By Ryan Chang  (Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii) Journal Contributing Editor - Aug 7, 2014

                   David introduced Surinam Cherry back in the June Journal.  That same month he sent me two trees between the ages of 15-25 years old.  They were trained in different styles because of course every tree should be different, and this report will show 2 examples of how one species can be trained in many ways quite like the Dwarf Schefflera.  I first studied the trees and asked David how to get rid of the reverse taper after he advised me to see if could do it.  I came up with my own strategies and shared them with David.  He assured me that there were easier ways.  He once again guided me and gave me a few options. 

                    I chose to work on the larger of the 2 as it was bare rooted and needed more attention first.  I could tell it had a it had potential.  It almost looked like a massive tree sitting on top of a  grassy knoll.  The foliage crown is large and abundantly filled.  The trunk shows a bit of reverse taper at certain angles.  The foliage in this picture at this time has been recently reduced by David and cleaned up. 



             My job is to plant it and train it into a finishing bonsai.   I chose to use the half flat as I want to start training the roots to grow in a smaller pot.  This will allow the leaves to grow smaller too as if left in a larger area the leaves would also be larger.  The basic tools as paper covered wire to tie the tree to the pot and scissors.





          In this picture, you will see the paper covered wire is threaded using the X format  to tie the tree down to the pot in the center.  The course media is added to block the holes on the bottom and to form a large hill, that will be the base of the tree.  The plastic separator is used to prevent the roots from growing straight down and helps to train the tree to be put in a shallow pot later in the future.  What is not shown before the planting takes place is that I will cover the entire hill with body media and nutrient granules.  I am careful to keep it looking like a hill and not filling out the sides.  This will allow me to place the roots easily around the hill and guide the roots down into the pot.





     David advises one way to to work around the reverse taper is to hide it.  Since I donít see anything I could prune off to generate any low growth.  I chose to let this one grow wild and later determine how i will plant it so that I can hide the reverse taper with a rock or maybe another smaller tree.  You can see the tree is securely tied down to the pot.  At this point, I can lift the tree and the whole pot should follow without shaking.










       Adding the body media, the planting is complete.  Just finish it off by watering and leave in a shady area for regrowth and slowly move into full sun.  This is a different angle.












This is one month later.  A few weeks into July and it was left in full sun.  It has shown nice growth, and Iím excited to see how much more it will grow by next next year.  I topped it off with coco peat to hold the moisture and form a nice tapered hill towards the base of the tree.








               This is a dragon that David advised and pointed out it had 2 sets of reverse taper going on, so it will be a challenge to correct them.  Again, he gave me options and explained that either way, we need to generate growth from the bottom to thicken it up.  We will leave the already growing batoon.  It will thicken the base and hopefully generate some wider growth just above it to enhance the tapered look.  Iíll remove one of the branches in hopes to balance the foliage a bit and generate new growth towards the bottom areas.   (Right)  Another view of the tree before it will start to sprout new growth.




       I didnít have to repot this one.  I just monitored its growth in the shade and brought it out into full sun when it was ready to avoid leaf burn.  What you canít see is that I removed one of the branches that was growing in the top left section below the main apical growth.  I cut it trying to get as low a base as possible allowing the trunk to be some what tapered.  You can see that in just one month, the re-growth is spectacular.    I will allow it to grow wildly for a year or maybe until next spring before I do any re-styling, and Iíll most likely try to keep it in the same shallow saucer pot.  These are three views of the tree a month later in August growing in full sun.  Note: I removed one of the branches.  Now, growth is growing all over the trunk.



               August 19, 2014.    After the storms cleared and hearing the good news that Fuku-Bonsai only had minimal damage, I received a few tips from David in regards to the two Surinam Cherry trees.  He mentioned that it is one of those "No guts -no glory!" type of trees.  This clicked with me because I wanted to do branch selection, but figured I had to let it bust loose and thicken just like the Dwarf Schefflera, however, after David concurred that they are indeed fast growers and tend to build too much bulk if left unattended, so I had no trouble making the cuts. 







             I quickly made my way outside to clean up the top growth before the sun went down to snap a few pictures.  I left the branches that I plant to keep on the top, and will later cut the bottom to show off the bulked tapered trunk.  I also left a few top branches in hopes it will grow new growth, if not, it will be later cut to drastically change the direction of the tree.







             This tree was fun to prune and clean up.  I basically cut the top and bottom growth, I also cut the opposing branches and left just one to shape the direction of the branch.  I cut the branches that were bulking up too much in certain areas to help keep the branches nicely shaped.  I removed the lowest smaller outer branch that was causing a bit of reverse taper, and hopefully this will yield in sprouting lower growth, that will also help with improving the taper.





                  The photo above shows all stages of growth of my Surinam Cherries.  The two oldest were provided by David and Fuku Bonsai, and the sprouting seeds are those that I got from my neighborís tree.  I had seen him out tending his garden one day while I was walking my dogs.  I approached him and I told him I remember the days he used to run the JPO in elementary when I used to attend school and always was the guy holding up the stop sign when children crossed the street.  I told him I like his Surinam Cherry tree that was literally over 4 feet tall sprouting fruit all over and even overflowing on the sidewalk. 


                   I mentioned that I was into bonsai and would like to take some seeds. I already picked a few from the ground. He gladly approved and said go ahead --- come back and bring a bag.  I finished my walk and came back not only with a bag, but I also gave him a small lava rock planting as well.  I left with a 6-month old seedling that I later killed by accidentally breaking off the single root when potting.  Note: be careful with young seedlings.  I also left with his blessing to pick fruit for a lifetime! 




                    I remember the first time I saw this species.  We were walking past Davidís testing table fronting his office.  While he continued with his magical stories of the past, I listened with a child-like ear at the same time looking in every direction trying to soak in every moment.  I looked down and rows of future bonsai being trained in various styles.  All already beautiful and sparkling with potential.  I kept my mouth closed and just listened. 


                     On my next trip, David let on that all the plants on that table were set in different growing stages.  Growing on mostly and a few were being refined and moving on into finishing.  Out of the bunch, I saw rows of this unusual looking but beautiful plant because David had them trained in many different ways and that caught my attention.  I politely asked what species was that, David responded, ďpumpkin cherryĒ aka Surinam Cherry.  Then we moved on into our lesson for the day.  Then on my last trip, I was more than ecstatic when David mentioned that he would like me to master the Surinam Cherry.


                       Thank you David for these 2 beautiful trees.  Iím more than confident they will be gorgeous specimens very soon.  I love how fast they grow, and my mind is bursting with possibilities.


                       - - - Ryan   (


                      "I believe in karma, and I believe if you put out positive vibes to everybody, that's all you're going to get back."    - - - Kesha     





                         When I visited Ryan, I thought how lucky he was to live in a nice area with a job that he could do at home so he had no need to spend time on the road to go to a job --- to have a really nice family, and now more time than most other hobbyists to devote to bonsai.  With a nice yard,  he can create a nice collection, but even that backyard would overflow with bonsai if he did not have a plan.


                         To get good, Ryan needs as many plants as he can handle and he would be performing a huge bonsai community service if he can master some durable tropical trees and do the early training so the plants would have character within 1" of the soil line as we do with Dwarf Schefflera.  I think that one of the most beautiful of all tropical bonsai is Surinam Cherry --- especially when it fruits. 


                         Surinam Cherry is like a lot of other trees grown as bonsai.  But too often they make just so-so bonsai --- partly because of their tendency to have reverse taper where the trunks especially thickens where there are several branches off the main trunk.  Ryan in tree #1 you have three larger branches develop and while you may need to thicken that area for a better trunk taper transition,  if you leave all branches on too long, you'll get a reverse taper at that point.


                         We found that tree growing unattended and it was twice the size but already had a heavier trunk and would be a good tree to learn to control trunk thickness.  So it was cut down to half the height.  Recommend you cut back the primary apex to shift to the next lower branch as a new apex, then allow it to grow wild for a year or so.  During that time allow all growth in the heavier trunk area --- especially close to the roots to grow wild to thicken those sections.


                        Your doing fine on tree #2.  Keep encouraging all possible growth --- especially near the roots to thicken the base, but keep cutting back and changing to new primary apical growth points to slow down thickening to the trunk near the top.  So encourage all growth but keep cutting back the top and selecting new apical growth to get taper and interest.  When its time to create a crown, it will be relatively easy to do if you have an interesting nicely heavy tapering trunk.  The main problem is that most hobbyists are so in a hurry to create a nice crown that they never develop a decent trunk.


                        But the major problem is that the vast majority of all bonsai have pitifully boring lower trunks with no character within 1" of the soil line.  This can only be addressed when plants are very young.  So I'm delighted that you've secured a long-term source of seeds,  will begin training very early, and will one day be able to supply Honolulu hobbyists with high-potential Surinam Cherry prepared bonsai stock that have such character.  If you understand the overall principles bonsai is doable and enjoyable.  The problem is that hobbyists want to start with larger trees grown by landscape nurseries and these trees are grown in the middle of the pot straight up as quickly as possible.  So there's no trunk taper, no character and interest, and no low branches. 


                         Rather than try to grow just a few trees of every possible plant variety, I think it is better to grow a lot of one plant to fully understand it.  So as Ryan expands beyond Dwarf Scheff,  I recommended Surinam Cherry and started him off with mid-aged plants that have defects but potential and I look forward to seeing him apply the knowledge of his older plants to the young seedlings now germinating! At Fuku-Bonsai I'm training new staff to do early training of a Dwarf Surinam Cherry and will be working with a few others as time permits.  ~~~David


*** Return to the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to Fuku-Bonsai website
© Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014