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               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™."
Myths, Facts, and Misrepresentations!

By David W. Fukumoto, Fuku-Bonsai, Kurtistown, Hawaii

             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 should change.

             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 winter.     

           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.


           We 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."  


      Michael Imaino, the president of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation  with the Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro memorial bonsai in the Hawaii State Bonsai Repository.  This Japanese Black Pine is believed to be the oldest bonsai in Hawaii and was mature when left in Hawaii in the late 1800's as a gift for extensive hospitality.   Japanese Black Pine is one of the few temperate climate trees that can adapt to the tropics.  But it needs full sun and cannot be grown indoors!

      David and Myrtle Fukumoto celebrated 50 years of marriage and bonsai in 2012. The original Brassaia actinophylla (Schefflera) began as a bonsai in their newlywed apartment in 1962 and was 50 years in training in 2012.  Schefflera was once our specialty but we can no longer grow it due to defective Benlate residue that caused over $30 million of losses when sprayed in 1989. We developed all new crops and; fortunately, Dwarf Schefflera is a better tree and our new specialty. It can be grown into more styles than any other tree. On the right are several small trees in the collection.

      It took us many years to learn to produce Dwarf Schefflera prepared bonsai stock with character within one inch of the soil line with a heavy trunk base, taper, low branches, or multiple trunks, and a shallow, compact root system.  We learned to grow distinctive "Sumo," "Roots," and "Hawaiian Dragon" stylings.  Our 1:10 Project of planting into shallow saucers taught us that the tree needs very limited amount of soil and that it is very feasible to produce highest quality in both small and large bonsai.
An extensive True Indoor Bonsai introduction is at www.fukubonsai.com/2b1.html
***  Return to website homepage            © Fuku-Bonsai, 2015



             Fuku-Bonsai is a working bonsai nursery who has partnered with the 501(3)(c) Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation to co-sponsor the FUKU-BONSAI CULTURAL CENTER & HAWAII STATE BONSAI REPOSITORY in Kurtistown, Hawaii, and to publish the monthly email JOURNAL OF TROPICAL & TRUE INDOOR BONSAI.  The exhibit bonsai collection is amongst the most varied and includes Japanese bonsai, Chinese penjing, tropical outdoor bonsai, TRUE INDOOR BONSAI, and features memorial and significant bonsai created by Hawaiian masters or at Hawaii bonsai conventions or public presentations.  There is a large inventory of certified True Indoor Bonsai to select from for handcarry or be sent by FedEx to all parts of the United States with satisfaction and safe arrival guaranteed.

            The Introductory Workshop Package was the "Educational Bonsai Holy Grail" breakthrough. It features a 3-5 year pre-trained prepared bonsai stock along with nine other carefully selected components. Other "bonsai kits" are available. Visitors to the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center can get Introductory Workshop Package supervision. It has become the easiest and most successful way to learn (or teach) and quantity discounts and teachers' aids are available. An online "Beginner's Study Group is available to receive personalized assistance.

   E KOMO MAI . . . come discover the serenity of nature, the beauty of bonsai, and the spirit of Hawaii!

17-856 Olaa Road (PO Box 6000),  Kurtistown, Hawaii 96760
Phone (808) 982-9880;  Email david.f@fukubonsai.com  URL: www.fukubonsai.com