The Fuku-Bonsai Logo Tree, a dwarf schefflera in training since
1976, was featured in a rare front-back wrap-around cover when
it was about 23 years old in the
January-February 2000 issue of Bonsai Magazine, the
publication of Bonsai Clubs International. Dwarf Schefflera is the easiest and most successful
of all trees sold as "indoor bonsai." It is Fuku-Bonsai's
specialty and an outstanding houseplant bonsai very
suitable for gifts. It can grow indoors in homes and offices
throughout the year, or be grown outdoors when night
temperatures are above 55°F. To differentiate and to avoid
the confusion of the term "indoor bonsai," we
trademarked "TRUE INDOOR BONSAI™."
Facts, and Misrepresentations!
By David W. Fukumoto, Fuku-Bonsai,
Most people kill their bonsai because they purchased or were
given the wrong tree that could not grow in their conditions.
Much of this is due to the term "INDOOR BONSAI" being
used very loosely. When bonsai was being introduced into the
United States by servicemen returning from occupied Japan after
World War II, "BONSAI" only meant
"Japanese temperate climate bonsai to be grown outdoors."
"INDOOR BONSAI" is an American innovation that largely began in
the 1960's. Fuku-Bonsai was amongst the leaders as we began in
1962. We were in contact with Ernesta Ballard, the president
of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, whose early book told of
her experiences of growing and wintering-over ficus plants that she
had acquired in Florida during her vacations. They were easier and
more successfully wintered indoors and grown outdoors in warmer
seasons compared to traditional Japanese temperate climate bonsai
that required the use of cold frames in her area.
Others associated with the American Bonsai Society wrote of their
experiences and when Constance Derderian, the curator of the
Lars Anderson Bonsai Collection at Arnold Arboretum was named as the
editor to put together the first major
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook on the subject, I and others were asked to submit
articles. We already knew that there would
be confusion and instead of "INDOOR BONSAI," the title of the
handbook was "BONSAI FOR INDOORS."
When Fuku-Bonsai began shipping nationally
in 1974, almost no one had even heard about "indoor bonsai." Then, many thought there were only
two types of bonsai: "OUTDOOR BONSAI" and "INDOOR BONSAI."
That's not correct. To differentiate Fuku-Bonsai trademarked
"TRUE INDOOR BONSAI™" for our unique, easy-care houseplant bonsai. There are many kinds of bonsai and this
article will attempt to provide clarification.
Success or failure will depend upon the tree's natural climatic
range and it's light and cultural requirements.
Most temperate climate bonsai will not grow well in the tropics
or indoors. They likely need a winter dormancy even if they
have low-light or shade tolerant traits. Most tropical plants will
not grow in temperate climates as they can't handle the winter cold.
They will grow indoors in temperate climates if they are kept warm
and their light and other cultural requirements are met.
Tropical plants are not all houseplants that can be grown indoors
for long periods and they need specific conditions and care.
Do the trees show up in "houseplant" magazines?
Most tropical or imported Chinese bonsai plants are not
featured in houseplant magazines, but they are very commonly labeled
"INDOOR BONSAI." This is a very questionable and simplistic
practice. Trees don't magically
become indoor plants because they are called "bonsai." That's
like saying "polar bears can live in tropical Hawaii."
It's silly and misleading to make such statements without all
other necessary information. That's how "INDOOR BONSAI" is
currently being used by unethical vendors and even
respected organizations like Google, Amazon and Wikipedia. This
Even known houseplants often need much more light than is
available in most homes and offices! The most notable are
members of the Ficus or Fig family. With the exception of the
Mistletoe Fig (Ficus deltoidea syn. Ficus diversifolia), most ficus bonsai need more light than available on window sills.
To thrive, they need to be kept warm, but also be given the stronger
light or glasshouse conditions. Ficus authority Jerry Meislik has found that
some ficus species have significant temperate climate traits and
tend to exhibit seasonal fall defoliation. These may not do as
well in heated greenhouses. There's a large range of opinions regarding the
use of the term "INDOOR BONSAI." I think it should mean plants
that are recognized as "houseplants" that can thrive indoors in
homes and offices. Although many plants can be grown outdoors
when night temperatures exceed 55°F, these plants are primarily grown
indoors, not just to protect them against the cold during
Each specie must be tested and; although there may be a varietal exception that a
single grower has been successful, the exception does not
justify listing such plants as indoor bonsai. There are a wide
range of pines and junipers and because a few varieties can adapt to the
tropics and individuals have successfully grown them indoors with
supplemental light and special conditions for a year or so, they are
labeled and sold as INDOOR BONSAI. This
is extremely unethical as bonsai that should normally live for many
years should not die within a year or two.
Is the use of the term INDOOR BONSAI sloppy misuse based up
traditional history or is this due to misrepresentation and fraud?
The bonsai community must bring this to the attention of reputable
companies like Google, Amazon, and Wikipedia. I see no excuses for bonsai professionals who are using INDOOR
BONSAI in a misleading and fraudulent manner. It's no secret
that many want to grow bonsai indoors and to call trees INDOOR
BONSAI will result in higher sales. But it's still fraud if you
know you are misrepresenting the products and misleading people.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVED
TERMINOLOGY AND ETHICS
are in a rapidly growing age of "International Bonsai" in which
endemic trees of all climatic origins are being grown as bonsai and
the number of trees being trained as bonsai is growing dramatically.
There have been attempts to grow temperate climate trees in tropical
Hawaii by providing an annual artificial dormancy in chillers or
commercial refrigerators. This effort to fool Mother Nature was only
successful for a year or two.
Trees of different climatic origins require a range of care
depending upon where it is grown. So, even a general guide must
recommend how specific plants should be grown in each of the major
climatic zones --- both indoors and outdoors! The highest
ethics for those who grow and sell bonsai require that each tree be
labeled with the correct botanical name, where it was grown and
trained, cultural and temperature recommendations for both indoors
and outdoors, and contact information to the company or person that
will provide assistance if and when they are problems. Fuku-Bonsai
and other bonsai nurseries are already doing this, but most are not.
In bonsai the general advice is "BUYER BEWARE!"
At parties dealing in bonsai are encouraged to
improved terminology and ethics and discourage the use of the term
"INDOOR BONSAI." More appropriate terms could include:
"TROPICAL BONSAI," "CHINESE PENJING," or "SHADE TOLERANT
TEMPERATE CLIMATE BONSAI." Clearly, this is the challenge for
each nursery, organization, seller, or potential buyer. Besides
clearly labeling each bonsai, Fuku-Bonsai maintains a large
informational website and educational activities. Having
detailed the problems and variables associated with the term "INDOOR
BONSAI," the remainder of this article is devoted to our
trademarked "TRUE INDOOR BONSAI."
DEFINING "TRUE INDOOR BONSAI™"