Monday, June 21, 2010

Buddleja saligna

The famous Buddleja by Louis Nel of South-Africa.
Art of Bonsai BCI Award -2009

Another typical Buddleja grown from yamadori:

Buddleja saligna is an evergreen, small slender tree or shrub, 4-6 m in height in cultivation and up to 10 m high in habitat. It has got a much-branched crown with new growth almost vertically upwards. Older branches tend to droop.
The grey-brown bark on the older branches is longitudinally furrowed and young branchlets are 4 angled. The simple leaves are arranged opposite with a linear/oblong shape, olive-green above and whitish below. From a distance the tree appears grey.
Tiny white flowers occurs in dense clusters up to 5cm in diameter and the tree flowers profusely in spring, covering the tree in these bunches of flowers. The seeds are minuscule 2mm long capsules.
The heartwood is cream to dark brown, fine grained, heavy and very durable.

A typical example of a tree grown into its natural form:


Repotting is done when the tree is actively growing (In South-Africa Spring - Autumn), the best time being the warmer
time of the year. Heavy root pruning may be done as long as the top is reduced too. 

Big yamadori, even big trees take also well. Keep the transplanted trees in shade until the tree starts to grow. Collected material can be left in light shade for a full growing season.
Do let the yamadori grow freely for a while (2 years) before cutting back again. The roots do take a while to become established again.
It can grow in a variety of mixtures as long as it is free draining.

As the leaves reduce very well, the tree can be grown in any style. The tree (which is apical dominant) can even be grown in a cascade as long as the higher growth is pinched regularly. Yamadori suits themselves well for formal upright, flattop, Acacia or driftwood styles (A good idea because big wounds don't heal easily).

A few examples of the tree as bonsai:

The next pictures were taken at the Brat meeting at Kierieklapper Bonsai Kai(2014):

 This tree also belonged to Louis Nel:
It's important to note that this tree has vertical sap flow: remowing a branch close to the trunk directly under another may lead to the above branch dying. Rather remove the branch in stages. Roots feed specific branches so care must be taken when removing either.

The tree back bud easily especially after heavy pruning. Styling is mainly done by wiring and clip and grow methods. The branches and twigs are quite brittle so be careful when bending. For small wounds I only use flowers of sulfur but big wounds must be sealed to prevent the tree from drying out. The first buds on a healthy tree can be pinched after every second leave to reduce the size of the leaves. Defoliating is not necessary to reduce the leaves, but can be done to help with the ramification of the branches. Growing the tree in shade will lead to longer internodes and bigger leaves.

WATERING AND FEEDING:When actively growing the tree is quite thirsty. In spring, summer and autumn keep the tree uniformly moist. In winter the tree still needs water but just enough not to dry out. The tree responds well to organic or inorganic fertilizers.
Cultivation is by either cuttings or from seed. The seeds are very fine and should be mixed with river sand before sowing. Spread the seed/river sand mix over a 50/50 mix of river sand and compost in a container (about 10cm high). Water the seeds with a very fine mist sprayer or preferably from the bottom, by placing the seedling train in a shallow container filled with water. Due to the small size of the seeds it is difficult to estimate an accurate germination rate but 50% is feasible. Most seeds should germination within 3 to 6 weeks. The seedlings transplant well and should be planted in a 50/50 mix of river sand and compost for best results. Treat cuttings with a rooting hormone and plant into a well draining mix (river sand/compost, peat/river sand, etc). Keep moist but not soggy wet.
A growth rate of at least 70 cm per year can be expected, except maybe in severe conditions. Normal growth rate after the second year in the garden can be up to 1m per year.
Trees should be grown in full sun. They do not tolerate indoors for more than a few days(Leaves drop).
Alternative Names:
Witolien (Afrikaans)
Valsolien (Afrikaans)
Icqeba-elimhlope (Zulu)
Mothlware (Tswana)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Root over rock Ficus.

The root over rock tree above is a world renowned Ficus Sycamores by Charles Ceronio.

Root over rock Ficus is a very natural style here in South Africa. Birds eat the seeds and the seed loaded droppings find their way to little hollows and crevices in rocks. Here they germinate in ideal conditions; food, warmth and enough moisture. But soon the trees get to big and the tree sends out roots to find more of the mentioned. In nature these trees send out roots over the rocks - it is rarely a case of soil being washed away and the roots are then exposed.
Here is one of mine progressing nicely:

Notice that the tree is not planted on top of the rock- that would be unnatural.
Another one I am working on:

The soil was washed away so I could inspect the roots. After rearranging some roots it was covered up again.

Root over rock by Pieter du Plessis.
Here follows the root over rock series done by Pieter. He plants the trees/cuttings/seeds he wants to use in 60-90cm plastic drain pipes to develop as long roots as possible. When he removes them he wash of all the soil (one third gravel, one third garden loam and one third compost) and wrap the tree in wet newspapers to keep the roots moist. He emphasize to place the rocks as found in nature and to find a natural hollow where a seed would have germinated as in nature.
The one root into a groove.

He doesn't use the plastic wrap or foil method- the roots are pushed into the grooves by elastic bands and cable ties.

Polystyrene, rubber bands and cable ties to push the roots as close as possible to the rocks.

Cable ties are used to pull the polystyrene as tight as possible.

Some more cable ties.

Putting the rock in a plastic container and filling it up with the above mentioned soil mix.

....and lastly he uses a plastic piece of lining to fill it up further. After six weeks he will remove the plastic to expose the roots gradually. After a year the roots will be fully exposed.

Normally it is not difficult to keep a rock upright in a grow out container - but trying to keep a rock upright in a bonsai pot, is not so easy! The easiest way to solve this problem is to use something like Rockcrete - it is as hard as .....rock!
Holes can be left in the Rockcrete to fasten the base to your pot. With this one I am not going to use a pot - the base will be covered by a little soil - just enough for the roots to survive.

Some more examples:



Org evaluating this Olea africana. this yamadori will lend itself to a nice literati style.

Cutting and grinding away everything that is not part of this tree.

Working on the nebari.

Very handy with his die-grinder.

Closeup of the deadwood.

Preliminary work on the tree done. Building the pads would be the next step.

Thanks Org for a very informative demonstration- we have learned a lot about carving and the literati style.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Adansonia digitata (Baobab)- African species for bonsai.

A very nice Baobab bonsai:


A 42 year old Baobab bonsai grown by Johan and Berrie Ras from Warmbad, RSA.

Man dwarfed by a Baobab tree.

 A "younger" tree in Kruger National Park:


A real life Baobab- This picture was taken just a few kilometers from the Kruger National Park. The bark of this one was stripped by elephants a very long time ago but the marks are still visible where the branching begin.

Baobab - (Adansonia digitata). A grotesquely fat tree, about 10-15 m in height, the bole in large specimens being 28 m in circumference, occurring in low altitudes in the north and south of Zimbabwe and through to the Atlantic coast on the border of Namibia and Angola. Bears fruit within a hard woody shell, covered with yellow-grey velvet hairs. The seeds are embedded within a whitish powdery pulp which contains tartaric acid - refreshing to suck.
The dried out flesh of the fruit- the seeds are hidden inside:

Just as an aside the cremetata is used as a sauce with white fish dishes here.Those trees with a diameter in excess of 8 m have been aged at over 3 000 years old. Several authentic reports on record tell the story of dead baobab trees bursting into flame from spontaneous combustion - a well known folk tale suggests that God planted the trees upside down and another that a lion will devour anyone rash enough to pluck a flower from the Baobab tree for the blossoms are believed to be inhabited by spirits. If you eat the flowers you will be eaten by lions and water, in which the seeds has been soaked, when rubbed on your body keep the crocodiles (we call them flat dogs) away.

A quote from Doug Hall's Book "Bonsai in South Africa" which is an authoritative source.
"The Boabab's impressiveness is its main point of interest. Extremely masculine in mood, the trunk forms the focal point and should give the feeling of stability. The trunk should be perfectly straight and should not taper towards the top.... The trunk should be free of side branches. All the main branches should start from the top and should give the impression of fingers pointing in all directions into the air...

Some observations on proportions:
You will find Baobab trees in nature in a lot of traditional bonsai styles but this painting represent the natural Baobab style to me:
 When studying photos of Baobab trees quite a few natural trees have the same proportions as the one in the painting, like this one:
 Studying the painting and this tree I noticed the following proportions:
 -The height of the trunk is about twice the thickness of the trunk.
-The width of the canopy is about three times the thickness of the trunk.
-The heavy tapered main branches/subtrunks are about as long as the thickness of the trunk. The thicker the trunk(older the tree), the more branches/subtrunks the tree have.
-The fine growth is only on the outline of the tree and, length is about one quarter the height of the trunk. This may increase on very old trees.
- Older trees always show trunk damage cause by elephants - even those outside of parks. Trunks on older trees are ribbed.
- Branches/subtrunks are heavily tapered and not sharp bended- more curvy. On very old trees the branches become sweeping.

Here I am going to try and  fuse some seedlings tubers to try and achieve a thicker trunk quicker:
I don't think it is going to be so easy because Baobab heals from inside and the individual seedlings is going to try their best not to fuse to each other.
The danger is also there that an individual tree/tuber may rot and cause the whole tree to rot with it.

This year(2013) I have tried to graft branches to cut of roots but the twigs just dried out and the tubers is still doing well. Portulucaria also heals from inside and an approach graft did work on them after I damaged the tissue - maybe this is the way to go with Baobab grafts also.

I have bought an Adansonia rubrostipa recently and would love to propagate it by cuttings or grafting it onto Adansonia digitata. Here is the new species:

CULTURE: The seed of the Baobab is found in an ovoid, hard woody shell, encrusted in a whitish powdery pulp.

Here is the fruit of the Boabab:

Clean the pulp from the seeds, pour hot water over the seeds and let them cool down. The seed can also be planted first and the boiling watered poured onto the growing medium. Another method is to chip the seed coat. Plant in a well draining medium and keep wet until germination. Germination can be expected in about two weeks.
Transplant your seedling early, keeping them in the shade for the initial two weeks after transplanting, and then exposing them to full sunlight yet again.

 Boabab seedlings (February 2011):

The same seedlings June 2012:

 Seedlings at different stages:
(Two weeks growth, 3 months growt before going dormant and 6 months growth before going dormant.)

Now unlike your traditional bonsai trees - do not apply too much water. The single biggest reason for failure of a Baobab bonsai is over watering. Drainage is essential - as with most potted trees - but in this case make sure you have a lot of sand in your soil mix. The tree will develop a very bulbous root structure and it is this root which sustains the tree in very dry climates.
 Example of the tuberous roots - this roots was cut two years ago and is still living. The green arrows indicate growth on the tuber. The roots are standing on the cut area which is about 15cm wide. all the wounds have sealed off.

Too much water often caused root rot and the demise of the tree. Another fundamental rule - absolutely no water should be given during winter. If the tuber start to rot cut off immediately to healthy flesh, dist with flowers of sulphur and let it dry out until growth starts again.
Once established, the tree sends out a very strong leader and will tend not to branch at a young age until nipped back. The leaves will be large and full of themselves, but during the fist year of its growth it is recommended that you do not prune back.
Remember that the Baobab is a very slow growing tree and several years will pass before the potted tree begins to look like its family in the bush. The stem will begin to thicken quite quickly after a couple of years and when this happens you can begin to style your tree.
Here is some progression pics of a tree that Johan and Berrie Ras is growing:

Planting the trees directly into the ground speeds up growth considerately.
Styling is a painfully slow process and most people I know have only attempted to emulate the baobabs own looks in nature, rather than apply more traditional bonsai styles. By cutting back the leader shoots this tree will send out shoots up the main stem and this tree often delights one with new shoots appearing in the right place. Shoots are stubby and burst into a cluster of leaves at the end of the branch. Each year these shoots grow a little longer, but don't hold your breath for fast results here.

The trunk of this Baobab is about 5cm wide.

The tree is about 4 years old grown from seed - it could have been bigger by know but I had to cut away a lot of rot in the base because my gardener watered the tree by accident during dormancy winter 2012. It recovered well and I decided to chop the tree today.

I prefer to chop the roots in winter and the trunk/branches in mid summer. Doing the chop work in summer the buds are already active and the chance of rot is very slim.

The trunk before the chop:

The chop:

After chopping it I decided to reduce the height of the trunk to the pink line. After chopping it again I used my knob cutters to work of the chop to the buds:

With Baobab the chops can be worked of to every bud because with the species the wounds heal from within - no cambium rolling over!

After working off the chop I treated it with flowers of sulfur and sealed it with a Japanese sealant. It is not necessary to seal wounds on Baobab - just want to see what is going to be the difference.

Here is a chop that I did 2 years ago - incredible how it healed:

Another interesting observation is that the highest growth on the chop almost looks like  "moving" itself into the new leader position.

I have noticed this on a few chopped trees. Here is one:

After the cleanup:

Wiring is generally not applied to the Baobab - the tree tends to scar a little to easily unless you are very careful. Preference is for weighting branches down to encourage generally horizontal growth - and here you need to look at a Baobab in nature to understand why. This tree does not lend itself to twiggy branching and secondary branching is of minor importance to styling this tree according to Doug Hall's book "Bonsai in South Africa".

With all said about ramification here is nice 30cm high tree with nice twiggy growth as shown on the Brat Top Ten  Event:

(In memory of Willem Steyn (1941-2013))

Although these trees come from dryer environments it still need to be fed. This tend to give the trees big healthy looking leaves and during the early stages of the tree's growth, because this tends to speed up the styling process. In fact -Baobabs always look their best in winter, when they have no leaves. During this time the tree can be brought indoors for everyone to enjoy.
Repotting is done probably every three to four years. The Baobab does not have "hairy" root structure - the roots tend to be large solid masses with a few "traditional" roots - a description of them being bulbous is apt here. This bulbous growth tends to fill the pot quite quickly.

An enormous Baobab Yamadori:

 The tree belongs to Nicolas

 These tubers can be cut of and the tree replanted when the wounds have dried out.
 Here is an example of how the root/tuber can be chopped off:

The root is cut off and then duster with flowers of sulfur. It is allowed to dry out for two weeks before being repotted into a moist mix. It is watered if new growth is seen. To keep the trunk upright stones is wedged into the pot.

Here is the same tree a few weeks later:

The tree taken out of it's pot July 2012- the tree has recovered well from the previous tuber being removed:

Some more before and after cut back pictures:

A few more examples of chopping the tubers. Before:
 I have chopped this tubers because my fusing experiment with the seedlings failed. I am going to try and fuse these ones- that is why the chops were so drastic, I have to get the tubers out of the way!

October 2013
The tubers have dried out but they are still budding out. This is how I clumped them together:

 I planted them in a slightly moist free draining mix and put them in my hothouse. I am not going to water them again until I see the first leaves.

This tree looks good in a deep drum or rectangular pot - and you might break a few rules here to get impact.
The first signs of over-watering are the yellowing of the leaves. Watch this tree very carefully and be sure to control excessive watering.

A massive Baobab bonsai:

(Sold and gave away all my Baobab. No updates on them.)