I suppose you are all waiting on this tree: And it’s ultimate disposition too? 

Ok, but you’re gonna learn a bit about metallurgy, cloning, and whatever else my twisted imagination may come up with. Ready? Here’s a look at the trunk:  Notice the bulbous quality. I’ll get to that a bit later. Cloning and all. 

First step is a bit of clean-up.   This is a ficus salicaria (a willow-leaf ficus, often called nerifolia or salicifolia). It’s a prolifically budding ficus that needs serious pruning in the growing season. 

A little off the top:  

Some defoliation.   

I believe this is the front. Mainly because this is definitely the back.   

Now, if you remember the premise of this post (which I described in the last post), I was challenged to create a semi-cascade out of a willow leaf ficus. This was a challenge set out by none other than Heart Throb Seth Nelson (biggest troll in the bonsai world, excepting Ryan Neil that is). Friend request him on Facebook and say “Hi!”, he loves new friends. Seth (or, as we call him, Mr. Melon) is the youngest and hottest curator of a public bonsai collection in the U.S. (The James J. Smith collection at Heathcote Gardens in Ft. Pierce FL. Which is what makes him the hottest btw, Ft. Pierce is one of the most sun blasted, melt your testicles to your leg hot and, blazing places in Florida. When it was a military base, Ft. Pierce was where they sent those soldiers who couldn’t peel potatoes). And he’s never seen a semi-cascade salicaria before. I think the sun has befuddled him. 

The challenge with this tree is the branch that will be the cascade is growing up.   

And at quite the angle too. Let’s see if I can bend it.   

I’m thinking I might need two wraps of the wire to get it to bend. Here’s something funny to contemplate: I’ve heard that if you use too big of a wire on a branch, that you’re apt to break said branch. And I’ve also heard the opposite too, too small a wire will cause you to force the branch too much, thereby cracking it. Additionally, it’s usually recommended that you use just one wire, that is the correct size, to bend a branch. 

This is my practice: mostly I will use two smaller wires to execute a big bend in a big branch. The reason is, the more contact you have on the outside of your bend, the less likely that bend will crack. Simple physics. On smaller branches you’ll often see me use bigger wire than indicated. For the same reason. Call me a rebel, call me what you will, it works.  

 This wire happens to be about twenty years old (it might be older than Seth). Here’s some metallurgy for you: this is aluminum, the older it gets (with exposure to the heat/cold cycle) the stiffer it gets (much like an old man’s joints but not much like his, well, you know). If you are using copper, this problem is even worse. Copper must be heated to make it soft and usable for bonsai. It too gets stiffer with age but, even worse, the more you bang it, move it, drop it etc, the more hard spots you’ll get. So be gentle, don’t go tossing your wire on your bench. 

So, contrary to what I usually do, let’s see if this old wire is stiff enough to hold the bends.  Hmmmmmnn.    Interesting.   Yessss!   Amazing.  

That works, now I’ll do a little potting.  I need to see the tree in the pot to continue with the correct angles. 

Of course, that’s easier said than done.  

   It’s a little like putting a size ten ass into a size six pair of jeans. Need some plastic surgery.  

 There we go. It’s this operation that leads me to ask the question: why does this tree have such a big ass, uh, I mean, base?

It’s because of cloning. Or, as they say, tissue culture propagation and micropropagation. 

There are several techniques that are used by micropropagators (there’s a joke there. I’ll let you figure it out). 

One method is a familiar one, but just done on a much smaller (but bigger) scale. The technician uses meristematic tissue, or the cells that occur at the growing tips, dormant buds, and at the roots, which is how standard propagation is accomplished. I say it’s smaller because they use minute amounts of material to produce a plant. I say bigger because, using only that minute amount, they can produce many more plants per tissue specimen. That’s one reason it’s economical. 

The second method is organogenesis, which is a way to produce specific parts of plants (hence the “organ” part). It’s used in research (how do these things grow etc.) but also in the biopharmaceutical industry in creating medical drugs (yes, I’m sure they can grow what is colloquially known as “Bud”. Now stop giggling). 

The third method is the creation of artificial seeds, called non-zygotic (or somatic) embryogenesis. This method is cool because not only does it mean you can get seed from a plant that doesn’t really produce viable seed (like a banana) but you can create hybrids that may not happen naturally, like an orange/lime or, even crazier, how about a pumpkin shaped watermelon?  

With our ficus salicaria I can only guess as to the method used (the first I’d say), but I do know it was produced by micropropagation. I actually have about 15 trees grown this way.  

     And they all exhibit that bulbous base, which is great for bonsai. 

I’m hoping you read that voluminous lesson above. If not, then poo on you. Time to wire.  


Some establishing shots. Notice I twisted the thicker part of the top back and down. 

From the top:  

A detail shot:  

The before:  

And the after:  

It really surprized me how much I was able to bend that branch. It’s a relatively young branch, not even a year, so that must be why. 

For the next post I will work on  a clients tree, a big tiger bark ficus. Wait ’till you see it. 

And to Seth, he who challenged me, and made me write about tissue culture, I say, print this post, fold it up until it’s all corners, and shove it up your rear.  

3 thoughts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s