Friday, July 28, 2017

The Cost of Sex

Date published: 2017, July 28
Source material: 2017, April-July

          In the course of my biology education, the cost of sex and reproduction to an organism has repeatedly come up across specialties - and plant sex is no different in the relevance of the notion. For mammals, females usually carry most of the energetic burden due to long gestation and lactation periods relative to other animals. However, sometimes males in the animal kingdom also pay a cost to pass on their genes. For example, a male walrus in "rut" undergoes a reproductively active period of a few months, where the walrus directs massive amounts of energy to its sole focus of reproducing and vocalizing for potential mates. During this period, male walruses can lose their coat of brown fur, have increased disease susceptibility, and their eyes start to turn red and bulge out as an odd indicator of systemic bodily neglect. There is also the famous example of a praying mantis male literally sacrificing itself to offer nutrients to the mom and in turn, increases the fitness of his offspring. The aptly named black widow spider undergoes a similar ritual.
          With such examples in mind, it should come at no surprise that all those flowers in last month's blog post, Spring at Elandan Gardens, have a cost to those trees too. The trees' hard-earned sugars and nutrients were spent in exchange for beauty, pollen generation, pollinator attraction, wind pollination (for less showy trees with cones, most maples, etc.), and seed maturation. For a healthy tree, these expenses are not a problem, but we may still have reason to intervene and choose whether to allow our bonsai to reproduce or not. I will demonstrate some examples of how one might acknowledge the energetic cost of plant reproduction and control it as a tool to speed development, increase health, or maintain the balance of vigor of your bonsai.

1. For Trunk Development
2. For Recovery
3. For Disease Resistance
4. Final Thoughts and Tips

One of Dan's Azaleas covered with flowers and reproductive energy.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Spring at Elandan Gardens

Date published: 2017, June 30
Source material: 2017, April-May

          As you may guess by looking at my recent posts (or lack thereof), May and June were busy months for me. Unfortunately, due to weekends packed with multiple field trips for classes, the Puget Sound Spring Show (which I was on the committee for), a little collecting exploration in the Cascades, and a camping trip to Nevada to collect plants for my university's Herbarium, I was not able to make it out to the bonsai garden on the weekends as often as I would have liked and I did not make the time to put to paper the blog post ideas I have been accumulating. Fortunately, I have finished my exams for the school year and it's time to catch up on all things bonsai.
          I wanted to begin by sharing my photos of Elandan Gardens in spring so that anyone attracted by these floral views still has time to catch some of the late-bloomers around the garden (Bougainvilleas will flower periodically throughout the year, for example). Dan loves ancient and gnarly trees above all else - this is apparent even how he styled his Azaleas which in full bloom are almost offensively replete with flowers. Dan's passion made the garden into a unique setting to enjoy the changing seasons. Even trees which have gone through the cycle of the seasons a hundred or a thousand times still are willing to expend massive amounts of energy to reproduce - luckily for the sake of our enjoyment.
Dan brought in this giant cedar stump with a crane meant to handle multi-ton rocks. The stump is at least 10 feet in diameter.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Purshia tridentata (Antelope Bitterbrush) for Bonsai?

Date published: 2017, May 08
Source material: 2017, May 06 

          I recently took a field trip with my plant identification course around Washington's cascades on both the west and east sides. Naturally, I had my eyes out for natural bonsai material the whole trip. One unexpected discovery (to me anyways) was Antelope bitterbrush - Purshia tridentata - a non-thorny member of the rose family with small leaves, small white or yellow flowers, and juniper-esque bark and deadwood (it seems to be one of the unusual broadleaf but hardwood exceptions, like olive or buttonwood). The location I found them was an eastern cascade rocky hillside that was ravaged by wildfire 20 years ago, however, the species exists widely in relatively dry, mountainous areas across the western United States.
A nice mountain view of the dry, eastern Washington side of the Cascades.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Rocky Obsession

Date published: 2017, April 28
Source material: 2017, March-April

1. The Juniper Forest
2. Tiny Chinese Elms
3. The Others

          To hardcore bonsai enthusiasts, our hobby really does become an obsession. I find myself constantly analyzing trees in my neighborhood considering their potential as a bonsai or looking at what patterns are in a full-sized tree to inspire my styling. However, that is not the obsession I am referring to in this post. My teacher - known to my friends as Bonsai Man Dan, known to the bonsai world as Dan Robinson - has a recent obsession with rock plantings. Over his 50+ years in bonsai, he has been a collector of great trees and rocks. Normally Dan values a powerful trunk above all else in bonsai design, and many of his bonsai are therefore liable to visually overpower a rock that on its own does have merit. Lately, though, Dan has expanded his usual "focal point bonsai" philosophy beyond visually impressive trunks and towards smaller, gnarly trees that might be okay on their own in a small pot, but which can become as powerful as his large-trunked trees when combined with a stunning rock. Below is one example we placed onto a rock this past spring that excited Dan the most. It should be striking to beginners in particular that the slender-trunked trees in this post (the sort of bonsai beginners have) are dramatically more captivating once transplanted into a worthy rock to create a scene as dramatic as a unique deadwood feature can be on a larger wild bonsai tree.
Dan's new favorite rock planting. The rock is a rhyolite specimen from Utah.

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Natives" Exhibit Opening

Date published: 2017, April 24
Source material: 2017, April 1

           The Pacific Bonsai Museum's new "Natives" exhibit is now open! In recent posts, I have been discussing the preparation of five Dan Robinson trees that are now on loan for the show. This exhibit excited me not only because it gave me the opportunity to help prepare prominent bonsai for a major show, but also because of the show's unique focus.
I had seen this mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) grove by Michael Hagedorn online and it has always been one of my favorite trees - in part due to the pot-less container. It was far larger in person than I had imagined! The mountain in the background is Mt. Rainier.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pacific Bonsai Museum "Natives" Preparation - Yellow Cedar

Date published: 2017, April 18
Source material: 2017, March 18

          The final tree of the five Dan Robinson trees he and I prepared for the Pacific Bonsai Museum "Natives" Exhibit was an Alaska Yellow Cedar (Xanthocyparis nootkatensis - although there is some phylogenetic controversy around this name). This tree was estimated to be 700+ years old and it looks even older with the help of Dan's training. The appearance of naturalism, gnarliness, and a story that depicts a difficult and storied life history are the highest artistic aspirations for Dan Robinson's trees. The detail on the carving of this trunk is particularly stunning. and hard to believe it was man-made. Which deadwood features were man-made and which were already there when the tree was collected the tree is a mystery only Dan can tell you - I certainly could not make a guess.
The tree back in April of 2016. It caught my eye on my very first visit to the garden.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Pacific Bonsai Museum "Natives" Preparation: Monterey Cypress

Date published: 2017, April 7
Source material: 2017, March & 2016, August

          We are now near the end of the series of five Dan Robinson trees that will be in the Pacific Bonsai Museum's "Natives" exhibit (which starts this Saturday, April 8). Today in the realm of unusual and underappreciated species in American bonsai - the Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa). However, unlike the pitch pine (Pinus rigida), the Monterey cypress is not known for its ability to backbud, and some have even suggested it is incapable of backbudding onto old wood. A variety of species have reports of similar constraints, which make them a little more challenging or limited as subjects of bonsai. However, here I will offer for discussion the approach Dan and I have experimented with for the past two seasons to attempt to induce backbuds. It may well be that not enough experimentation has been attempted due to the species being an uncommon subject.
Dan's Monterey Cypress tree after light pruning in March 2017.