Today, our reader VBFF has sent in one of her favourite trees as seen in two seasons. The tree got its name because at one point it held an impressive eagle’s nest.
This magnificent autumn tree was sent in by Avalus, who notes,
… there is this beautiful tree in front of a physics building. I love the colour gradient from green to red.
I love it, too, Avalus. I don’t often see trees wearing all the colours, all together like this.
This is just to let you know that the little persimmon tree is growing like mad. It is about 30 cm in height now and still growing, it might reach over half a meter before fall. Which would be awesome. The leaves are a bit big, not too big, but definitively on the upper limit of what I find permissible for a bonsai. There are techniques to make the leaves temporarily smaller, but it remains to be seen if persimmon is able to handle them. Preliminarily I would hazard a guess and say yes. Still, a deciduous tree with very big leaves can still make smashing bonsai in winter and early spring and I am excited that this tree is healthy and prospering, unlike many others in last years.
This week I’m sharing a fascinating close-up look at something that most of us view from a distance. It’s a photo essay by Springa73, documenting the progress of a Red Maple between March and late May. The red maples in my neighbourhood are large and stately, but I’ve never stopped to notice how beautiful their many stages are.
Over the past couple of months, I have been taking photos of the developing buds, flowers, seeds, and leaves of a red maple tree (Acer rubrum) in my yard. I thought that they might be of some interest to Affinity readers. They show the budding out of the tiny red flowers on the red maple tree, then the development of the winged seeds as the leaves bud out and develop in their turn.
We all know that trees dance, but have you ever thought about dancing with a tree? A ballerina from Vancouver thought about it, and went on to create Aeriosa, a vertical dance troupe that performs with trees.
Aeriosa is the only company in Canada specializing in vertical dance, in which performers spin and dance on cables from trees, buildings and mountains.
Julia Taffe is Aeriosa’s founder, artistic director and choreographer. Since 1998, she has choreographed more than 25 works for her company. She says dancing among the clouds is no big deal, adding that “fear is healthy.”
The key, Taffe adds, is to put safety first. Aeriosa works with a team of professional riggers. Before the Saxe Point show, the site will also be inspected by a “mountain safety specialist,” who will closely monitor the weather, rain or shine.
Taff has an interesting perspective and regards the trees as active partners whose needs must also be considered.
… she refers to it as an “interspecies” collaboration. Because trees are a living thing, Aeriosa takes care not to damage them — making sure not to snap branches or leave metal spikes.
“If we can’t do our work without damaging the environment, then we shouldn’t do it,” Taffe said. “Each tree is unique and you have to be able to respond to that with your choreography and your artistic vision.
I’ll pass on dangling from the top of a tree, but next time I’m in the forest I just might ask an appropriately sized tree for a waltz.
Story from The Times Colonist
I really wanted to see this performed, so I asked the YouTube and found this. It’s a beautiful form of dance.
Today’s tree is one you should admire from afar. Really far. In fact, don’t go anywhere near it because contact with any part of this tree could be lethal. Just ask Ponce DeLeon. Oh, wait, you can’t. Because he’s dead, and this is the tree rumoured to have killed him. It’s a Manchineel Tree, known in Spanish as arbol de la Muerte, literally “tree of death.” Its fruits are called la manzanilla de la Muerte, “little apple of death.”
You might be tempted to eat the fruit. Do not eat the fruit. You might want to rest your hand on the trunk, or touch a branch. Do not touch the tree trunk or any branches. Do not stand under or even near the tree for any length of time whatsoever. Do not touch your eyes while near the tree. Do not pick up any of the ominously shiny, tropic-green leaves. If you want to slowly but firmly back away from this tree, you would not find any argument from any botanist who has studied it.
An unfortunate radiologist took a bite while in the Caribbean, and she describes the experience for us.
I rashly took a bite from this fruit and found it pleasantly sweet. My friend also partook (at my suggestion). Moments later we noticed a strange peppery feeling in our mouths, which gradually progressed to a burning, tearing sensation and tightness of the throat. The symptoms worsened over a couple of hours until we could barely swallow solid food because of the excruciating pain and the feeling of a huge obstructing pharyngeal lump. Sadly, the pain was exacerbated by most alcoholic beverages, although mildly appeased by pina coladas, but more so by milk alone.
Over the next eight hours our oral symptoms slowly began to subside, but our cervical lymph nodes became very tender and easily palpable. Recounting our experience to the locals elicited frank horror and incredulity, such was the fruit’s poisonous reputation.
The tree is found throughout the Caribbean, Central America and into the northern part of South America. They live in clusters in coastal areas, and they rely on the movement of water to disperse their seeds. The tree is also found in south Florida, making it America’s deadliest tree.
The sap, white and milky, is spectacularly toxic; it causes burn-like blisters upon any contact with skin, and if you’re unfortunate enough to get it in your eyes, temporary blindness is highly likely. This sap is found throughout the tree, including in the bark and leaves, so, you know, don’t touch any of it.The specific toxins found in this sap and in the fruits remain partially unknown, but not unused. The aboriginal peoples of the Caribbean were familiar with the tree and used it for many purposes; the sap, in particular, was used to tip arrows. “It is believed that the Calusa used it in that manner to kill Juan Ponce de Leon on his second trip to Florida in 1521,” says Hammer.
Manchineel is a member of a family of plants known as the spurges. (The name comes from “purge,” because, although all these plants have toxic sap, the toxicity varies, and some can be used as a laxative.) Spurges are found worldwide, in various forms, ranging from tiny herb-like plants to large bushes and trees. Manchineel is one of the largest, reaching up to 50 feet in height, but despite its dangerous reputation is not the most famous—that’d be the poinsettia, the manchineel’s more festive cousin.
Story via: Atlas Obscura
There is yet another thing that I feel needs addressing before I dive fully into describing individual taxa and how to care for them, and that thing being the beings that might share your household with you and your trees.
Let’s start with a sad anecdote about partners. I don’t have a partner, but my older brother is married. And when I started expanding my bonsai collection and some of my trees started to look really impressive, he wanted to try it too. I have him one really good indoor bonsai, Cupressus californica and one mediocre but with good potential Ficus benjamina. The trees prospered for a while and looked good, but my sister in law shuffled them around the house to places where they “look good” until she shuffled them on top of the cupboard above the kitchen counter. When I have seen this on my visit, I warned them that the trees won’t survive that, because they need a lot of sunlight in vegetation. It is possible to display trees in a hallway or some other place for a while to decorate your home, but ultimately they are living beings and their needs must be met. My sister in law made appreciative noises and pretended to care, but she only shuffled the trees into places where they were even worse off. Until they died, as I predicted.
I have begun to suspect ill intent, but I could not prove anything and I could not say anything even if I had proof. My brother was determined to have bonsai trees, he bought some, he even successfully poached some from the forest against my advice, and I bought him a healthy Pinus pentaphylla, the most iconic Japanese bonsai species, and I chose a tree with really great potential. The trees seemed to prosper for a while, and then they suddenly all died and my brother lost all enthusiasm at all that labor wasted.
For a long time – until last year, in fact – I thought he has just been unlucky. Trees die, it happens to me all the time. But recently I learned that he was a victim of a concentrated effort of his wife’s family. His father in law got bitter after he split with his mother in law, he got drunk and he babbled out what really happened to someone and it came in a roundabout way to me. They deliberately sabotaged all my brothers’ hobbies and I was deemed as persona-non-grata in the household. Their family deemed all hobbies as a waste of time, only activities that make money or are work around the house were allowed. And I came in there with my perfidious influences on my brother and their grandchildren like reading books and growing useless trees in a pot and reminding my brother of his own hobbies like making models and playing chess.
The high-end trees that I gave my brother were indeed deliberately shuffled off into places where they withered and died, under the pretense of appreciation. And when they could not do that with the outdoor trees because my brother put his foot down and claimed a piece of garden for his hobby and told them to back off, they have secretly put dish detergent into the barrel he used to collect rainwater for his trees. To my knowledge, my brother still does not know this and I won’t tell him. He is happily married. But I can’t stand his wife and his mother in law.
So before you start growing bonsai trees, make sure that people who share your household are OK with it. Do not just assume they are.
I also do not have children. And I do not currently have any pets, but I used to. For both children and pets apply the same rules as for any garden- or potted plants. Make sure that anything poisonous is out of their reach so they cannot nibble at it. Or better yet, make sure they cannot nibble at any plants at all. If you are cat-owned, you will have to make extra sure your owner does not knock any pots off the shelves to teach you a lesson.
Some plants are more poisonous to birds than they are to mammals, so if you have parrots and let them out of their cages, you too need to be extra careful. For outdoor bonsai, this does not seem to be a problem. Local birds never nibble on local flora if said flora is inedible or poisonous, and I never had them nibble on small trees when big ones are nearby either. And I have never seen local birds try eating indoor plants when I put them outside. Indeed having a bird feeder near bonsai trees has even helped a bit with pests because the birds do like to sit in the trees and they pick off any wintering eggs and pupae they find while there – especially tits are helpful in this regard.
The almost inevitable companion in your household once you start to grow any kind of plant are pest insects.
Worst of these are scale insects. They tend to attack mostly evergreen plants with hard leathery leaves, like Laurus, Ficus, Citrus, and Myrtus and once these fuckers get a foothold, it is really difficult to get rid of them. I have managed to finally destroy them by a combination of mechanical removal with concentrated water spray from a small nozzle- that allows for mechanical removal from even the least accessible nooks and crannies -but the spray must not be so strong so it would poke holes in the leaves. What also helps is to wash leaves and stalks with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol or cheap vodka, to destroy the eggs. Sometimes even more drastic measures are necessary, like severe pruning of the tree and trimming of all leaves. Insecticides are usually useless, they do not penetrate the hard shells very well.
Wooly aphids are similarly persistent and obnoxious and similarly difficult to get rid of. Here I did not in fact succeed and I am battling with them for years now on one pine. The problem with these is they tend to attack conifers like Pinus, Picea, and Larix and they nest themselves into the nooks and crannies around the needles, twigs and in the bark recesses, where they cannot be reached at all. Some even attack roots and those are usually a death sentence. I used to keep them at bay with a timely spray of daisy extract with a drop of detergent, but daisies disappeared around here for whatever reason and since then I am only left with washing them off mechanically either with water spray or with a toothbrush. I might need to try a commercial insecticide.
Aphids can also be a problem. Birds and spiders do help with their management however, and they are much more susceptible to insecticides and even ordinary mechanical removal than the previous two. They tend to attack mostly soft, freshly growing stalks and leaves of Hibiscus, Tilia, Acer, and others with similar growth patterns (probably my new persimmon would be susceptible too by the looks of it).
Since these pests prefer different plants, mixing the species on your windowsill/bench etc. does help to prevent their spread. Yes indeed, social distancing works for trees too.
Ants are not a pest in and of themselves, but they can spread all three above mentioned pests around your collection outdoors if they are present, because all three produce honeydew and ants love them.
Spiders in a bonsai tree are desired and should not be disturbed if possible. I am sure there are some people who would like to know this.
Fungal (and bacterial) diseases come in many varieties and are mostly species-specific. You must make your own research should you encounter one. Some species are more prone to them than others. The best help is prevention and fungicidal spray. If a tree catches a fungal disease that attacks wood it is usually the end of it. You might try cutting away the whole infected branch and burning it – you might catch it in time and save the tree, but most likely it will get damage that takes years to heal, even if it survives. Fungal diseases that attack leaves /needles are less threatening and can be mitigated by the removal of old fallen leaves/needles in the fall, but not always. Even these mild fungal diseases are detrimental to the tree so they should be avoided.
On the other hand, mycorrhizal fungi are desired. Even a bonsai tree starts to prosper and grow better if it manages to get mycorrhizal fungus on its roots, the effect this has on for example oaks is remarkable- I have observed nearly double growth rate in trees with fungus against those without it, but I did not conduct a proper scientific experiment, so you only have my word for it.
Lichens on roots, branches, and bark are also desired, they add the illusion of old age. They are also an indicator of health and proper care because they grow very slowly and are finicky.
Therefore any application of fungicidal sprays on bonsai trees must be done with care and deliberation and in a targeted manner and not in a “spray and pray” fashion.
One pest that I have not seen mentioned in any of my bonsaist literature are water voles. They do not get to the trees on benches, but if you take them off the benches for wintering during a tough winter, they can get in and wreak total havoc. In 2011 I have lost this way several prime trees and many others were damaged to such an extent they still did not recover. Voles also destroy a significant portion of any trees that I plant in my garden, I was unable to replace my cherry tree due to them and I have to plant new trees in my coppice two-three times before they survive long enough to be vole-proof. Having a cat helps, although they do not like to eat voles too much. But they do kill them and scare them off. The problem in my garden was also less severe when we had a dog, And it was nearly non-existent when an owl was nesting in a nearby spruce tree. However the 2011 disaster has happened when we had two outdoor cats and a dog, but the voles were safe under half a meter of snow. Voles are a mortal enemy to me. Forget capture and release traps. You can either be on the side of the trees or on the side of the rodents, not both. So killing traps, regularly checked and put safely with proper bait in order to not catch shrews or birds by accident, it is.
And lastly – it should go without saying that if your tree is visibly infected or infested, you should not display it. Especially not in an exhibition where it could infect other trees. Visible infection or infestation is an instant disqualifying criterion in competitions, and rightly so. As a beginner, look for any of these when buying a tree and do not take any that is visibly ill. You do not want to carry these unwanted guests into your household.
In any endeavor, there are purists, assholes and assholish purists, i.e. snobs. No doubt in bonsai circles is no shortage of such people too. I have not met any because I am not involved in any society. I have zero contact with other bonsaists and I like it that way.
I am of the opinion that if it looks like a tree and is grown in a pot, then it is a bonsai. And if it makes the owner happy and the tree is healthy, then that is all that is necessary and it is nobody else’s business to give unsolicited advice on how the tree should look.
However, that does not mean that there are no recommendations that are pertinent for any beginner regarding the style, size, and composition of their first bonsai tree.
First, let’s talk about size. Bonsai come in sizes from just a few cms to several decimeters or even over 1 m tall. And here come in play two factors – the space you have available and your physical strength. Your tree must have enough space to grow in height and width as well, and it must get enough light to thrive. For outside trees, this is not usually a problem, but for indoor, the tree(s) container(s) should be of such a size that you can put them on your windowsill diagonally and the tree(s) should not be higher than about half of the window. That way you can turn them 90° twice a week to achieve even growth and they will get enough light.
And in regard to strength, square-cube law comes into play, I learned this the hard way. When you double the size of a tree and its pot with equal proportions, the weight increases eight-times. A pot that is visually just slightly bigger can become deceptively heavier and it can happen that the tree is unmanageable without help. Trees at circa 50 cm are a big handful for a single person and anything bigger than that might need an extra hand. But they look soooo damned good and impressive…
As for style, there is a whole Japanese terminology that I have never bothered to not forget. Sure, I have it in a book somewhere and I read up on it thoroughly, but it is not useful to me now. That is not to say that it is not useful at all. As all terminology, its purpose is descriptive, in order to allow better communication. And since I do not communicate about my trees too often, I do not need to remember it. If I need to describe my trees sometime, I can always look it up.
The word “descriptive” is key here. A bonsai is a tree in a pot by definition, so the only criterion here is it should look like a tree. My advice to a beginner would, therefore, be to try and shape the plant you have to look like a tree – any tree – and not try and shoehorn it into some specific style.
Both size and style are to a certain extent also species-dependent. Some trees can take heavy abuse and be contorted into wild shapes, some are fragile, sensitive and brittle, some have huge leaves, some tiny etc.
Regarding composition, the usual rules of art apply. For example, the tree and its pot should fill a picture with 4:3 or 16:9 ratio, the golden ratio applies etc. Most people have an adequate aesthetic feeling to do this properly in my opinion, There are, however, several bonsai-specific rules that are important to mention.
The tree is a statue that has a front and a backside, but it is three-dimensional. So branches should point in all directions, not only to the sides. But no branches should point straight forward towards the observer, it creates an unpleasant feeling when observing the tree, it actually strains the eyes a bit.
The trees are meant to be observed with approx 1/3 of the tree at eye height- for example when they are on a windowsill, you should be appreciating them when seated. In order to achieve the best result, the tree trunk should be bent ever so slightly towards the observer. It creates an optical illusion that makes the tree appear slightly bigger than it actually is. Trees that straight create an illusion of being bent backward and that, again, is not entirely pleasant to look at.
Big wounds, if they are not part of the composition, should be hidden on the back or on the sides. Wounds, like dead branches and hollows, that are part of the composition should, of course, be visible and therefore positioned either on the front or on the sides. If wounds on the front side are not avoidable, the tree should not be displayed until they heal, but that is not a problem for me – or for a beginner.
And lastly, the pot is a part of the composition, so its shape and color should complement the tree, but it should not clash with it or compete with it. A straight-lined square pot will look strange with a tree that is all twisty-bendy, and plain brown pot will look a bit drab with a plant that has bright red leaves or flowers. When in doubt, an ordinary bowl works most of the time.
Hopefully, I have not forgotten anything important here. Next time I will maybe finally write about a concrete species and how to care for it.
In the small Palestinian village of Al Walaja, just outside Bethlehem, lives an ancient olive tree, that may be one of the oldest trees in the world. It has been carbon-dated to an age range of 3,000 to 5,500 years old and it is the job of one man, Salah Abu Ali, to protect it.
Ali wakes every morning to tend to his family’s orchard. Entering through a neighbor’s yard, he trots down the grove’s narrow paths in a way that belies his age, occasionally reaching down to quickly toss aside trespassing stones; briskly descending verdant terraces, one after another until he comes to the edge of the orchard. It is at this edge where Ali spends most of his day, pumping water from the spring above or tending to the soil. It is where he sometimes sleeps at night, and where he hosts people that have made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But many come for the tree, an olive that some believe to be the oldest in the world.
The olive tree of Al Walaja, like all trees in the world, is under threat from climate change and is recovering from a recent drought. It is also under the added threat of Israeli expansionism.
But the olive tree of Al Walaja has become something else to its residents. Now, it’s a symbol of resistance. The village is a shadow of its former self. Most of the village’s residents were forced to flee their homes amidst heavy fighting during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. “In 1948, we came here and slept under the trees,” Ali says, as Israeli military personnel chant during drills in the valley below. After the dust settled and the demarcation lines were drawn, Al Walaja had lost around 70 percent of its land.
The town was further eroded after Israel captured the West Bank during the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel then expanded the Jerusalem Municipality, annexing around half of what was left of the village.
More recently, Israel’s separation wall threatened to once again cut the village in two, isolating the Al Badawi tree. But residents won a court battle which saw the chain-link wall diverted around the village. The wall now stands just below Ali’s family orchard, separating the new village from the site of the old, just across a narrow valley.
Despite the court victory, dozens of homes have been bulldozed to make way for the Jerusalem Municipality. Al Walaja still sits isolated, hemmed in on nearly all sides by Israel’s separation wall and no longer able to access uncultivated farmland or many of the village’s once-famed springs.
It is because of these threats that Ali guards the ancient olive tree, and he considers it his life work to protect it. Ali now receives a small sum from The Palestinian Authority to take care of the tree, due to reports of Israeli settlers and soldiers cutting down and burning ancient olive trees in other parts of the West Bank.
According to the United Nations, approximately 45 percent of agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip contain olive trees, providing income for some 100,000 families. “The Palestinians are attached to the olive tree,” Ali says. “The olive tree is a part of our resistance and a part of our religion. With the olive tree we live, and without it we don’t live.”
Story from Atlas Obscura