Extending ficus research to Montana!

               Fuku-Bonsai has conducted ficus research since the early 1970's as a independent effort and as a research affiliate of the Harold Lyon Arboretum of the University of Hawaii at Manoa in a project titled:  "Ficus, An Inspiration for Bonsai for Indoors."   At one time the Fuku-Bonsai / Lyon Arboretum Ficus Research Collection included over 100 species and varieties.  We corresponded extensively with ficus authorities including Dr. Horace Clay and Ira J. Condit, the author of the definitive work Ficus; the Exotic Species.  Three papers were published in the American Bonsai Society Journal.

                The incentive for the study was the fact that the ficus family provided the only true trees that were recognized houseplants. We guessed that the "King of Bonsai for Indoors" would be a ficus and the study attempted to identify ideal species and varieties. But the study wound down when we recognized that ficus generally needed supplemental light as they did not grow well in the light normally available in average homes and offices. 

                The Fuku-Bonsai Ficus Collection is already sufficiently large and over the years,  we have been reducing the collection, retaining only the most promising specimens.   We prefer not to sell them, especially those plants initially given to us as gifts. One such plant is the Hawaii-Taiwan Banyan that was originally a gift from Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro.  In the early 1970's Haruo discovered plump black figs on what was then called "Wax Banyan" or "Round-leaf Taiwan Banyan." Except for knowing it was imported from Taiwan, no one seemed to be able to identify it.

                Because of viable seeds,  we concluded that it was part of the Ficus microcarpa family that was dominated by the Chinese Banyan (Ficus microcarpa 'Retusa').  Haruo successfully germinated those seeds and this plant was one of several selected clones.   Other later selected clones from the same hybrid parents include the Kaneshiro Banyan with longer narrower leaves with a blunt point and the Fuku-Bonsai Banyan, which is similar but having red leaf stems and a heavier growth habit.

HI-Taiwan Banyan I leaves.jpg (19888 bytes)         1. Horticulturally,   the "Hawaii-Taiwan Banyan" is identified as: Ficus microcarpa 'Taiwaniana ovata' X Ficus microcarpa 'Retusa';  a selected hybridized clone.  The selection is characterized by attractive heavier waxy leaves that are midway between the Taiwan Banyan and Chinese Banyans with the vigorous growth habit of the Chinese Banyan.  The heavier leaf stem predicts it will hold its leaves well indoors.  Leaves are susceptible to Cuban Laurel Thrips which curl the leaves. 
HI-Taiwan Banyan 2 in tub 1.jpg (17005 bytes)         2.   The 30-year old tree has developed well over the years in a training tub measuring 25 1/2" x 20" x 6 1/2" high.  The total weight was 103 pounds.   It was 40" across at its widest point and about 20" tall from the top rim of the tub to the top of the tree.
HI-Taiwan Banyan 3 in tub 2.jpg (16886 bytes)         3.   The other side had also developed well with free falling aerial roots to train into the most desirable "rainforest banyan" styling.  The top had been allowed to grow vigorously and this effectively thickened all trunks, branches, and roots.
HI-Taiwan Banyan 4 start barerooting.jpg (18811 bytes)         4.   Removing all media would normally be a daunting task. But this tree has had an ideal root system developed over the years.  When last potted, over half of the container was coarse material and over half of the pile had been covered with a rubber material that prevented the finer material from migrating into the coarse bottom.   Only an inch or so on the top and several inches on the outer edges had the body median and roots were primarily in this area only.
HI-Taiwan Banyan 5 bareroot 1.jpg (17759 bytes)         5.   Compare this photo against photo #2. The root system was ideal and pretty much "sitting" on top of the main mass of the media in the container. This gave the roots the maximum amount of media to grow into.  The tree had been root-pruned about four years ago but had still not completely filled the pot and it could have stayed in this unimpeded growth cycle for several more years. All outward "buttressing" type roots were removed back to the vertical "wall" of roots that had been created.
HI-Taiwan Banyan 6 bareroot 2.jpg (17756 bytes)         6.   Compare this photo against photo 3 to again notice that the root system was well under control and that the emphasis was on building up the wall of vertical roots and removing the outward growing buttressing type roots.
HI-Taiwan Banyan 7 underside of roots.jpg (31863 bytes)         7.   The bottom of the root system shows how the roots have been effectively controlled.   Many years ago, when the plant entered training, old thick roots as much as 2" in diameter had been removed.  The rubber had slowed the growth of roots in the center of the root mass and most of the most vigorously growing roots were along the outer edge.
HI-Taiwan Banyan 8 cutback 1.jpg (15978 bytes)         8.   Once the roots were selected, It was a simple matter to prune back the top growth.   Looking from the top,  three major branches were selected,  each forming about 120 degrees with each others so there would be three possible views of the tree when observing between two of the major branches.  In training this banyan form,  the major branches are emerging from the central mass at slightly different heights. Set the high point at the center of the tree and prune more or less on a line to the end of the shortened low branches. 
HI-Taiwan Banyan 9 cutback 2.jpg (16593 bytes)         9.   A second major viewing position. Note that all three views show some free falling roots on each side.  Training banyan trees with wide low crowns are more difficult than temperate climate trees in that the vertical scale is compressed and there are more branches emerging from the central mass compared to temperate climate trees. Notice that upper branches are shortened so they do not grow over a lower branch as that would weaken the lower branch.
HI-Taiwan Banyan 10 cutback 3.jpg (17208 bytes)        10.   The basic banyan shapes are upright and branches are stout and relatively short. New growth is allowed to spread out wide to provide a contrast of heavy trunks and branches with thinner graceful branches. The tree is 27" at it's widest point, 16" from the bottom of the root to the top of the tree,  and having a trunk measuring 11" across (not including aerial roots falling away from the major trunk.   All three views are exciting!
HI-Taiwan 11 David + packed.jpg (9690 bytes)        11.   The tree that was once 103 pounds with media is now barerooted and weighed 22 pounds.  Beside heavy pruning of the branches,  all leaves have been removed to assure that no Cuban Laurel Thrips or Gall Wasps will be sent to Montana.  Stay tuned for the continuing story by Jerry Meislik of Montana.

               The plant was sent as a gift to Jerry Meislik to congratulate him on the publishing of his Ficus, the Exotic Bonsai.  Originally grown from seed by Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro, the plant is about 30-years old.  Having received it as a gift, we continue the tradition that such trees not ever be sold.  Hopefully in some distant future,  it will go to a fourth owner-trainer and bring joy!


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Fuku-Bonsai 2004