"LEARNING FROM NATURE"
AN INTRODUCTION TO TROPICAL BONSAI

(Portal page)

                This section will develop your ability to train and prune Tropical Bonsai based upon "NATURE'S RULES."  Tropical bonsai training is not difficult once you understand the natural rules that shape magnificent, natural tropical trees.  Remember, bonsai does not duplicate any tree. Rather, they are man's interpretations of the exceptional trees or the ideal trees that may exist only in your mind. 

THE INTERNATIONAL FIXATION ON TEMPERATE
EVERGREEN BONSAI STRUCTURES

                 The dominant international method of teaching hobby bonsai follows Japanese traditions and are based upon temperate climate evergreen trees.   These generally are "Single Apex - Tier Branch" or "Pine-Tree" structures.  From root to tip, there's a single trunk-line and branches come off the trunk in flattened tiers. 

                Students are taken through the five basic styles (formal upright, informal upright, slanting, semi-cascade and cascade).  They are taught sub-styles, the proper arrangements of the branches, and many rules. The Japanese love this structure to the extent that Elms and Azaleas are trained into "Pine-Tree" structures. 

                This Japanese methodology and influence is so strong that the tropical Chinese Banyans trained in Taiwan or Indonesia that conform to Japanese "pine-tree" standards are awarded prizes by esteemed Japanese bonsai judges.  It's a curious practice.  Chinese Banyans in nature are totally different and they grow into a "Multiple Apex - Arched Branch" structure. Shouldn't banyan bonsai have arching branches, lofty canopies, and an abundance of free falling aerial roots instead of being trained into tight pine-tree shapes?

TROPICAL BONSAI REQUIRE DIFFERENT
STRUCTURAL PATTERNS

                The late Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro was Hawaii's "Father of Tropical Bonsai." He and I had many interesting discussions and I often peppered him with questions because his tropical bonsai consistently violated Japanese bonsai rules.  In those days I meticulously studied and followed the Japanese rules more intensely than anyone else. His Japanese Black Pines were outstanding and each year in January he was very busy plucking, pinching and wiring almost every fine branch.   But when it came to tropical plants, the styling changed dramatically unlike anything in bonsai books.

                Having giant banyans as playgrounds in my youth, I was very uncomfortable in seeing Chinese Banyans trained into pine-tree shapes. But Papa had a difficult time with banyans and this became the area that I devoted the most study.  He had a keen eye and was amongst the first to recognize that the viable seeds of the Taiwan Banyan differed and was actually an accidental hybridizing with the Chinese Banyan.  He selected one clone that we call the Kaneshiro Banyan.  Both the Taiwan Banyan and the Chinese Banyan are part of a large grouping under Ficus microcarpa.  We also hybridized and our selection is Ficus microcarpa 'Fuku-Bonsai' or the Fuku-Bonsai Banyan. 

                The term "banyan" describes a tree with aerial roots; and while the most famous banyans are from the Ficus or Fig family, not all ficus are banyans and not all banyans are ficus.  We specialize in Dwarf Schefflera and it's ideal for creating exotic tropical banyan bonsai.

THE ULTIMATE GOAL: UNDERSTANDING BANYANS

                The banyan form is the most complex and difficult of all bonsai shapes to learn and understand.  LEARNING FROM NATURE will give you an understanding of how tropical trees grow.  There are only three or four major tree structural patterns to study carefully. Once the basic forms are mastered, you'll learn the many natural variations.

                Papa wasn't very articulate but if you hung around him long enough you'd get an insight and understanding.  We use this Zen method to train the Fuku-Bonsai staff and they pick up key points quickly.  With the natural trees around us to reinforce our lessons, we obtain consistent high-standard results.  Papa learned new tricks and his Kaneshiro Banyan is now part of the Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro Tropical Conservatory at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington DC along with one of his older Japanese Black Pines. 

IN MEMORY AND DEDICATION

                Papa was a special friend and teacher.  Each of us who learned with him was encouraged to follow individual paths rather than copy his methods. He loved my dramatic results, but his conservative nature just wouldn't allow him to make drastic cuts.  He taught me the basics, urged the study of natural trees rather than bonsai rules, and got me to trust my instincts. 

                LEARNING FROM NATURE is being written and shared in dedication to the memory of Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro.  It begins with a series of tree photos to aid in describing the character of the tree. We start with Eucalyptus which has the most consistent type of growth and the least number of variations.

 

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