Sometimes I just like to stir the puddin’, and I think this post will do just that. It’ll annoy a few, make a few think but hopefully entertain you all. Let us introduce you to our cast of rogues for today’s drama; some willow leaf ficus (ficus salicaria to be precise. If you see anyone call it differently I give you permission to brutally put that ignorant individual in their place. Become that cyber bully you so much want to be, go ahead, you’ll feel empowered enough that you might just might think you can fly. Fly right off a bridge.)  

        Four trees, all the same species but all different looks and forms (here’s the first shot across the bow, we should not be calling the different “styles” of trees “styles”. I believe it’s a misunderstanding of the essence of Japanese to use the word “style”. In karate, the way the martial artist holds his/her body when practicing is called a pose or stance or form. Those are more accurate words than the word “style” when describing how a tree has been pruned.  I propose we begin using the word “form” when describing the basic, classical shapes when training bonsai trees (you know- cascade,informal upright, windswept etc.). It’s a bit more precise and makes one sound like one understands how the English language is used well to convey specific ideas. I mean, my artist friends laugh at me when I use the word style. They say things like,

“Are we painting a landscape “style” painting today ?”  Style is reserved for how a group of artists or an individual use technique to convey their art. Like the Cubists or like the Impressionists. Or like Walter Paul or Suthin Sukosolvisit.  Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that.) 

Where was I? Oh yeah, the same species but different forms and looks. How is this interesting? Well, Ficus salicaria is a plastic tree. Uhhhh, say what?! Plastic: adjective: (of substances or materials or bonsai trees) easily shaped or molded. 

Ok, I added the bonsai tree part, but when I say that a willow leaf ficus is plastic, I mean that it doesn’t have to conform to its “natural” full-grown growth habit when we prune it to a shape but can, like a juniper or a Chinese elm, be pruned in any form that best suits that individual trees unique habit (as opposed to the way a Japanese maple is almost always best when grown as a deciduous tree form). Let’s start with this one: 

 As you can see, I’ve already defoliated it. I’ve had it about a year (I got it at the auction last year at the Bonsai Societies of Florida convention for too much money. It was for charity though, so it was worth it) and all the branches are new; when I got it it was just the fat bottom trunk and the skinny top.  

I think this was the original front.  But I like the other side better.   One reason is this root.   And I just like the trunk character better. First step is shortening here:  As you build a tree you, should break it into threes. The bottom third should be three times as long as the top third. Or something like that. I’m not getting my ruler out today.  

   Looks better already. Now for some wire.   You may have noticed I’m not in my usual workspace, The Nook. I’m actually at Epcot. I’m manning the Central Florida Bonsai Club’s table at the Flower and Garden show’s Festival Center. The club answers questions Friday through Sunday in the Center and today was my turn with my bud Rick.  I really enjoy my Epcot days with Rick, he talks so much to the guests that I get to work on trees all day. Good times. Thank you sir!

The next day, it’s time for a pot.  

 There might be one in there somewhere. 

I need to see what kind of roots I have below the soil.  

 Ah……Not much I see. Methinks I need a wider pot.  



This’ll work. As I put the tree in the pot, I’m not trimming any roots. This is to encourage them to grow more. The pot is Taiko Earth by my friend Rob Addonizio. I like it.  

It looks pretty cool but it’s still about two years before those branches are thick enough to be in scale. 

So we go from a sumo form to an informal upright look.  

 Kinda shaggy at the moment. This was a tree originally styled by the inimitable Mike Lane at a CFBC meeting last year. I’ve done nothing to it except let it grow. Let’s defoliate to see the structure.    

It looked like this at the end of his demo.   Not much was left, and only had two wires applied. I think it needs few little changes.  A slight turn for movement.  This branch is too low and skinny.   How’s this?  So this form is called informal upright. It’s at a very early stage right now but we need to give it a few years as well. The next tree is technically the same form but I like to add on that it’s also a pine tree form too.   It doesn’t need anything done to it at the moment, just fertilize and let it grow.  

The next tree will really prove my point. It’s a bunjin or literati form tree.   I got it from Mike at Emblem Bonsai and Exotics. I believe it’s a root cutting. I’ll be styling it and repotting it. I love my work.  

   It has nice movement and loads of potential (when I was in the third grade I was a break-dancer. No, really, I even had a roll of linoleum I would throw on the street and do my routine. This was way back in the Eighties. I could do a backspin, the windmill, a knee spin, and even do a head spin. They said I had good movement and loads of potential too. Nowadays I’m lucky if I can walk a straight line, nevermind breakdance. It’s probably a good thing I do bonsai, huh? I’d starve as a dancer today). 

This is the pot I’m using.   It’s made of glass. There is an up and coming bonsai glass artist named Emrys Berkower who’s experiments with glass containers for bonsai are revolutionary (I don’t think he has a website yet, look him up on Facebook).   This is one of his creations.    Sweet, now for some styling.     Some wiring.  

And it’s this tree that really shows the plasticity of salicaria as a bonsai subject. Ed Trout, THE bonsai master from Miami, says that if the willow leaf isn’t the best species for bonsai, he doesn’t know what tree is. It’s able to be grown and pruned in every classic form and not look forced like some trees do. You gotta get you one, you need it. 

So, you’ve had your word of the day (plastic), I’ve a annoyed the bonsai conservatives out there by suggesting that they’ve been using the word “style” incorrectly for more than fifty years, and I suggested that one can prune a tree contrary to its natural mature growth habit (which, to some, is an irreparable sin, close to a mortal sin even). What else can I do or say to ostracize myself? How about..junipers bore me, Japanese black pine is becoming over saturated, once you’ve seen one maple deciduous form, it seems you’ve seen them all (is there any art in continually copying those who have come before?)…….ummm, I can’t stand cilantro, it’s evil, I think that public schools should be abolished, cake is a lie……..

Next up on the blog, I think I’ll make soup. That should be safe. 


9 thoughts

  1. Glad to see you posting again. I’ve always wondered why you hardly cover junipers. Isn’t Florida home to at least a species and a half? With lots of naysayers about both Atlantic White Cedar and Eastern Red Cedar, I’d figure they were right up your alley. Is it a mistake to think they a challenge waiting to be mastered?


    1. Eastern red cedar (juniperus virginiana) might make a good subject here if a sizable specimen could be found but they tend to grow in swampy areas (weird, I know) and are hard to collect. But it’s only here in Florida where I’ve seen them with adult foliage.
      Junipers bore me because the work on them is only once or twice a year and they’re clichéd. Now don’t get me wrong, I have some good ones but I just don’t work in them much. And then there’s the fact that they’re almost instant bonsai. You can make one passable in a session. I like the challenge of having to build branches and ramification.


      1. Thanks for responding. Always look forward to your posts. It’s a skilled writer that makes you feel like you’re with a friend and your perspective usually makes a lot of sense. Still a newbie at this and I’ve definitely learned a ton from reading your blog.

        From my standpoint–a total novice who knows essentially nothing–as an early stage dad, with the limited time on my hands, a fast developing, easier to manage tree has a lot going for it.

        Looking from your standpoint, I totally get where you’re coming from.


  2. I lost it at breakdancing, trying to envision that, then you add to the visual by describing your sheet of linoleum, I just can’t take it.
    I am glad you are back at it, and feeling better.
    Hope to see you soon!

    P.S. Cilantro is good!


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