An unknown ficus, to me

Well, I’ve exhausted my research and I can’t find the name. It’s the subject of today’s post. Some of Florida’s best and brightest can’t find out the species so I think I’ll call it ficus “jim smithii” 

Since I can’t find the answers on the interwebd, let me find some more profound answers by working on the tree instead. Its ficus from the late, great Jim Smith, the quiet giant of Florida bonsai, who never spoke ill of anyone, followed his own path, stayed true to himself, and accepted others for their strengths and weaknesses. He was generous to a fault and had no jealousy. He wasn’t a saint, by any chance. He had enemies and rivalries, of course. But what he did, his actions, his generosity, the time he gave to others, that’s what people remember. 

And, of course, his bonsai are legendary. Not just the quality but the trees he introduced and made popular. There’s the portulacaria, the many ficus species, the propagation techniques and the styling. I’m probably laying it on thick but, well, he is still a big influence in Florida and tropical bonsai. Heck, there’s even a plaque in a museum in China commemorating his achievements in bonsai. 

What does all that have to do with this ficus?

 Well, it’s a species he brought into the bonsai scene in the USA and yet, he didn’t have an exact ID on it. He called it “ficus exotica”. Of course, we all know that the name “exotica” is already being used for a variety of Benjamina. This is clearly not a benjamina. Though it has dieback like one. But so does the salicaria. And, though it’s a similar leaf, it’s not a one or the “89” variety of the salicaria (willow leaf).  

The bark has the texture of a salicaria but the color of a microcarpa. Hmmmm….NFS? That means, Not For Sale. I got the tree from a friend and I tend to not sell those. 

The first work I need to do is to clean up all the crossing roots. Theyre pretty bad too. It was a cutting, I’m sure, and has probably been in a pot like this for 20 years. 

Let’s take it out of the pot and…….whoops!

Ants!Fire ants, specifically. Let me just get the hose and evict them. If there were more ants I might use an insecticidal soap but this is just a minor infestation.  There we go. 

Now, for some handy dandy tools, my trusty, homemade wire hook……

Some concaves

I’m not sure if they take as root cuttings but I’m sure going to try. Regular stem cuttings too, gotta keep the legacy going. 

Let’s get to the root of the problem….. WAIT! What’s that? Aha! A borer larvae, the bastard. It’s a juicy one too. 

Look at those teeth! 

Good and fat! You know what that means? Right, it’s gonna be dinner. 

No, not mine silly……watch! 


Borers are a big problem more south of me and on the coasts, but this winter was kinda warm and a lot of bugs that should have been killed by the cold, weren’t killed by the cold. So I’m seeing more aphids, thrips, and now, I guess, borers. Gotta be vigilant. 

Enough blood sport, back to work……
That’s the best I can do for the roots. It, like many ficus, doesn’t have many roots to work with. It’ll survive but it’s going to take a few years to really develop a nebari. And ficus do that best in a bonsai pot. 
Some soil….

And we are ready for pruning. 

This first one has to go. It’s coming straight out at you, way too low. 

Here are a few on the inside of a curve. 
Anyway, you know the drill…..gone

Simplify. 

Too skinny too low. 

Here’s the tree after pruning. One thing (or two, if you’re counting it that way) I’m leaving is the double branch on the bottom left. It’s generally taught to beginners to have only one branch coming from one spot. But I need some visual weight there. It is the first branch and should usually be the heaviest. So sometimes two is better than one. 

So I’m keeping both, I’m going to wire them and let’s see what happens. Double the wire….

…..a little bending. 

Moving on up the tree…..

Some leaf and tip pruning. 

And finished, just about. 

From the side….

And the front. 

The tree, for being a lumpy chunk of wood, has pretty good taper. And the character! Damn that looks old. 
Let me make a few adjustments and……

TA DAA!!Not bad. I think the tree has a good start and a pretty good future. It has flaws, don’t we all, and scars…..and some history. And a tale that needs to be told over some beers. I’ll buy the first round……..see you at the bar. 

About adamaskwhy

Visual artist specializing in bonsai, mostly.
This entry was posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, rare finds, wiring and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to An unknown ficus, to me

  1. yarlenvas says:

    Amazing post, like always!.
    Thanks

  2. Victor says:

    Hi Adam check here maybe you can find it.
    http://www.redalyc.org/pdf/574/57407503.pdf

  3. plantlady6 says:

    Adam, just from your pictures which can be deceptive it appears to be a Long Island Ficus, similar to the Green Island but with Long Leaves. I have one that was given to me a few years ago. That is just a suggestion. You did an amazing job with it. You also did a great job with my young Vice President Cody and his father. They were really impressed. Thanks. Darlene

  4. Vern Maddox says:

    Interesting tree, Adam. Look forward to seeing how it develops, especially in leaf size reduction.

  5. Pingback: Unknown Ficus to me Adams Art and Bonsai Blog – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

  6. Shannon Linzey says:

    So I have a question (probably a dumb one) why did you wire wrap it? My son is starting on his first bonsai and I’m looking for as much info on ways to prune and grow, and form them

    • adamaskwhy says:

      That’s a common question Shannon, we wrap the wire to bend and position the branches to give the tree an aged and gnarly look. The main aesthetic goal is to make a small, usually young tree look like a big, old tree. The shape, line and orientation of the branches are one of the visual cues we use to achieve this look.

  7. Francis says:

    I think that’s a Ficus Nerifolia

  8. Vicki says:

    Hi, I bought a ficus ginseng 4 years ago I think at IKEA ( so you can imagine the quality) at the time I didn’t even know what a bonsai was. It almost died on me, so I was forced to do some research and give it lots of love, I’ve repotted it and pruned it few times, but never wired it, and i haven’t pruned it in the last year and a half as I wanted it to grow thicker branches, however it needs to be cut badly, in this last summer it put on lots of leaves which are now quite big and looks healthy, but it needs some styling. Thing is I don’t know where to start, I know what it should look like at the end, but I’m scared to cut the wrong branches, plus they all are so different I can’t compare it to any of the ones found online. Any help? Plus I can’t get it to grow aerial roots…

    • adamaskwhy says:

      Hi Vicki,
      I hate to say this but if you read around my blog a bit more all the questions are answered. Your tree is a ficus microcarpa, just put that in the search feature and you’ll find many many posts on styling, pruning, thickening branches, aerial roots and even the origin of the name banyan.

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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s