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Natures Bonsai

Paul Koenning - RMBS President


Learning the stylistic rules of bonsai can be a difficult pursuit to master, and each tree also adds its own unique challenges to be sorted through during development of the tree’s overall style. As an arborist I always take time to seek out natural examples of trees styled by nature, and I hope you do the same. My work takes me to a lot of varied places and environments, and I wanted to share a great example of a Ponderosa pushed by nature that we can all enjoy and study to help guide our vision when we work on our own bonsai.

This Pine has endured similar hardships many yamadori pines do, in that it began live growing from a small rock crevice. Given that the tree is currently 18-20 feet tall it is safe to say that the roots have expanded well beyond the original crevice and into deeper soil. Despite overcoming the small volume of soil that stunts the growth of yamadori this tall Ponderosa pine has graceful curves in the trunk line, and twisted and gnarled branches. The canopy also forms a scalene triangle. Branches additionally originate from the outside of curves in the trunkline. This happened naturally, and fits into several of the rules we try to use in bonsai!

Did the old bonsai masters happen upon their rules by chance, or did nature guide their approach resulting in the formation of rules that nature tends to follow? As an arborist I can only theorize about the graceful curves in the trunk line, and I see reaching for sunlight in the tree’s early life, and snow and wind loading contributing to additional twists and turns. Ponderosa pines are known to shed shaded branches as they age, and any branch originating from the inside of a curve will naturally be shaded out via the branches originating above them/ higher on the same curve. The conventional thought about a pine tree’s canopy is typically a narrow isosceles triangle. That reflects the canopy of juvenal and often adolescent pines, but most old growth pines do develop a rounded canopy that is much broader. While asymmetry is desired in bonsai and Japanese aesthetics, it is also very rare that any tree canopy would be symmetrical. So… most old growth pines should exhibit a more broad, asymmetrical canopy that has a flattened bottom partially due to the shedding of lower branches that have been shaded out.

For me this helps to bridge the rules of bonsai with the natural growth patterns that can be seen in older growth trees. So many answers to bonsai design can be found by simply observing the trees out in the world. While this tree exhibits several good examples of what we work to reproduce in bonsai, there are so many trees with a trunk, or branch, or canopy, etc., that are worth pausing to study and enjoy. They even provide some shade for you to enjoy, so take your time and enjoy the journey!

In the coming months I will continue to share tree and bonsai inspirations with everyone. If you feel inspired to share a similar story, please join me in submitting an article or blog post to share with everyone. I feel some pride in having the opportunity to stumble upon this tree, but it’s really too beautiful to keep all to myself. I have a feeling you are the perfect group to enjoy and take in some of the same beauty and attributes that attracted me to this tree while in the Colorado mountains.

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