Sunday, 5 May 2013

Bank Holiday fun

Today was one of those brilliant days where I got to style one of our specimen stock trees for a customer and friend. I have been itching to wire this tree for a couple of months now but have been saving it and I'm really glad I did it that way round as the new custodian came down for the day to be part of the trees creation from high quality material into a very nice bonsai with a very promising future ahead.

It is a mature White pine, grafted to Black pine base and judging from the white pine bark flaking along the branches it will likely be a 50+ year old tree. (More about the best way to guestimate a pine bonsai age at the end.

Here is the tree we started with at 8am

And here is the tree after a first styling session - lots of care was taken as the tree is waking up so branches were raffia'd and all wiring stopped short of the needles and new shoots. Today was about placing the branches and starting the tree on its first stage - refinement and fine wiring to the tips is a thing to do in a couple of winters time

I'm over the moon with the work - we have the widest trunk base visible,  trunk movement going left flowing into the  longer branches on the left also. Then we move up the tree, start going back to the right and have shorter branches this side. The super powerfull trunk is framed beautifully by the foliage and as first stylings go I think we have a winner.

It was such a good day to see the tree forming from the mushroom mop we started with - styling time 6 hours and now the tree has moved on to a new owner but I do get visitation rights !

How to try and put an age to a white pine bonsai................

The trees are originally grafted - by researching and looking back through japanese bonsai history the earliest know records of a nursery mixing black and white pine seems to be 1928 - there are no mentions or records of this technique being done before this date. This gives us an oldest possible age for these types of trees of 85 years, but the chances of the first trees being exported are slim to none existent but we know for certain the 100 yr + age tags sometimes seen on these trees are using more than a bit of artistic licence !  Now we can add a few more facts into the mixing pot - the actual variety of white pine often used commercially for the top is selected to be very user friendly - it produces 'many buds' so the dense pads form quite easily and the tree makes some inner buds too, so the shoots can periodically be cut back to new inner growth. We can look at how the trees were initially shaped too - curves going up through the trunk and added movement indicate a tree designed to be a definite commercial bonsai and as there was a huge increase in interest following the second world war after westerners started encountering the captivating miniature Japanese trees many such trees were started in greater numbers and grown on in fields.

This gives us a realistic age bracket for all the large exported white pine bonsai of between 30 and 65 years  - the physical size of the tree means very little too - a 2ft one can easily be twice the age of a 3ft 6" one - so our final clue to best guess age is bark formation - the black pine flakes from a young age but the white pine seems to stay a smoother silver grey for much longer.The older the tree the more the white pine bark flakes and shows maturity that matches the lower trunk until the oldest trees have bark that virtually matches all over.

young trees have smoother silvery looking bark above the graft - (10- 20yr)
slightly older trees show the flaked bark starting to creep up the trunk but the upper tree and branches still appear smooth (20 - 35 yr)
As the upper trunk and primary branches get texture the tree is moving on through its 40's and a fully barked tree will be in its 50's - give or take a few years either way but you won't be far off using your eyes and observation to best guess a white pine age.


  1. Fantastic aging lesson Marcus, & one that I've never seen written down, especially so simply- thank you! :)

  2. Was waiting to see this! Glad you've done the 'carrot' proud! Again such challenging material many would have overlooked but well done!