What is the Banyan Style?

This is a vanity post.
I know, I know, I’ve made fun of vanity posts before.
A vanity post is about a tree that is close to being finished but looks ragged and, by the expert application of technique and the miraculous artistic skill present in the artists hands, will magically transform itself into a masterful work of bonsai art.
Well, maybe…..there are too many bonsai professionals and longtime bonsai practitioners who say that ficus trees are unsuited for serious bonsai.
Which I don’t understand.
Never mind that the oldest documented tree, planted by man, is a ficus (specifically, the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, a sacred Bo tree or ficus religiosa, that was planted in 288 BC and is said to be a cutting from the very Bo tree that the Buddha gained enlightenment under).
And even though I call this a vanity post, I promise that I’ll actually let you know what I’m doing and explain the techniques I’m using and give you horticultural and artistic reasons for what my gnarled hands are accomplishing.
And never mind that it’s not a pine or a juniper, it’s still a pretty tree at the end.
And one more thing, the transformations in vanity posts are not really magical, but just a consistent application of bonsai basics.

Opa Banyan Style!
The banyan style doesn’t really use a banyan tree (which is generally thought to be ficus benghalensis, although the word “banyan” is more used now to describe the habit of growth instead of the species…..more about that habit later).
The word banyan actually comes from the Indian traders who set up their markets underneath the trees and are known as the “Bania”.
Jeez, such a long winded essay without any pics.
Do you feel cheated?
Here’re four pics for you then:
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Front, side, side, and back.
Pretty rough, right?
Here’s a view of the trunk.
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I had this tree in my uncovered greenhouse shoved in a corner and as a result I lost this branch in the back.
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Which illustrates a perfect point.
Even though the tree was outside (technically, an uncovered greenhouse) and part of the tree was getting full sun, the part that was shaded weakened and die back occurred.
And this is a ficus, a so-called indoor bonsai.
The lesson: if you want to develop a bonsai to its fullest potential, you need full sun. It might survive but it won’t thrive.
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This tree has a big bald spot I have to fill in now.
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I had thought about repotting the tree, it is pushing some roots out of the pot…
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But poking around in the soil, it doesn’t seem too rootbound.
I’ll hold off another month (it’s April) and see what the leaves growth tell me to do.
I’ll just clip the hanging roots off.
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It is a pot, although it looks like a slab, doesn’t it?
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I don’t know who made it but it’s cool.
Perfect for a banyan style tree.
So, what is banyan style?
It is a tree form that features a short, wide tree, usually wider than tall, with an expansive canopy and low, spreading branches.
And quite often those branches have aerial roots dropping into the soil.
My tree doesn’t have an abundance of aerial roots but just enough to be tasteful.
The consensus is still out on the purpose of these aerial roots; a few ideas are they are “prop” roots to hold up the branches or the soil the tree grows in is too dry (in the rain forest) and it’s trying to find water.
I’m not sure.
I know that I can encourage them to grow if I have a tree in a shallow amount of soil and I shade the trunk. I’m sure humidity plays a role too but I don’t have to worry about that, me being in Florida and all.
The humidity is so high here when I travel to other states I feel like Spongebob when he gets trapped on land.
Anyway, desiccated sponges aside, the next operation is called the comb-over.
To begin, defoliate and prune extraneous branches.
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The above pics show three things: the leaf removal, with bud retention, it shows pruning the branches with two branches on each junction, and it shows that my hands still get dirty (it particularly shows my dirty hands for my doubting friend, Chef, who needs to go cook some pork belly now!).
I’m finding it very important with this fine detail wiring that a visible bud needs to be at or near the end of the branch or that branch will most likely die back to an existent bud.
One more series-
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As I prune higher up in the tree (which “higher” is a relative term for a this banyan, it’s only about a foot tall) the standard formula of “cut off the branches growing up, down and leave only two at each junction” changes.
A banyan is obviously not a pine tree style, it has more of a deciduous tree habit. The branches don’t necessarily angle down at the approved 27 degree angle.
Which leads us into a pet peeve of mine, namely, what’s so hard about allowing a tropical category in major shows?
Mr. Valvanis has the only major “Best Tropical” award at his National Show.
Face the fact that the bonsai world is changing and most of the new participants seem to come from more tropical environs, if bonsai is to continue to grow and not be a mere horticultural folk art from Japan we should embrace new ideas, forms, species etc.
Let me remind everyone that the art we are trying to create is to make a small, relatively young plant look like an old, big tree.
And, in my opinion, a banyan tree looks positively decayed and ancient.
Like finding a forgotten civilization or a lost world or something.
Phew.
After that rant, as if I haven’t caused enough trouble, we got a naked tree to deal with now.
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Sweet cheeks! It’s a sexy beast!
And a beast it is ,too, gotta tame it with some wire.
Whoops, forgot to prune that ugly knob off.
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I think a the he-tree has become a she-tree.
And she needs a little discipline I think.
Or, as we say, wire…
I need some thicker gauge wire to move some of the bigger branches.
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I prefer to place the big branches and then wire out the little ones.
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And now the little branches….
Hold on, before I finish, I’m gonna need two beers, a bottle of water, and some shrimp cocktail. Maybe a bag of chips.
The next operation is gonna take a while, I need some provisions to get me through.
Better yet, make that four beers.
Onward!
As I mentioned earlier, this tree needs a “comb over” treatment.
Maybe it’s still a he-tree after all.
Anyway, the bald spot….
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…do you see it?
Now you don’t!
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Well, after I wire it out that is.
One of the main themes of the banyan tree form is an expansive, dome-like canopy.
The goal of wiring is to fill in the upper canopy.
And you could have two or three or four “apexes”.
And what I mean by apex is really a crown of upper branches creating a rounded dome-like effect.
Just like on a deciduous tree.
Ok now, I admit it, it took a full six pack to finish this tree but, by utilizing diligent and meticulous effort, I persevered and finished the beer….uh, wiring.
Are you ready?
Wired, but before branch placement.
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Side view, after branch placement-
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The other side…I broke on through…
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The rear-
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And the front-
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And since I’m a nice guy, I’ll give you the progression again.
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And for the Instagram users out there, a short video for a giggle.
click me for the video!
The aftercare is easy, I fertilize heavily but I watch the water, it being leafless and all.
And just wait for it to grow.

About adamaskwhy

Visual artist specializing in bonsai, mostly.
This entry was posted in branch placement, refine, wiring and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What is the Banyan Style?

  1. Adam i love the post! I want to join the new bonsai movement! Lets break the rules and create a round world that once was flat! Lets experiment with all creative techniques and plants! Everyone should try bonsai art! Or plastic farm animals.

  2. Van says:

    Love the tree Adam. It is hard to grasp the magnificent and scale of a banyan if one has never seen one before. We Floridians sure bump into a few here and there before. I just went to Fort Meyer to check out Eric Weigert’s collection and also to see a giant banyan just two days ago.

    After Thomas Edison enlightened the world over, he and Henry Ford combed all over south and southeast Asia for one of his next project… to produce latex here in America. He planted a little ficus benghalensis sapling behind his summer house and research garden in 1927; lord and behold, the thing canopy spread out and cover more than one acre of land with aerial roots turn trunks with some more than 10 foot in diameter. The sign says it is the oldest and biggest banyan in America continent.

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