"ROOTS & BOWS!"

                Like Chinese Banyan, Dwarf Schefflera is an epiphyte, a tree that grows on other trees.  Birds eat the seeds which passes through their digestive system and a "fertilizer encased seed" is often deposited high in tree branches. There are a few epiphytes developing on the large trees on our property.  I've noticed them for several years and this report shows the first experiment to train such uncommon stock material into a dramatic styling that utilizes the long limber roots.

                In September 2001,  Michael Imaino demonstrated the collection of a Chinese Banyan epiphyte that had been growing on one of the Paperbark trees between our work building and potting shed.  He removed most of the top growth several years ago and collected it with a chain-saw.  It had a trunk about 5" across and was fairly easy to collect as it was about 5' off the ground. 

                This Dwarf Schefflera epiphyte was in a nearby Paperbark but up high. It promised a challenge related to the Chinese Banyan Epiphytic Styling series that ended with "SNAKE DANCE."  A photo is at Photo Tour of the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center.   Snake Dance was a far easier as ficus is very flexible and easy to bend.  In contrast, the roots of Dwarf Schefflera are fleshy and will snap if bent too sharply. So conceptually, a design would require a lot of curves and possibly with some welded grafts. This was the challenge for a very wet and rainy Bonsai Day.  Once we started, there was no turning back!

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DECEMBER 14, 2001

        Photo 1:  The Dwarf Schefflera began about 20' high and it was a lot larger than we had guessed. Branches had grown out over 12' long with each about 1 1/2" thick at the trunk base.   Two trees had germinated together deep into a crouch between the main trunk and a large branch.

         As a former painter doing steeplejack and high-rise, the height didn't bother me.  I hooked up a safety harness while I removed the trees with a mallet and wood-carving gouge chisel.  IT POURED! 

        The trees were tightly wedged with difficult access. After a short break, the rain let up and work continued in a rain jacket. What was expected to be completed in 10 minutes took 1 1/2 hours. 

       

Roots&Bows2.jpg (33824 bytes)           Photo 2:  It was good that I was hooked up to the safety harness as the trees suddenly came free.  In getting the plant out, I had to cut away about half of the roots that were running down the trunk of the Paperbark trees. The roots were hidden as they were under layers of the papery bark. I was afraid that I had cut away too much and the trees would not survive. Once I freed enough roots and removed the extension ladder, it was easy to just pull it off!
Roots&Bows3.jpg (27795 bytes)         Photo 3:  In Japan Masahiko Kimura collects old Shimpaku Chinese Junipers with few very long roots.  He rolls the roots into a coil, buries them while encouraging roots to come out near the trunk base. Once these roots emerge and are well established, he removes the old root coil and has exceptional stock for outstanding creations.

        We don't want the long original roots to be replaced by new roots so it was necessary that they be exposed as part of a unique design.

Roots&Bows4.jpg (13661 bytes)         Photo 4: We began with an A-frame support similar to an artist easel that was screwed to a nursery flat.  The collected Dwarf Schefflera was hung up-side-down, secured with paper covered wire, and the roots guided into a series of complimentary bows.  Where they crossed parts of the trunk or other roots, a little spaghnum moss served as padding. These were kept in contact in an effort to weld-graft. 
Roots&Bows5.jpg (16126 bytes)         Photo 5:  The first layer was a piece of sheet metal to help stiffen the base.   Sections of double folded aluminum foil were built up one level at a time.   After each section was filled with media, it was tightened and reinforced using monofilament strapping tape. The next section was assembled within the previous section which helps support it.
Roots&Bows6.jpg (17826 bytes)         Photo 6:  When making rock plantings, we use a curved shaped piece of sheet metal with a dibble to rapidly load and place potting media through small openings. They function like "open funnels" and are in various sizes.  Michael holds a larger one while Edison pours in potting media. For this type of use, the potting media must be very porous.
Roots&Bows7.jpg (19505 bytes)         Photo 7: Michael tapes the rising aluminum foil column and the A-frame supports while Edison holds it steady.  Aluminum foil creates a "vertical mulch-pot."   We prefer it over clear-plastic for making air-layers as the top can be shaped into a rain-catching funnel.  We poke holes into the foil to provide the necessary aeration and drainage.
Roots&Bows8.jpg (51580 bytes)         Photo 8:  At the very top of the aluminum foil column, there are 2-3 handfuls of spaghnum moss.  This allows easy absorption of water which flows down throughout the column.  The assembled "potted" collected tree sits almost directly below where it was collected. 

        One month later, it looks like parts of the tree will live as a few tiny new growth shoots are visible on a branch on each side.   Portions of some branches are shriveling and will likely die. But all of the exposed roots seem to be firm and living!

        This is one of our most challenging and innovative styling efforts to date.  Within a few months, we'll know whether it will live or not.  If it does, we're confident it could one day be recognized as a pioneering masterpiece of our specific field of True Indoor Bonsai™! 

                This effort was unprecedented so we watched it carefully.  While some new growth developed, some of the roots partially died-back.  We added bundles of spaghum moss at the ends of sections that were dying. Growth stabilized, then began to improve.   In the first three months,  it seemed that the tree wasn't sure how to grow as the tree and roots had been turned up-side-down.  In the 4th and 5th month the tree began growing more vigorously, and 6 months after it was collected, we checked it more carefully.

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JUNE 8, 2002 UPDATE

        Six months after the tree was collected, the left trunk is growing well, but there's been a lot of die-back in the lower right trunk. A third trunk that was on the above right did not survive.   This photo was taken after the dead trunk had been removed.

        We found that there was growth and roots in the top section, but a "disconnect" and the roots were not moving into the lower section. Besides cleaning out the dead material, we decided to build out the bottom section of potting media.

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        Using aluminum foil, we built a wall section reinforced with monofilament tape, added media, built another wall section, added more media, and on up.  Each section adds about 4" and the photo shows filling of the 5th wall section.

        The "open funnel" tool is simply a U-shaped bent and trimmed piece of sheet metal with narrow and wide ends. Media is scooped with the wide end and allowed to travel through the narrow end.  We've made several sizes. 

        These are especially handy in making complex rock plantings and landscapes.  If the open funnel is held horizontally,  the media can be pushed with a dibble and packed into tight spaces. 

                Roots & Bows II.  3.jpg (16273 bytes)

        At the end of the short training session, new growth was selected and the tree was trimmed.   We really didn't do any root pruning but observed that root growth was at a moderate level. 

        In the first six months, the plant was keep in a shady protected area near a water hose. In the first month,  it was watered as much as 5 or 6 times a day.  The tree is now stabilized and beginning to grow vigorously.   It was moved into full sun for optimum growth for six months or so.

        Even just six months after the tree was collected,  it's obvious that this will become a unique bonsai! Once the roots are well established in the bottom container, we will slowly remove the foil column and begin exposing the roots.  It may take several years before all foil is removed, the roots exposed, and the roots sturdy enough to support the tree. Can you visualize a finished shape?

                Each person is an individual different from every other person with different genetics, environment, friends and relatives, customs, religion, etc.  Yet each person should be treated with courtesy, respect and fairness befitting a human individual.  In the same sense,  each bonsai has a personality!  It's the challenge of the owner-trainer to create a healthy plant firs,  then expose and allow the beauty of each tree to develop. Bonsai are just like people and reflect the many events in their lives that helped to form them.  Truly unique bonsai have unique history and this will be one such bonsai!

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