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American Tropical Bonsai by Nature and Friends

This writhing snake Buttonwood belongs to Ed Trout, a long time Florida bonsai artist and teacher

It’s time to revisit Buttonwoods (Conocarpus erectus), one of the few plant species that is native to three continents (North & South America and Africa). Buttonwoods are also found in the Caribbean and on some Pacific Islands. They typically grow on shorelines in tropical and sub-tropical climates, including Florida (all the ones shown here are from Florida, thus the American tropical bonsai in the title)
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Without the flowing deadwood, this would be just another tree. With the deadwood, it's a true tropical gem.  It's by Robert Kempinski from his Mahogany Row Studio

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Buttonwoods are prized for their convoluted, weathered deadwood. Much of this character is the result of hurricanes and other violent tropical storms. In some cases they are picked up by strong winds and carried to other locations where they put down new roots, often resulting in a complete reorientation of the plant

Needless to say Buttonwoods are prized for bonsai. So prized in fact that is now illegal to collect them in Florida


This twisty bunjin style Buttonwood shows what can happen when a tenacious tree hangs onto a Florida shoreline that is ravaged by repeated tropical storms and occasional hurricanes. It belongs to Doug Hawley who had been refining it for about ten years when this photo was taken about eleven years ago 
Height 28" Pot by Sara Rayner


This tropical gem belonged to Ed Trout. The sad news about this beautiful tree
is that it was stolen in 2008 and was never recovered


This unusual dome shaped Buttonwood is by Jim Smith 
Jim was one of the original American tropical bonsai artists
This dynamic Buttonwood is one of four trees from Florida that were selected for the Artisan's Cup, a major 2015 bonsai event that was held in Portland, Oregon. It belongs to Paul Pikel. Image courtesy of Mary Miller (Bonsai Mary of Bonsai Banter)


Another one by Robert Kempinski. Like many Buttonwoods this one is so distinctive 
that once you've seen it, you'll always recognize it


Small Bonsai & Thinking Ahead

The winner of the Finest Mame Bonsai at the 6th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition. It's a Willow leaf ficus (Ficus neriifolia) that belongs to Johnson Teh. No dimensions are given, but some sources list mame as up to 4" (10cm) tall. Others go a little taller. Oscar Jonker took the photo. I cropped it for a closer look. Oscar's original is below

The thinking ahead part of the title has at least two meanings. The first has to do with planning for the day you'll want your bonsai to be small (this is about growing old* something some of us have already accomplished). Small bonsai take less space for your retirement condo balcony, are easier to move for tired backs and typically cost less than large ones (think retirement income)

The other reason for planning has to do with making your arrangements for the 7th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition which will be in Rochester, NY in September. See below for more 


The winner of the Finest Shohin Bonsai Display. It belongs to John Kirby. Oscar Jonker took the photo. No varieties are given (you can find those in the 6th album). See below for a couple close ups

If the photos shown here look familiar it's because I borrowed them from a post we did last year. Or perhaps you were at the 6th National and saw the trees in person or in the 6th U.S. National Exhibition Album


The main or standard part of John Kirby's Shohin display (Nanaten tanakazari)
 The sub-stage (Maeoki or Hanadashi). I used Morten Albek's Shohin Bonsai (Stone Lantern Publishing - out of print) as a reference for the Japanese terms


Oscar's original photo of Johnson Teh's Willow leaf ficus. I think the relationship to space is better in this photo, but I like to see as much detail as possible, thus closeup at the top of the post 


Time to make your plans for the 7th U.S. National
We'll see you there!

 *Thanks to the wonders of analytics, we know that a majority of our readers and customers are either retirement or pre-retirement age. This is something we already knew based on observation, but now the algorithms have verified it

Bonsai Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beast of the Southern Wild. We don't know the dimensions of this monster, but we know it's a Bougainvillea. The artist is Nacho Marin

If you like large imposing bonsai, you've come to the right place... Today, it’s the bonsai of Nacho Marin, a South American artist who a few years ago burst into bonsai consciousness with intensity, daring and large doses of creativity. At the time we wrote... "Nacho is an artist who stands out in a world where new and exciting bonsai appear daily" and we haven't changed our opinion one whit since then. The photos shown here are from a post we did in November, 2017 


Here's on you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. This somewhat scary monster is a Pithecellobium unguis (Catclaw black bead), not something you often see in our Northern Hemisphere bonsai circles. I like its basic quality, with nature doing the heavy lifting and Nacho providing the finishing touches


This muscular beast is of the most impressive Buttonwoods we've seen in a while


Here's a massive Nea buxifolia powerhouse to knock your socks off (speaking of, stay posted for our new bonsai socks) 


This old Bougainvilla sports a rather fascinating, if somewhat grotesque looking trunk. And then there's the profusion of brilliant flowers (actually bracts, a strange thing about Bougainvillea)



A Good Time to Visit the Omiya Bonsai Museum

This elegant beauty resides at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama, Japan


We're still in isolation and perhaps you are too. Either way, be well and I hope you enjoy these as much as we do

No captions came with these Omiya Bonsai Museum photos, so we'll leave it that way.





















The only photo with a caption...  "History of bonsai in the Edo period"


 Here's you link to more exquisite photos from the Omiya Bonsai Museum


Forest Bonsai by the Original Grand Master

This magnificent mixed forest is by Saburo Kato, who was one of the original old masters of Japanese bonsai. You can find it and other remarkable trees in his timeless classic Forest, Rock Planting & Ezo Spruce Bonsai. You can also find some of the moist comprehensive how-to bonsai instructions anywhere


Here we. are again, staying home, staying healthy and waiting for the ground to thaw so we can start digging

Meanwhile, this might be a good time to exploring forest plantings. Something anyone can do. All you need is a suitable low pot (even plastic will do just fine)*, some medium to small forest type plants, soil* and a a few handy tools*

And of course Saburo Kato's Forest, Rock Plantings & Ezo Spruce Bonsai. By far the best book on the topic. Especially if you like beautifully rendered, easy to follow how-to illustrations along with photos of some of the most inspiring forest plantings anywhere

Part of this post appeared here just over a year ago while some of the text and photos are new. You can expect a follow up how-to post on forest plantings soon

This remarkable slab planting shows how much drama and power one strong tree can add to a forest. It's also a good example of what you can do with ground cover to enhance realism and beauty. Though the original, which appeared in Bonsai Today issue 23,  doesn’t say, it might be safe to guess that it's also by Saburo Kato. The trees look a lot like Ezo spruce (Picea glehnii), a specialty of Mr Kato's


Saburo Kato's remarkable book features 30 full pages
of beautifully rendered, easy to follow
how-to illustrations, and numerous other pages
with mixed text and illustrations 



This very large forest was on display at the 2017 World Bonsai Convention in Japan. Like so many other Ezo spruce forests, it was originally created by Saburo Kato. The photo was borrowed from Mark Fields, one of our lucky friends who made the trip to Japan


 Same forest, different perspective. Both this photo and the one above include people, which helps show just how immense this planting is. The photo was sent to us by Felix Laughlin, who is, in addition to being another lucky friend, is the President of the U.S. National Bonsai Foundation


Close up. Realistically sized ground cover is an important piece in most great forest bonsai. This photo was also taken by Felix Laughlin


The Remotest Hill, Mr Kato's most famous Ezo spruce forest from the cover of his internationally renowned book, Forest, Rock Planting & Ezo Spruce Bonsai. Here's Mr Kato's caption: "Ezo spruce (Picea glehnii). Sixty years ago I often traveled with my father to Ezo spruce in the large virgin forests on Kunashir Island off the cooast of Hokkaido. I selected the finest material to create this bonsai entitled The Remotest Hill."



 The cover of Saburo Kato's Forest, Rock Planting & Ezo Spruce Bonsai 
The benchmark book for appreciating, understanding & making forest bonsai
(Ezo spruce bonsai too)
Available at Stone Lantern


*Visit Stone Lantern where you can find almost everything you need to make your own forest plantings (sorry we don't ship plants)


Thank You for Staying Home (and Enjoying Your Bonsai)

A piece of Dan Dolan's backyard

Over the years we've featured a series of Backyard Bonsai posts. About fifteen in all. Now, because most of us are confined to our homes and backyards anyway, the time is right to resurrect one of our favorites as an inspiration for you and your bonsai (watching Netflix or whatever can get tedious after while anyway)

This yard and the bonsai, as well as the Japanese influenced landscaping and structures, belong to Dan Dolan. Here's what Dan wrote about his garden at the time (September, 2015)...
Unlike many enthusiasts who heed the remonstrance of American bonsai masters to acquire only the best material upon which to work…… I take only the least promising and strive to make them a little bit above average"
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Dan Dlolan continued from above...
"As a previous Board Member of the Midwest Bonsai Society at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I spoke often on the subject of bonsai display.

"My theme was to encourage our members to invest at least as much on the environment in which they grow, develop, refine and present their trees in training (99% of our trees are in training, as Walter Pall acknowledges) as they do on the material, containers, tools and supplies.







Boon's American Larch - Which Pot Do You Prefer?

 Boon is at it again... One American larch, five pots (the original pot is below)

A quick note about Stone Lantern and the virus...

As you might imagine things are a little crazy right now. All four of us on staff are in full or partial quarantine. Ric is coming in to ship orders and is alone in the warehouse. Barbara and I are self quarantined but our office is attached to our house, so we can still work. And Corey is staying home with her family.

So, long story short, in order to manage my work load I am resurrecting this post from exactly one year ago today. I hope you enjoy it. And more importantly, I hope you are well

If you need bonsai wire, there is an important message for you below...

 Continued below...

 Pot number 1

Continued from above….
Boon is at it again. This time it’s our favorite tree here in northern Vermont, the American larch (Larix laricina). Most people around here call it Tamarack, the Algonquian name that means wood used for snowshoes. No matter what you call it, it’s our best local species for bonsai. Bar none

All the images in this post were borrowed from Boon Manakitivipart’s fb timeline (the image at the top is a composite that we put together)


Pot number 2


Pot number 3


Pot number 4 



 The original pot


 We are going to run out of Kilo wire

Because of the virus, our next order of wire hasn't left China yet
with no ETD in sight. Normally it would have arrived by now

In order to help insure the survival of our business
we are going to raise the price of Kilo wire on Saturday, March 21st
from our discounted 19.95 to our full price of 21.95

100 and 500 gram rolls will stay the same for now,
though we are almost out of most 100 gram sizes
Our supply of 500 gram rolls is good for the moment

Thank you for your understanding
Our menu with wire and other products is above



Deciduous Bonsai Early Development & More Heresy

Here's some of what Michael Hagedorn wrote about this old Styrax... "A natural, flowing styrax from Japan with gorgeous multiple trunks and branching. This is a pot-grown tree." And... "with this naturally styled tree, notice that there’s little distinction between a trunk and a branch. The flow from a trunk into a branch is invisible."

When I started this post I thought it would be easy. I'd just show you these photos and some of Michael Hagedorn's text and encourage you to visit his blog for the rest.

However, the photos and text we're using are from the forth part in Michael's series on developing deciduous bonsai, so jumping in this late in the game, might be putting the cart before the horse

In light of this, I'll encourage you to visit Michael's blog for part 1 so you can work your way through the series (if you insist on skipping ahead, you can go straight to part 4)

But, before you go, there's one salient point worth mentioning here. It's the difference between pot growing and field growing or collecting from the wild (both of the trees shown here were pot grown). Here's part of what Michael has to say about this...

"Many of the old deciduous bonsai in Japan were grown in containers. They weren’t collected, and many weren’t grown in the ground.

"In general we tend to have less focus in the West on pot-grown bonsai. By pot-grown, I also mean growing in a flat or other nursery container for a while. And by this method there is much greater control over results—but of course, it is also slower. Reason enough to dismiss it."


Here's part of what Michael wrote about this pot grown old Styrax...
"In this photo, look at the branch halfway up that comes right at the viewer.
In that upper trunk area of bonsai throw out the idea of ‘eye poker’ branches,
as without them we get a naked frontal view.


And now, a brief word from our sponsor...
(we usually try to keep Bonsai Bark commercial free, but every now and then...)

Save a bit of money and Pre-Order Michael's new book, Bonsai Heresy 
which promises to be not only an earth shaking, myth busting best seller,
but a great read for anyone interested in anything about bonsai (and beyond)
due in early May


Our 5.00 off Special Ends March 31st 


due in early May
List price 24.95
Order now for $19.95 and Save $5.00


The Back Cover

Evidence that Mark Twain would have loved Bonsai Heresy...
...and so will you!


Uniquely Outrageous, Innovative and Just Plain Wonderful Bonsai

This one might be just a little too lush for a Literati but it's close enough for me. The others tend towards  the more humble and sparse look you might expect with literati


I'm floored by these stunningly graceful and unique Chinese Literati treasures. For me, they provide a break from the numerous photos I see daily of wonderful but more conventional bonsai. Their unpredictable shapes and directions and sometimes just plain weirdness make me want to try my hand (there are a few candidates on my land, but we'll have to wait a couple generations to achieve the aged bark that pushes these over the top). And by the way, great pots and stands never hurt.
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Continued from above...
Thanks to John Cavendish (JC Bonsai) president of the Hastings Bonsai Group, Port Macquarie Australia, for cluing us in to these great photos. John's source is Penjing Australia. The original source is in Chinese. Here's what Amazon Free Translation came up with... The weeping branches are incredible (Han Xuenian, Master Album)








Here's your link for more of these great trees


Sheer Bonsai Power from the World's Tallest Trees

Though the trunk on this two header monster expresses sheer power, the branches and foliage are surprisingly delicate and graceful. The tree is a Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), a species* that happens to be the tallest tree on this planet (there are a few hidden in the wilds of northwest California that tower to as high as 400 feet - 122 meters)

You don’t see that many top notch Redwood bonsai and when you do, there's a good chance that they come from members of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society, those fortunate few bonsai artists that live along or near the Northern California coast, home of the world's tallest and perhaps most magnificent trees (rivaled only by the Giant Sequoias of California's Sierras - imho)
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We found all the photos shown here on Pinterest. All but one are from Redwood Empire Bonsai Society. We originally featured them in November, 2017








Here's the one that's not from REBSociety. The caption on Pinterest says... "Photograph by Cedric Wiens (via Portland Japanese Garden)" 




 *Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is the tallest tree in the world (up to about 400 feet – 122 meters) and one of the world's oldest trees as well. It’s cousin, the Giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) which grows in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, happens to be the largest tree (in mass) in the world