This came in from Avalus and I was so excited that I didn’t want to wait until next week to post it, so it’s Tree Wednesday.
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
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.
Where you should get your first tree, and what kind of tree should it be, depends on where you live, where you want to keep it and what experience you have. I am living in a temperate climate and therefore my personal experience is limited to the plants that grow around here plus some subtropical and tropical plants that I grow indoors. I also have very limited – and universally negative – experience with Australian flora, so, unfortunately, I cannot give too much info about that. But whatever I write here should be applicable throughout Eurasia and North America.
So first thing first – where you should get your first tree? If you have indoor plants, you should first look whether you have a suitable plant already that could perhaps be converted to bonsai. There is plenty of commonly grown indoor potted plants that are also suitable bonsai species. Two of my most impressive and valuable trees were converted from 40 years old plants that my mother grew.
If you have a garden and want to have an outdoor bonsai, then I would recommend using local species or some decorative species that you might already have. You can either try and take a twig and plant it – many species take root easily – or look around your garden for a seedling that started to grow where it should not have, perhaps too close to a hedge or similar.
Such plants have a huge advantage over anything that you buy in that you can be reasonably sure that they can prosper in the environment you can provide for them and you might already know how to care for them.
Do not buy anything that has “bonsai” in the name. Neither a good expensive tree nor one of the mass-produced cheap ones in supermarkets. In the first case, you probably would not be able to take proper care of the tree yet, and in the second case you would not be buying a bonsai but a crippled plant that can become one in a few years at the best, or will die soon no matter what you do at worst. The cheapo “bonsai” from supermarkets can be a good source of twig cuttings for your own planting though, sometimes it is the only way to get your hands on certain species. And absolutely never buy “bonsai kit”. There is no such thing as bonsai seeds. Those are ordinary tree seeds in fancy packaging and without proper care will, therefore, grow into ordinary trees – if they germinate at all.
Do not poach trees in the forest or on someone else’s property. There are environmentally friendly and IMO morally OK ways to do it – for example trees that grow near train tracks or roads and are periodically cut down for maintenance because they are a weed – but it is still illegal and you should not do it without the permission of the property owner. And then there is, of course, the morally reprehensible poaching in parks and mountain forests. In Japan poaching of trees for commerce has lead to significant environmental damage in mountainous areas for example. Yup, the Japanese are not above commercializing their heritage and destroying their environment in due course. And to poach a tree without it dying requires a lot of experience, take my word for it.
If you lack suitable species at home and cannot find anything in your garden and therefore must buy something, then buy plants of suitable species at your local gardening store. Look for plants that do not have overtly visible scars from grafting and are healthy and with a bit of luck, you can find a tree that can be converted into a bonsai within one-two years.
And here a very short and incomplete list of species/genera, in three categories. The taxa are listed in no particular order from the top of my head. I only write about species/genera that I have personal experience with or can reasonably extrapolate to from closely related taxa. And because English tree nomenclature is a complete nonsensical mess, I will only use Latin names.
Each of these taxa may get their own extra article in due course. I will start with some of the most suitable ones.