60 days after a major restyling utilizing an innovative new technique, new growth is emerging, the aluminum foil and all ties have been removed, and the surface was dressed. The experiment was wildly successful and; although we enjoyed a "sneak preview," we prudently replaced the foil for another six months.

By David W. Fukumoto, Kurtistown, Hawaii 
NOTE:  This is a reprint of an article that was first published in the
American Bonsai Society Journal Volume 45; Number 3 (Fall 2011) 22860000 22860000 (`@````````` 266 263 5 110185200 110185200

          In 1972 the University of Hawaii introduced Dwarf Schefflera (Schefflera arboricola) to the then new Hawaii State certified nursery industry.  The industry introduced it to the country in such numbers that in the trade the common name became "Hawaiian Umbrella Tree."  In the early days we struggled to train it and grew it only as medium or large size bonsai. But, as we were successful in developing superior clonal selections and improved our techniques, we realized that this was the ideal True Indoor Bonsai™.  By 2000 we had mastered ways to train high quality small bonsai and made it our specialty.

          I continue to be impressed with its unique growth traits. It is better for creating banyan bonsai than any ficus.  Initially we developed training protocols to create very heavy root-trunk bases with multiple trunks and low branches to become short, stout trees with wide heavy canopies like the aged majestic banyan trees.  We called this "SUMO" styling. In time, we learned to create exposed roots for a taller more elegant banyan bonsai and we called it "ROOTS."  Sumo and Roots seemed like the "book-ends" to represent the outer edges of natural banyan styling forms. 

          As we continued to research and experiment, we identified uncommon characteristics and our latest "HAWAIIAN DRAGON" styling exploits and utilizes these unique traits for creative, interpretive, imaginary, hyperactive, dragons!

         We learned that Dwarf Schefflera is very bendable.  Dry it out for several days and it becomes a bit limp but still stiff.  Do not force a bend as it will snap.  Very patiently and for several days, twist the trunk clockwise then counter clockwise --- back and fourth, back and fourth.  Move up a bit and repeat, repeat and repeat. At one point you can feel the plant go slack and; if you continue, you'll be able to create very tight turns that you can wire to lock into desired positions. The vision of a happy, playful dragon got stuck in my mind and it became a challenge to create twisty, turny fun bonsai that reflected the spirits of dragons! Initial efforts on the trunks and branches became "Top Dragons."  They proved popular with our most creative visitors and we shifted to also creating character in exposed roots.

         The tree featured in this article was one of our first successes.  It was grown from a seed planted in 2000 and is now eleven years old. It had strong character in the upper woody sections but the roots needed a lot more character.  Aluminum foil columns created lengthy straight roots but the challenge was to create more twists and turns.  Wiring the entire root column was only partially successful.  One day I got the wire armature idea and this article shows my first efforts. 

         Other research is shifting us toward shallower containers to feature the bonsai instead of an overly heavy pot. True Indoor Bonsai™ need excellent drainage and this is possible in a shallow saucer-pot if there is an abundance of drain holes across the entire bottom but more heavily concentrated towards the center.  Our initial trials were very  successful.  We invite those interested in learning more about  the "FUKU-BONSAI 1:10 PROJECT".  to go to www.fukubonsai.com/1a6.html  

    1.  At the start, various tools and supplies were assembled. The wire armature was constructed by sending the ends of 3 U-shaped wires up through the drain holes, twisting each tight to the 12" diameter x 1 1/4" deep saucer-pot, and twisting at random with the overall base wider and narrowing to the top. The plant was heavily pruned back and all possible media was removed using a water hose with a pressure nozzle. Other items included sphagnum moss, potting media, Nutrient Granules, aluminum foil, tools, and a "cornstarch keto-tsuchi" muck made up of cooked cornstarch, damp sphagnum moss, and fine aggregate.
     2.  Start by placing a temporary aluminum foil column around the base of the wire armature and insert coarse bottom media and ultra slow release Nutrient Granules. Continuing upwards, line the inside of the armature with a thin layer of damp sphagnum moss and fill with equal parts coarse bottom and body potting mix. This central area will provide the growing media and nutrients. The roots will very quickly colonize and flourish throughout it and completely cover and conceal it in a few years!
     3.  In the background is the completed filled wire armature that is narrower at the top to give the illusion of a tapering root-trunk and give a sense of stability.  The column has been very irregularly bent and shaped so it appears different when viewed from different sides.  The exposed root system was built over several years by creating an aluminum foil cone, filling it with media and allowed to grow rampantly.  About 3 years ago,  the portions in that foil cone was bare-rooted,  a new aluminum foil cone made,  the roots pushed to the outer edges, and the center filled with new media.  So it was very easy to remove most of the media and hollow out the root cone.  There was a dense 1" thick mat of roots all around.

    4.  I was delighted that all went according to plan and the wire armature provided support while adding about 4" to the height.  The process added a lot of detailed irregular additional contours to the previously smooth root system. As I worked,  the image of an active, twisty dragon was invigorating and exciting and a new bonsai experience! Moving from the 17"x12"x2" deep oval pot to a shallow 12" diameter x 1 1/4" deep saucer-pot really shifted visual emphasis onto the plant.  Enough media was removed for the cone of roots to be very loose. Twisting the root cone back and forth made it easier to conform to the contours of the wire armature. 

     5. In some cases, large roots were relocated for better effect. Starting from the top, plastic ties going around the roots several times firmly brought the roots into contact with the wire armature.  At this stage, the plant was a bit top heavy and the more I worked to get more character, it seemed that the wire armature was too weak and there was more sagging at the base.  I could gain 2" to 3" of height by stretching and pulling up on the plant. 

      6.  To add stiffness and height, I inserted small lava rocks within the wire armature and this solved the problem.  The wire armature had been constructed off-center to allow the tree to first be bent toward the open area of the saucer-pot and a tennis size rock made a big difference in propping the plant up as well as adding interest to the profile of the root-trunk base.  Although there was a lot of developed roots  within what appears to be a solid root-trunk mass, there's about a half-gallon of potting media and a generous amount of Nutrient Granules within the root system.

 7.   Plastic ties were threaded through drain holes and used as guy lines to keep the plant in the desired upright position.  The ties tightened sections of the root-trunk and pulled down the woody mass to a better position.  This photo shows how the shallow saucer-pot will have a small mass so the visual attention will go to the bonsai rather than to a deep container.  While a shallow pot saucer compliments a thin-trunked bonsai, it can also be used with a trunk much thicker than its depth!

      8.  The "head" of the dragon seemed too large and it was desirable to remove some roots to create the dragon's "neck."  This photo shows two major roots severed and partially removed.  A tie pulled down the head to a better position.  In the months prior to this training session, the foliage portion had been allowed to very heavily over-grow. Removal of excess foliage compensates for an equal percentage of root loss. This is a major factor in tropical bonsai that makes possible radical training sessions that would kill slower growing temperate climate bonsai.

  9.  Once the tree is in its proper position, complete adding and dressing the base of the tree.  An aluminum foil collar will help stabilize the bottom portion.  A second wider foil collar will protect the central area from drying out until the plant gets established.  Notice that another tie was secured to the bottom and used to further pull the tree in another direction to add to the complex root-trunk design so the tree is attractive when viewed from any side. 

        CONCLUSION: Sixty days later, the lead photo for the article were taken after the foil, plastic ties, and excess media were removed.  The plant is relatively stable and the media has firmed up.  New growth is emerging and where it appeared in desired areas and facing in the right direction, the growth was retained. Other growth was removed. 

            After the photo was taken, the aluminum foil was replaced to help protect the new roots forming until they thicken sufficiently to allow exposing and hardening off.  For additional techniques developed for the "Fuku-Bonsai 1:10 Project," please go to: www.fukubonsai.com/1a6.html 


           Since the above article was submitted and published, the "Wire-Armature Hawaiian Dragon" has continued to develop.  *** Go to the November 2012 Update

*** Return to Fuku-Bonsai Home Page
*** Go to "Fuku-Bonsai's 1:10 Project (Portal Page)
*** Go back to "1:10 Project Basics"
You are cordially invited to visit the home of True Indoor Bonsai:
17-856 Olaa Road (PO Box 6000), Kurtistown, Hawaii 96760
Phone (808) 982-9880; FAX (808) 982-9883

© Fuku-Bonsai, 2012