We see all these elms in bonsai that have “wonderfully” descriptive names like “Catlin” or “Yatsabusa” or “Seiju” or, in this case, “Drake”. What do the names mean?

Let’s start with the binomial name: Ulmus parvifloria or the common name “Chinese elm”. That’s our baseline.

Chinese elms are, as you might guess, native to China (also Korea, Japan, Vietnam and much of Eastern Asia). Ulmus just means “elm” in Latin (for those interested, Latin is used in science when describing species because it is a dead language, meaning it’s no longer evolving due to everyday usage, i.e. the same word “cool” can mean “hot” in the vernacular, or “stoopid” meaning “cool”. You get the idea. The pronunciation of Latin is also fixed (or it should be, but not always, some examples could be, say “ficus” or “pinus”. Ficus should be pronounced “fick-us” and you’ll hear the English say it that way whereas in the USA we say “fie-cuss”. And the perennial joke for “pinus” is that it should be pronounced with the first syllable sounding like the word “pin”. Say it out loud…..yeah, a bit juvenile, but you laughed, admit it. So what happened to Latin? It evolved into Spanish, Italian, French, etc.).

Ulmus parvifolia is a deciduous or semi deciduous tree (meaning it doesn’t drop its leaves every winter) and is also know as “lacebark elm” as its bark flakes off.

Let’s continue: parvifolia in Latin means: small (parvus) leaf (folium). That’s the easy part. What does, say, “catlin” mean? Or, in this case, “Drake”.

Catlin elms we’re first developed by John Catlin, from California, in the 50’s (that would be the 1950’s, if you are reading this in the future) and it has even smaller leaves than the species. And here I thought Catlin was his wife or daughter name. Go figure.

Drake means “dragon” in old English, from the Latin, Draco (it’s also the name of a constellation in the northern sky, named for Draco, the dragon that guarded the golden apples in the garden of Hesperides. It’s name was Ladon. Hesperides killed Ladon, and the goddess Hera was so distraught at its death that she created the image in the heavens).

The Drake elm was developed by the Monrovia nursery in the 50’s and has become the most popular cultivar in the USA, sales-wise.

I like this one being called a “Drake”, being that it kinda curls up and has long, sinuous movement, like a dragon.

Here we are getting to the meat of the names. Cultivar means it’s a cultivated or created variety, usually by cross pollinating but sometimes the tree throws off a mutated twig called a “sport” with a characteristic that might be desirable. I believe the Catlin is a sport from a Drake elm. And seiju is a sport from the Catlin, with even smaller leaves. Yatsabusa is a Chinese elm from Japan and yatsabusa means, roughly, “dwarf” in Japanese (cue the linguists…).

It looks to me like it was a root cutting, chopped off a large Chinese elm. Elms have the ability (super power if you would) of growing new trees from the tips of the roots. an annoying characteristic of you cut one down and don’t get all the roots up, instead of one big tree you’ll have a forest of little trees. But great for propagation in bonsai as roots tend to have lots of twists and turns.

They heal amazingly we’ll too.

Let me get rid of all the dead tips and branches, so I know what I have to work with.

Good branch on the left, dead branch on the right.

It’s been an odd winter. The trees that dropped their leaves early are all pushing new growth. Like this shohin Chinese elm below.

Even the American elms are pushing early,

But then some are just going dormant. Here are Drake elm seedlings below.

New buds. These are just swelling. As the days go on, you’ll see more green.

Like this one on another Chinese elm.

Back to our subject.

Where’s the front?

Don’t know yet. When you can’t figure out a main composition point, go back to basics.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. In this case, focus: Find the living branches Adam.



Well, this branch is all dead.


On deciduous and trees that backbud, if you want a branch in the same area of a dead branch, leave the branch collar, don’t cut it flush.

You’ll most often get a new bud coming off that collar.

Let’s get it out of the pot.

It’s just a little potbound. An old steak knife is the perfect tool.

Saw saw saw…. or is it see saw see saw?

Ah. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting a potbound tree out of a pot.

There are those circling roots I talked about in the last post.

Now, unlike the pine in that last post, I’m going to be aggressive with these roots.

Looks like my beard.

Good roots even after cutting all that off.

Now I have to figure out the front. And the potting angle

I like that.

This too.

Some shameless branding….

I think I’ll go with this pot. A Chinese semi-cascade pot from the 1980’s.

Namako glaze. One of my favorites. Reminds me of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

Here’s an excellent write up in Peter Tea’s old blog about NAMAKO glazes.

Needs just a little more root reduction.

It’ll fit though.

*Housekeeping hack of the day: to reduce the sweeping up at the end of the day (and give you more time to drink beer), put a bin under the feet of your work stand.

Aw yeah? Look at those roots!

See? Told you it would fit.

Some soil and a bit of organic fertilizer….I know, I told you before, don’t fertilize deciduous trees when you repot. But an elm can back bud from almost anywhere, so I’m not worried about too-long of intermodal space. And I have a feeling this tree needs some “oommph” after all this work.

Now we are ready for some styling.

Let’s see…

Below, this branch obscures the trunk, which is the main plot line of this trees story.

This branch, hmmmm, what to do with it?

The trunk line is straight here, with little taper.

Even reverse taper where the three branches were allowed to grow.

Gotta keep eating the Elephant…. snip!

I could bend this branch…


Look at all that wire, just waiting to be used.

But……no, I gotta fix some structure. Like pulling a band aid off, do it fast before you feel it.




Didn’t want to do that. but it needed it.

Now…some wire.

The tree needs taper, so I went with that branch I was unsure about as the the continuation of the trunk line.

And that’s that.

It might grow out like this in about two years. Maybe even by the end of this year, if it’s a good growing year.

You can see the trunk now, and the canopy and leaves are relegated to just being the details.

Not much left though, except to let it grow.

A good beginning.

7 thoughts

  1. Wow! Two blog posts in the same week! Is this a late Christmas present?
    Also very apt timing because I was wondering what the best course of action was with my very confused elms and crepe myrtles.


  2. Adam, I remember you saying willow leaf ficus root cuttings will only shoot from the end, is that the same with elm root cuttings? I have a bunch of cork bark elm root cuttings and I am wondering how to move them forward.


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