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

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’

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.

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.