began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals and as agriculture advanced, many humans transitioned from nomadic to a settled lifestyle as farmers in permanent settlements. The relative security and increased productivity provided by farming allowed communities to expand into increasingly larger units, fostered by advances in transportation.

However, Alina Polianskaya of (March 15th 2018) points out that “Early humans may have been trading with each other much earlier than previously thought, scientists excavated ancient artefacts at Middle Stone Age sites dating back 300,000 years at the Olorgesailie Basin, in southern Kenya. They uncovered weapons made of materials that could not be found there, suggesting hominins at the time may have exchanged goods with others.”

In his paper ‘Evolution: What Makes a Modern Human’ Nature. 485 (7396) (2012) Chris Stringer tells us that “Modern humans spread rapidly from Africa into the frost-free zones of Europe and Asia around 60,000 years ago.” This notion is supported by Adam Hart-Davis in his work ‘History: The Definitive Visual Guide’. New York: DK Publishing “The rapid expansion of humankind to North America and Oceania took place at the climax of the most recent ice age. At the time, temperate regions of today were extremely inhospitable. Yet, by the end of the Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago, humans had colonised nearly all ice-free parts of the globe“.

The Silk Road – a network of trade routes connecting China and Far East with the Middle East and Europe, was established when the Han Dynasty in China officially opened trade with the West in 130 BC. Although these Silk Road routes were protected from exterior forces by the Han and other countries under signed treaties, ‘unseen enemies’ (pests and disease) also travelled with the traders causing infection, sickness and often death, because those who came into contact with these infectious bacteria had no immunity for example. In 541 to 549 AD the Justinian plague recorded by the Greek historian Procopius court historian to Justin 1st. (r. 527–565) was the first major outbreak of the first plague pandemic.

Emperor Justin 1st

The plague Yersinia pestis is a gram-negative rod-shaped, coccobacillus bacteria that is related to both Y. pseudotuberculosis and Y. enterocolitica. It is a facultative anaerobic organism that can infect humans via the oriental rat flea. Y. pestis was discovered in 1894 by Alexandre Yersin, a Swiss/French physician and bacteriologist from the Pasteur Institute. Strains of Y. pestis closely related to the ancestor of the Justinian plague strain have been found in the Tian Shan, a mountain range on the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China, suggesting that the Justinian plague originated in or near that region. It is estimate in some quarters that the Justinian plague killed between 30 and 50 million people – about half the world’s population at that time and that was just the beginning of what was yet to come.

Alexandre Yersin

The Silk Road routes remained in use until 1453 AD, when the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with China and closed them. It has been nearly 600 years since the Silk Road was used for international trade, but the routes have had a lasting impact on commerce, culture and history that resonates today and now they are being reopened. Today international trade is arguably the most important factor in the modern world as nations rely on others to supply the many types of commerce they need, hence agreements are signed to lessen the bureaucracy. Nonetheless, international trade does bring problems as we shall find out in this series.

Some countries enforce stringent rules on imports for example, Australia probably has the strictest regulations on what is imported, meat products, fruit and plant material including seeds from many countries including Asia and Middle East are prohibited, but some are permitted if the exporter is registered and has the required documentation. Unlike the rest of the world Australia (although having its own disease problems) is free of many other known diseases and has been since 1872, due to stringent pre and post-border measures; meanwhile the rest of the world continues to battle with disease containment.

Today much has changed we have advanced – science and technical horticultural knowledge has allowed us to become adept in food production; new plant species have been introduced, more variety and apparently more taste – but have we gone too far? -The reason why this question is asked is because for every action there is a reaction often resulting in irreversible consequences.

In part 2 of ‘unseen enemies’ we continue our journey giving more factual information on for example, how pests and disease endemic to a particular part of the world are now commonplace in many other regions; the result of man’s actions and the devastating outcome. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 61 – ‘A balanced composition’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post we discuss the marriage of tree and container starting with the definition of the Japanese word ‘Bonsai’ (the umbrella term for this art) – ‘Bon’ is pot and ‘Sai’ is tree.

Introduction – as we have often stated, the old rules are today mere guidelines nonetheless, they contain logic, common sense and a learning curve for the multitude who practice the horticultural art of bonsai. Arguably one of the most important factors is the overall composition of how a plant in its container is perceived, our latest book Taiga Bonzai Simplifying the Art ‘Revised Edition’ (which can be found on google play books) goes into lengthy discussion on this topic. Because bonsai like other art forms, paintings, sculpture, music, fashion and culinary has its critics and pundits who review the work by said artists, which can often be unforgiving.

A balanced composition – it has been said by the bonsai masters that the four types of pots used in bonsai, which include rectangularround oval and deep square glazed or unglazed are designated for particular tree designs for example, conifers are normally associated with unglazed pots whereas deciduous varieties are suited to glazed containers. These pot types are classed as masculine, feminine and neutral, deep square pots are only for cascade Kengai and semi cascade Han-Kengai, of course pot designs have changed over the decades, colourful designs, fluted, eight corner bowls and moon bowls are now relatively common; the identification of pots is shown below.

1. Masculine 2. Feminine 3. Neutral 4. Cascade pot

Masculine pots are normally quite deep with robust corners, feminine pots can be round without sharp corners or lines and oval pots will have a gentle rim also without lines, deep square pots are wider at the top with tapering sides as shown. By looking at the image the masculine pot would be ideal for a robust pine formal upright Chokkan or informal upright Moyogi as the pot’s design and colour (unglazed) would enhance the rough texture of the bark and dark green foliage.

The feminine pot (glazed/unglazed) would suit a delicate Japanese Maple Acer palmatum, Juniperus sabina, or a flowering species, designs can include literati Bungin or slanting Shakan. The oval pot (glazed) could be used for most tree design to reflect the colour of the bark, leaf, fruit and flower for example, deciduous varieties including Beech, Fagus Weeping cherry Prunus and Rowan Sorbus aucuparia. As stated the rules are guidelines to assist us finding the correct pot for the plant in question because the tree is the painting and the pot is the frame and both must compliment each other, to explain further have a look at the image below.

Oopjen Coppit 1634 by Rembrandt

As the image shows the dress worn by the subject is black marginley distinguishing her from the dark background, it is the skin tone of her hands and face and the lace shawl that stand out making the painting what it is; quite remarkable yet subtle. But more importantly it is the overall composition of frame and picture that is the main factor. The gilded frame probably a heavy wooden moulded/carved one has a warm luster with various tones opposed to a brassy-gold finish and it can be argued that picture and frame compliment each other. But before we move on go back to the painting and in your mind substitute the gilded frame for one of polished aluminium – would the composition be correct? this same consensus applies to bonsai; pot and tree.

In article 57 ‘The wait is over’ we took some time to choose a pot for our large S. aucupariaOmono Dai‘ class (100 centimetres or 40 inches) the tree has light green foliage, smooth grey bark, white flowers and orange fruit and is considered to be neutral. Strong dark colours such as blue or green would be overpowering disrupting the overall composition of tree and pot as would an brown unglazed pot; hence the decision was to go for glazed neutral white, which would be in balance with the tree’s colourisation.

As to the pot shape round bowls and ovals were discussed, but extensive searching did not yield anything suitable. Another option was to have one made, but this was out of the question due to lengthy production time, overall cost and delivery; the last option was a rectangular pot. Pot depth was another important factor to consider, a large deep pot although ideal for ‘root-run’ would be overbearing, the decision was to opt for a shallow depth rectangular pot that would be in harmony with the tree creating a balanced composition.

If you have plants in training it matters not what containers you use; metal, wood, clay or plastic however, if the aim is to eventually use a ceramic pot especially for public display much thought and consideration is necessary in choosing the correct pot. It is not just the pot style and colour, other factors have to be taken into account for example, trunk height and thickness, canopy spread, tree style and attributes, Chinese Penjing (Penzai) or Japanese Zen Buddhist styles. Moreover, ceramics can be expensive especially if hand made make sure the decision you make is the correct one.

If you are familiar with article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’ regarding the reduction of insect populations vital to our existence, we mentioned an upcoming 4 part series called ‘Unseen enemies’. In these articles we concentrate on the increasing problem of invading pests and disease devastating agriculture, horticulture, natural woodlands and forests across the globe. Until next time BW, Nik.

Article 60 – ‘Germination! – no guarantee’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post albeit short, we discuss the subject of germination because there is no guarantee that it will occur due to various factors.

Introduction – germination is the process by which an organism grows from a seed, spore or similar structure. The seed of a plant a relatively small package (although there are exceptions) is produced in a strobilus, (cone) carpel (fruit) or legume (pod) after the union of male and female reproductive cells. However, it should be noted that not all unions are successful, hence the seed/s lack embryo/s and will never germinate. In addition, some plants produce varying numbers of seeds that lack embryos; these are also infertile. Fully developed mature seeds in most plant species carry food reserves wrapped in a seed coat that splits open when the embryo begins to germinate.

Seeds – from certain fruit and vegetables for example, pomegranate, citrus (lemon-mandarin) and chilli varieties obtained from the supermarket have the ability to germinate, but many others will not because they are immature, have no embryo and thus are sterile. Another factor concerning germination failure is because the fruit when picked was unripe, hence the seeds have not reached the maturity required for germination. With some apple varieties it is possible to grow a tree from seed, but it will be genetically different and usually inferior to the parent tree and any fruit produced will not be the same. Most apple trees are propagated by grafting allowing growers to produce trees that are genetically identical to one another.

In nature trees have particular ways of dispersing their seeds by the wind, by animals and birds that consume and dispense them through their digestive system. Such seeds released from the parent plant are in what is termed as a dormancy stage, and dormancy is a natural state of being in many plants, its function is to ensure that the seed will germinate at an appropriate time. However, seeds can remain in a dormant state and fail to germinate although conditions, temperature, water and light are in adequate supply.

Dormancy – why this phenomena occurs can be attributed to a seed’s morphological and physiological requirements, because seed dormancy is able to originate in different parts of the seed, for example, within the embryo or its coating – the shell or husk. Thus, dormancy can be deemed not as a constant, but as a variable because it is a common phenomenon encountered in a large variety of trees. To break dormancy and initiate germination, the process of stratification is needed and this method requires different techniques of which, there are various approaches depending on a particular species of seed.

Seeds having two dormancy combinations, a seed coat dormancy and an internal dormancy (embryo) require the seed coat or shell to be treated first either by soaking in water and/or scarification. The internal dormancy is then subjected to the following treatment. Cold to break bud dormancy then warm temperatures to initiate root growth and to encourage the shoot to sprout and complete the germination process. There are various methods of scarification and stratification, but the most common approaches are: Cold stratificationWarm stratification Warm and Cold stratification. The article on stratification and scarification can be found on this site ‘The stratification of seeds’ January 29th 2017

Some seeds including the pomegranate, Punica granatum the lemon and mandarin orange genus Citrus, a popular choice among bonsai enthusiasts can be stratified in a warm environment quite easily. Wash and dry the seeds to remove any fruit residue to prevent any attack from pathogens and fungal attack which, can cause the seed to rot. Then plant them in a propagator or sealed container with a moist soil medium and place in a warm environment temperature between 18-24°C. (65-75°F) You can use moist soft kitchen paper under and over the seeds as an alternative to to using soil.

Pomegranate 5 years from seed

Other common factors contributing to germination failure are: Old or unviable seeds – Unclean containers that may be contaminated with pathogens – wrong soil medium – wrong time of year – inadequate temperature – planted too deep – and insufficient water or over water. Why not have a go at growing plants from seed, it is a cheap and easy method in obtaining trees – an experimental learning curve; until next time BW, Nik.

Article 59 – ‘Fertilizer is not food’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post we discuss the purpose of fertilizer, often misunderstood and misused.

Introduction – the ideology that fertilizer is a source of food is a misnomer, because plants produce their own food in the form of sugars via photosynthesis and moisture from the soil. The minerals in fertilizer provide the ingredients needed for photosynthesis and growth, when minerals are deficient or absent in the soil, fertilizer is added to maintain an adequate supply.

Plants – in their natural settings are able to survive quite well mainly due to their root systems, which have the ability to spread and travel great distances in search of moisture and nutrients. But bonsai are confined to relatively small containers and thus are restricted from this practice therefore, they have to be fertilized. The questions of which fertilizer to use, solid or liquid, what is the dosage rate and how often to use it, one might assume it would be relatively straightforward and this is where mistakes are made, which in many cases cannot be undone; hence a little more thought on the subject is required.

The pH factor – the first step is understanding from where the plant originates and the soil type in which it is grown be it ericaceous (coniferous) or organic (deciduous) and the relevant pH factor. Detailed descriptive articles on these topics can be found on this site, ‘Bonsai Soils’ March 27th 2016, ‘The pH factor (part I)’ April 22nd 2017 and the ‘The pH factor (part II)’ May 6th 2017, these are important steps in the learning curve of knowing, which directive to adopt; especially for those new to bonsai horticulture.

Soils – of course many horticulturists make there own soil compositions depending on the species and their specific needs, some use Akadama (akadamatsuchi, red ball earth) a naturally occurring, granular clay mineral used as soil for both deciduous and coniferous species, Seramis, Turface and Oil-Dri that are fired clays whilst others will use soil from the same location of where the plant originated; if at all possible.

However, there are other factors to consider because soil contains a multitude of living organisms that consume, digest, and cycle nutrients. These include archaea, bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, (mycorrhiza) algae, protozoa, and a wide range of insects; mites, nematodes, earthworms and ants all of which are important to the vitality of a soil composition. Such organisms are classed as either acidophiles, (that thrive under acidic conditions) Neutrophiles (that exist in a neutral pH environment) and Alkaliphiles (a class of extremophilic microbes capable of survival in alkaline environments).

Another factor is the balance or imbalance of a soil’s chemical structure and the three primary nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Secondary nutrients include sulphur, calcium and magnesium, minor nutrients consist of iron, manganese, copper, zinc, boron, molybdenum and chlorine. Soils with high acidity may have toxic amounts of aluminium and manganese.

Nitrogen (N) is essential for growth and a necessary part of chlorophyll helping plants photosynthesise, phosphorus (P) is needed for the development of flowers, fruits, and root systems. Potassium (K) keeps roots healthy, aids in the flowering/fruiting process and assists in aiding plants tolerate stress to some degree through periods of drought therefore, a soil test kit is advisable to check the balance between them. (See article the ‘The pH factor (part II)’ section Soil testing applications).

Having conducted a soil test and determined the balance or imbalance one can select a fertilizer that will give you the correct amount of nutrients required. On any package of fertilizer be it powder, granulated or liquid there are three numbers that correspond to the amounts of nutrients in the product for example. 5-5-5 is referred to as a balanced fertilizer due to (N) (P) and (K) having equal quantities. Other fertilizers may show a different numbering for example, 4-10-6 which indicates that (N) is low (P) is high and (K) is medium. This numbering system is the same for all manufactured fertilizer products regardless of their form.

However, different species require fertilizers suitable to their needs for example, conifers are not considered to be heavy feeders hence one annual application of a complete garden fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 16-8-8 will suffice, which can be applied in early spring before the plants break dormancy, or in late autumn. Deciduous trees and shrubs require a more well-balanced fertilizer, in which the three main nutrients are closer in proportion, such as 10-10-10, that provides nitrogen for green healthy foliage, phosphorus and potassium for flowering, fruiting and root development.

Applying fertilizer – how often are bonsai trees fertilized due to their confinement? There are a lot of arguments on this topic because all species are individuals each having their own requirements. Some advocate a weekly basis whilst others state fortnightly or monthly is adequate in addition, fertilizer should be given sparingly after watering has taken place. The general consensus that bonsai can or should be fertilized during the entire growing season from early spring to mid-autumn has logic however, older mature trees are often fertilized less frequently. Much depends on the species, time of year, stage of development and health; indoor trees can be fertilized all year round. The problem with over fertilization boosting the (N)-(P)-(K) levels can weaken and stress out a plant often causing its demise.

Left = liquid – right = granulated

Which form of fertilizer to use, powdered, granulated or liquid? – There are many different opinions from all quarters on this subject, some argue that liquid is better because it is instantaneous, but it usually drains out of the bottom of the container although much depends on the quantity given. Some maintain that a top dressing of powdered fertilizer is better as it penetrates into the soil after watering, although the majority of the particles will remain in the pot there will be a loss due to drainage. Others plumb for granules tiny pellets that are mixed in the soil when the container is being prepared, these are slow release and are preferred by many.

Another factor to consider is the cost of fertilizer, many fertilizers if in liquid form normally come in small bottles and if purchasing online the cost of shipment is added increasing the overall price. A 250ml bottle diluted 4 times (1.5 litres) will not last long during a season although much depends how many trees are in the collection and how often they are fertilized. Whereas half a teaspoon of granulated (slow release) added to the soil medium at repotting time will last at least two seasons. If one is unsure of what fertiliser to use the well known horticulturist and TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh gives a good presentation on this subject. (link to his presentation is given below)

As stated fertilizer is ‘not food’ nor is it a ‘one-size-fits-all’ it is a way of replenishing the nutrients within the soil medium which the plant needs for healthy growth and each species will require a specific level of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) to sustain this. Hence it is advisable to do a soil test before purchasing fertilizer, because there has to be an accepted balance between (N), (P) and (K) for each species, this does not mean to say that you need an assortment of fertilizers far from it; one for conifers and one for deciduous will suffice. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 58 – ‘Wiring a Ficus’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai, in this post we look at an alternative way to wiring a Ficus retusa.

Introduction – This small Ficus ginseng (Ficus retusa) in the Komono class (15cm to 26cm) native to Asia has been pruned many times over the years and the cuttings were preserved by placing them in a glass jar filled with tap water. After a few weeks, the cuttings developed root systems and were planted out in plastic pots and when stable (good evidence of growth) were given to students to practise their bonsai styling skills.

Ficus ginseng

Question – We get questions on styling to which we respond, but we are of a conviction that ‘one learns by doing’ nevertheless, here is a question we received from one of our followers on this very subject. “I wired my Ficus into its intended shape, but when I went to check it weeks later the wires had caused deep grooves in the bark, my question is will these grooves pop back out?

Answer – In short the answer is no, because attention to wiring detail has not been paid, hence the plant is disfigured with bark damage and disruption to the phloem and cambium rendering the plant useless as a potential bonsai; Ficus like many other species of the genus have soft bark and phloem and cambium are easily damaged.

Course of action – Much depends on where these indentations are located be they on the trunk or branch and how long they extend, the unaffected areas can be used for new cuttings, hence your Ficus becomes a donor plant. We realise that this is a set back and not what you want to hear, but in reality there is no option you cannot undo the damage that has been done. However, do not discard the rest of the tree, remove the damaged section/s and let the plant recover; there is a possibility that it may produce new shoots as this species is quite resilient.

A different approach to wiring a ficus – Although native to Asia the genus Ficus is found all over the globe usually as house plants or decorative attractions in shopping malls for example Ficus benjamina and many are used in bonsai. However, they do not take kindly to wiring, because (a) of the soft bark easily damaged (b) they have no dormancy period unlike deciduous species from Europe and North America and (c) they are not hardy. Therefore, one needs to adopt a different approach and that is by using guy wires apposed to actually attaching the wire to the tree. The image below depicts a Pine Pinus sylvestris that has been wired using the guy wire method.

By looking at the image you can see that wire 1. is the anchor holding the tree in it’s container it also counter balances the force as wire 2. is pulling the upper mid section of the trunk down, the same process is repeated for wires 3. and 4. This balance of action and reaction stabilises the tree when a branch or trunk is severely bent, because the inside of the bend is now in compression and the outer radius is now in tension; because for every action there is a reaction. You will also notice there are black rings where wires 1. 2. 3. and 4 are attached, this material is thick felt which, prevents the wires from damaging the bark, phloem and cambium.

Of course this operation was conducted on a sturdy pine that can take this kind of treatment, whereas a ficus cannot nonetheless, it can be done although the amount of tension has to be less severe and the shaping or bending process has to be done gradually. One can shape a ficus quite easily using the guy wire method as it will conform to its given shape in a short space of time depending on the thickness of the trunk or branch; unlike a conifer which takes years.

After a short time period (2 to 3 weeks) loosen the wire to ascertain if the branch is holding it’s new shape, if the operation is a success you can proceed with your next plan of action, if not re-attach the wire and wait a little longer. In addition, ensure you use felt, leather, rubber or some other cushioning material to prevent the wire from damaging the plant. However, if you wish to wire the trunk or branch in the conventional way you can, but use a thicker wire and loosely wire the proposed section into shape, but check it on a weekly basis otherwise you will recreate the same problem.

Another point to consider is the type of style one is aiming for, the following are classic styles: Formal upright (Chokkan), Informal upright (Moyogi), Twin trunk (Sokan) and Slanted (Shakan) are possibilities for this species, but Literati (Bunjin-gi), Semi cascade (Han-kengai), Cascade (Kengai) and Broom (Hokidachi) should be avoided as ficus is not in reality adaptable to these styles; alternatively you can make your own design there is nothing in the rule book which states you cannot as we have done with our specimen depicted above. Until next time, BW, Nik.