By David W. Fukumoto (followed by a comparison report by Ryan Chang)

              On February 8, 2013,  Ryan Chang visited Fuku-Bonsai for the first time and did three 1:10 Project workshops.  The two photos above shows three demo trees that I did and after 8 months of growth at Fuku-Bonsai. I worked on the plants twice in the 8 months.  The first time was about a month later when the plastic collar was replaced and a better aluminum foil collar allowed shaping a better root buttressing on the Sumo and on the Roots.  About 3 months ago, I opened and checked the progress and fertilized.  Half of the foil of the Root-Over-Rock and the Roots were removed.  Now it's time for a follow-up report.  



      The plant had grown to be now 18" above the rim of the saucer.  Growth has been steady and with so much growth the base of the trunk has thickened.

         When the foil collar and most of the leaves removed,  you can see it was a very productive time.  Whereas the trunk base was about 1/2",  it has now over doubled to almost 1 1/4".  The main apical growth is about 1/2" thick and will be reduced with a vertical "dive-bomber" cut to add about 1" to the heavy trunk base. The strong growth on the left will be considered a trunk and also reduced with a vertical cut so the new growth will grow upwards.  The two other growth points will be considered branches and flat cut so new growth will emerge sideways.
         The foil was effective in encouraging a lot of root growth.  First fine hair roots colonized the coarse potting media and these smaller roots will determine the form of the future roots.  The hair roots was followed by medium sized roots.  If kept growing strongly, the desirable very heavy buttressing roots will form soon. Roots were trimmed.  This is good growth for the 8 months which was in an area that got direct sun for 4 to 6 hours daily. 



         This second tree as also grown well and the top is about 19" above the saucer rim with a long branch which was encouraged to grow to produce strong roots. A few months after the original planting, the foil was removed,  developing roots were guided downwards, and care was taken to shape the foil collar to create a wider buttressing base and nice taper. 


        With the foil and leaves removed, the roots will likely develop into a comfortable gentle curve with subtle interest.  Although I've trained radically twisted roots when Dragon roots were extended.  I tend to keep Roots with roots vertical or with only mild curves.  Unlike the Root-Over-Rock that has something to grab onto,  Roots designs depend upon wire to help support it until the roots thicken, but because of the good growth, 3 of the 4 supporting wires were removed.
          Generally Sumo designs have impressive heavy trunks with a low, wide, dense canopy.  I tend to train Roots to have a taller, more slender elegance.  By controlling the size and shape of the collar and with fertilizer control,  it is possible to train the root column to reflect what you want.  I also tend to like the base to be wide to provide a visually stable appearance.
        Note the large major roots below the base of the trunk and see how they point almost straight down.  I believe this is important when creating a Roots design.  Plants naturally have all surface roots following the surface of the soil line.  If they are not collected and trained downwards when the plant is very young and the roots more limber,  it will not be possible to train the roots in this manner later. 

         In my Roots designs I try to have the roots become a visual extension of the trunks rather than having a very unattractive root bulge. 

        There is one remaining support wire helping to hold the root column upright.  As the roots thicken, portions of the wire will be removed when not needed. The bottom will take the longest for the roots to be able to provide support and it may be that the lower portion of the wire will be hidden within the root mass and allowed to stay in there permanently. 



         This tree also grew well and the top growth is 21" above the saucer rim. When the foil collar was removed, roots pretty much followed the root trail crevasses as expected.  There was a few roots that emerged between the foil collar and the exposed rock and these were trimmed to keep the roots where wanted. 

           Some think that Root-Over-Rock is difficult and it once was a challenge until we were able to identify the crucial techniques.  So I attempted to teach this to Ryan even though he was just beginning.  The goal was to not baby him, and while he may fail,  overall he will learn much faster if he continues to take on larger challenges.  The growth was equal or better than the Sumo tree which was thought to be the easiest of the three. 
         Generally I prefer to plant on a saddle that is not the top of the rock.  So having a nice top profile adds a bit of charm.  I want the plant to be visually solidly anchored to the rock and not just grasping it.  The large amount of "cushion" on the saddle and the large amount of sphagnum moss against the rock trail crevasses serve as a water channel to effectively distribute moisture to the tree.  Notice that the width of the base of the rock is widest and this gives a sense of stability. 
           Note that the primary apical growth was reduced with a vertical cut that faces the rock.  This will likely produce new growth coming out of the bark away from the rock to start an interesting tree.  Note also that trees that grow on rock tend to grow much more compactly.  So prune back hard to create a tight structure.  With strong growth, roots tend to thicken and this adds a lot of visual stability.  Keep rock plantings well fertilized until the roots are firmly established into the potting media in the container. 

          Root-Over-Rock is a more dynamic form compared to planting in cavities in the rock. The trees grow strongly and develop faster.  From time to time, it is possible to report to provide new potting media to allow the tree to grow strongly. 



         When Ryan came over on his first visit eight months ago,  I tried to teach him the basic techniques of these three styles.  From the start, I wanted Ryan to not master and focus on one training goal, but to create a wide range of bonsai styling and so I introduced Root-Over-Rock very early.  It was made easier as he was given a rock that was already prepared with a saddle,  a concreted base to be stable, and with root trail crevasses already carved into the rock. 

           The three trees are developing nicely. Most of the roots are now mid-sized and except for the top of the Roots bonsai,  most of the larger heavy roots have not yet developed.  The contouring of the media in the saucer was redone with the medium sized body media and a finer mixture of top dressing, organic matter and Nutrient Granules was layered.  The foil columns were replaced with a thin layer of the top dressing, organic matter and Nutrient Granules between the foil and plant. As an inch of so was completed, the foil was compressed, the area above had the foil adjusted, and when filled,  work progressed upwards.  Holes in the foil were made and the plants placed outside again to develop. 

            CONCLUSION.   The three trees at Fuku-Bonsai developed well in the 8-month period without special attention using our standard nursery procedures.  They were checked every month or two and at after about 3 months,  I noticed that the use of the carefully applied aluminum foil on the root-over-rock produced a superior soil contour profile compared to the plastic collar.  At that time we were modifying our 1:10 Project procedures and all three trees were switched over to the improved procedures.  Any excess media was removed and roots positioned to best locations and additional Nutrient Granules was inserted.  I tend to use thin strong 1/4" or 3/8" monofilament tape to tighten the foil column as I believe stronger compact roots develop when the media is tight and this may have been part of the reason our three developed without incident.

            But a lot of this is due to experience and in spite of Ryan doing very well,  it was this one-on-one growth comparison trial that I was able to spot weaknesses in Ryan's procedures and techniques.  Still he is doing remarkably well due to his enthusiasm and the amount of time he devotes to his trees.  He's very quick to reply by email and I consistently receive a reply the same day or the next day at the latest!  So it's very easy to keep the educational plan in mind compared to those who may not write updates until 2 or 3 weeks later.  Ryan does a lot of redos but the plants seem to be able to handle it as he provides good care and the plants are much tougher than most realize.

            I hope everyone realizes that I am setting what I consider a professional standard for Ryan.  I do not believe that amateurs should be allowed a lower standard  and if anything,  they have much more time to study and care for far fewer plants and if their skills and techniques are equal to a professional, than they should be able to produce superior bonsai!  If professionals will share their knowledge and techniques, and if amateurs begin to contribute breakthoughs and contribute to the conversation in the Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai community,  everyone wins!  I hope these you can understand these critiques and contribute your thoughts too.   ~~~David  (











     (Left photo)   The 3 plants as they were last updated back in May 2013.  Note: the dead plant in the training pot is the original roots tree.  The left is the replacement using a smaller cutting.  The growing environment for all three had one thing in common; tried to block as much wind from the sides as possible, and letting lots sun and wind from the top.

     (Right photo)  Shows them in October 2013.  8 months after the workshop at Fuku-Bonsai two of the original trees are still alive.  The Sumo grew the most.  The right side branch was reduced because I was playing with it one day and snapped.  David advised that they should be left alone untouched to maximize growth.  The roots over rock didnít grow as much as I wanted; even the roots grew more.  The roots at first glance look okay, but further inspecting it showed poor efforts on my part.  All in all, Iím happy I was able to keep them all alive, but mastering maximum growth will take more understanding.)

By Ryan Chang (Wahiawa, Hawaii) in collaboration with David Fukumoto
(Kurtistown, Hawaii) with helpful tips provided by Jerry Meislik (Whitefish, Montana)

            It has been a quick 8 months, probably the fastest ever in my life.  I remember doing the workshops with David like it was yesterday.  I was fortunate to do the workshops there because it helped with being prepared and confident for this first cutback session.  With each passing month, I noticed growth on each tree; one grew more than the other 2.  My 8 month update (sumo) is the only one that outgrew David's.  Your roots and root over rock are superior to mine and I'll only be able to cut back the sumo.  I like to think that it was the environment; however, after David pointed out, and I agree, it was also due to my poor effort in achieving maximum growth.  I will go over what these failed attempts were in the following. 



         I believe this one had the best growth because it was in full direct sun most of the time.  I believe it would have grown more had I left it there, but to encourage root growth I put it in the group of others to up the humidity level.  The root growth worked well as it was overflowing out of the bottom and aerial roots sprouted from the trunk. This tree has been growing in full sun so in this case, it shows that the shallow 1:10 Project saucer is workable in warm Honolulu.  The foil retains enough moisture and the plant has grown well. . 

           I defoliated the tree leaving only the new growth points and 2-3 leaves on the top.  (Helpful Tip: Jerry Meislik Ė advised that cuttings will root faster if more leaves are left on rather than taking off.  Reason is that energy being used up more to heal the lost leaves rather than sending all the strength to possible new growth points.  I was intrigued by this and will try it on my next set of cuttings.)  David provided me with a plan for the cuttings.  They were cut as character cutting less than 1Ē and planted to root. Like David, I cut off all the old leaves so you can see the growth.
       The opposing branches are deemed too symmetrical and unattractive to most.   I canít see it yet, but Iíll take their word for it.  Then again, I donít know what is attractive as Iím still learning.  One branch will have to go, and it will be the longer left side.   



        NOTE BY DAVID:  At this point I recommended taking the center top above the vertical growth, to remove the left branch almost completely but with a portion facing back to possibly create a branch or trunk facing back.  I advised taking "character cuttings with the removed sections, leaving the vertical growth nearest the central trunk to possibly create a 2-trunked bonsai.  But there was just too much media left on and the base of the main trunk needed to be exposed to the top of the main roots.   Within a day, Ryan sent updated photos and upon seeing them, the recommendations changed.

         I had made the cuts according to my plan, and David sent me a critique that I needed to cut back harder and he sent me a drawing. This photo shows he modified cuts with the aluminum off.  David also mentioned that I was using too much media and that the soil should contour the shape that the roots will take.  I seem to always need a reminder, but I think Iím tuning in to the details, but will always appreciate the helpful tips that David and Jerry point out to me. 

          After combing out the media and trimming the roots.  The left branch was shortened and new growth should shoot out from the back.  I trimmed off the floating roots and whatever grew below and outside of the saucer pot.  You can see that the soil is now contoured and looking much more like an ideal sumo.  I sprinkled some thin layer of body media to refresh and fill in the gaps. 


         Using a window screen, I sifted out the  finer media from the already mixed body media into a cup.   These materials can be found at any hardware store.
      The modified spoon easily scoops and holds the finer media in place and makes it applying to the tree a breeze. 
          NOTE BY DAVID:     At this point,  I stopped the process and asked Ryan to consider another re-do and to refocus on the primary objective of Sumo styling to create the heaviest lower trunk base that tapers and adds interest every time you make a MAJOR reduction?  We did the shallow 1:10 Project workshop 8 months ago and the trunks already were then about 1/2" in diameter.  Frankly until I saw the third photo above, I was very disappointed that in spite of what appeared to be great growth, that the main trunk had not thickened!  Actually it had thickened but was hidden by excess potting material.  So I recommned exposing the major roots.

          You can see the heavy trunk base is blending into the surface roots and that the central original trunk and the two opposite branches are about 1" above the surface roots and this being so,  CONSIDER REMOVING ALL OF THE ORIGINAL MAIN TRUNK!   Remove the tree from the saucer and do a complete repotting,  angling the stub of the former right branch almost straight up, and that new apical trunk will be at a slight angle but will begin growing almost straight up for optimum growth.  Comb out the roots again, remove smaller roots leaving only large roots.  Cut back on the roots so you can create a nice surface profile that will have about 1/2" to 3/4"  flat just inside the rim before rising up to blend with the top of the largest roots.

          Due to the major reduction of much more than 90%,  you should be able to safely remove at least 75% of the roots with a good survival rate if you give it a shady humid area to recover for 2 to 3 weeks.  With that much cushion,  you should bring the root system into optimum condition!  If you just cut the original main trunk even with the top of the two opposite branches, you'll always have an unattractive situation.  In the back,  cut down the center of the former trunk and make a "V-shaped tear drop scar."  When it dries out it can be further detailed.


            The smaller roots have been removed to expose the large roots and even pruned roots in half to shorten.   The roots are trimmed to a little more than an inch away from the rim.   Bind wire in the "X" form was used to tied down and secure tree to pot, pulling tight any slack and tightening to keep the tree from moving. 


           This close up view of the attempt to create a tear drop scar, but I ended up making more of a heart almost upside down triangle scar.  I used a buck knife to cut the 1/2" down the middle of the trunk; it actually went pass 1/2" and almost into the roots.  I then cut into that to create a "V" then carved out a little tear drop, but looks a little bigger than that. 
        Finishing the media by lightly covering with finely chopped sphagnum moss and body media being pushed in between roots with spoon and stick.  Folding the foil in half and crumpling, I started just inside the rim and pushed down to form the outside collar and connected the ends.  Using the modified spoon, I was able to put the finer media where I wanted and finished the collar.  The top flared out easily and created some air holes.  Using filament tape, I taped the collar down.  I contoured the collar as best as I could and finished with a watering.  You can see the tree is slightly angled and the taper more sharpened. 
               NOTE BY DAVID.   Compare the last Sumo photo above with the first Sumo photo at the start and you'll see a very aggressive and major reduction!  This is common when creating high-potential plants.  This tree had three major heavy growth points. Initially Ryan selected the original main trunk (but cut it high) as well as retained sections of the two opposite branches. 

           In the second reduction,  he shorten the main trunk, shortened the larger branch, and removed most of the second opposite branch.  TO THIS POINT HE HAD NOT EXPOSED THE TOP OF THE LARGE SURFACE ROOTS, and when he did,  it became obvious that this should have been a standard maximum reduction Sumo! 

           KEEP THE LOWEST TRUNK AND CUT OFF ALL EXCEPT THE LARGEST LOWEST BRANCH,  THEN CUT OFF ALL EXCEPT THE FIRST GROWTH COMING OFF THAT BRANCH!  At Fuku-Bonsai,  this is known as "THE ONE BRANCH STYLE" and although it appears to be very drastic,  the survival rate is very high and it produces an exceptional lower trunk taper and interest.  At times, multiple trunks and lower branches develop. 

           THIS IS A MAJOR AND IMPORTANT LESSON!   At every major training session,  eliminate all possible negative situations if you want to create high-potential bonsai stock!  The huge amount of reduction provides a safety cushion for this major reduction.  With more experience, Ryan would have been able to have spotted the problem earlier and trimmed to correct earlier. By removing growth points, his growth would likely have been greater as the same amount of growth was being divided amongst fewer growth points! 

           BUT THERE'S STILL A PROBLEM.  Ryan used much too much coarse bottom to lift up and position his tree and placed a relatively large plastic separator just under the tree.  Drainage will be great but roots will struggle. So another redo was recommended.


          A smaller amount of course bottom covered about half of the bottom and shaped into a hill with the bottom of can. A smaller round plastic separator tent covered about 3/4 of the coarse bottom hill.  This gives room for more body media which is the potted component that produces strong growth. 

         NOTE BY DAVID.  In shallow pots,  create a generous number of drain holes below the mass of the potting media.  Shallow ceramic bonsai pots tend to drain very poorly and either additional drain holes made or they should not be used.


         I covered the bottom and coarse hill with body mix almost to the top of the saucer rim and making a higher hill, then positioned the plant and pressed down firmly at the proper location and desired angle.  Using spoons, I padded down and tied down over the tear drop scar from two directions, then pulled together sections of tie wire to further tighten. I contoured the slope up to the root where it comes out of trunk.  The hill is much tighter now.
          Finishing the tie downs, sprinkled finely chopped damp sphagnum moss over the media.  I  partially covered the roots and topped it off with fine media.  I then dabbled down and made firm with spoons.

         Thank you David for being even more specific on how to fit to pot.  I thought it was a lot easier.  I finished with fine media on the top and squeezed the neck, in this photo the aluminum neck area is still loose as I was forming the collar and watering was to follow.   


         CONCLUSION TO THE NUMEROUS SUMO REDOS BY RYAN.    After each attempt, I felt like I did a good job.  Thankfully, David always had something to point out, Jerry would include his thoughts, and I would spend the night looking over my photos and trying to figure out what I could do better in the next attempt.  Each time, I was prepped with notes from David, but each time, I managed to uncover something, and the plan would change.  However, I didnít know it until David would critique it later.  So, at the time, I felt like I was on a roll. 

         But, I didnít feel flustered with each attempt.  In fact, I felt great thinking that I was doing the best I could, and was having quality time with my trees.  I only got flustered when David would unveil something that I didnít catch.  But like he pointed it out, it pays to have an experienced eye, as my mistakes were unseen to me, but later corrected by David.  Jerry was always encouraging and Iím thankful for their honest opinions.  Otherwise, Iíd have a difficult road ahead of me in achieving high quality bonsai.  In this last attempt, I took my time to sort out better body media and fine media.  I feel like Iíve learned a lot this month; first it was horticulture, now its getting the little things down that I need to work on. 



          The original Roots workshop plant died and this replacement was done in Honolulu with a smaller cutting. One major root traveled down and through the bottom of the pot.  I was disappointed when I removed more of the foil and the media just dropped.  I guess that is what happens when removed too early, but note that one strong root growing well.  I had to extend the training wire and lengthen the piece to about 22".  I also had to correct the wire to pot.

          NOTE BY DAVID:   This problem is due to:  1)  When you filled the foil column you may have loaded up too much coarse bottom in the middle.  It may be better to mix the two grades more evenly.  In warmer Honolulu, it may be advisable to add some chopped sphagnum moss also for a more even moisture throughout the entire foil column area.  When media falls away, it shows the roots didn't grow well. We call this "perched water table" that we intentionally create between the coarse bottom and body media, and this was helped this along by the plastic separator.   2)  The second problem was that the trunk was leaning over.  For Roots,  I recommend keeping the trunk upright initially and later wiring or twisting the trunk over.  This tree was growing poorly so only one strong root developed.
               From the start this was bound to fail.  I had failed to properly secure the tree to the pot.  The media was far too loose, therefore didnít get the aggressive root growth one would hope for.  For 4 months of growth, it wasnít bad, but could have been better.  Once I totally removed the aluminum collar, everything just dropped and only a single root was visibly growing.  It grew through the bottom of the pot, but most of the roots were still in the fine stages, and have yet to drop any medium sized roots. Using bonsai wire, I created a seat and wrapped the bottom of the roots to create the taper and to guide roots down, hopefully keeping them from growing wildly. 

          I sprinkled finely cut wet sphagnum moss around the roots area.  I added Nutrient Granules to the mix. Instead of using bindwire, Iím now used bonsai wire to secure the tree. After positioning the tree and securing it to the pot, the next step is to tape the bottom foil area with filament tape.  Air holes were added and the water catchment was enlarged.  David suggested that the body of the roots foliage face straight to the sun.  The media is now tight and strong, I can pick the plant up and the pot will not shake.  It seems secure and hope the roots will flourish.


         Roots Over Rock has been the most challenging for me, or at least this one has.  My recent rock plantings are doing fine, but this one has yet to throw out the type of growth I know its capable of.  I know itís a combination of things.  You can see from this photo alone that there is too much media going on.  The foil is more than ľĒ away from the rock giving the roots room to grow away rather than onto it.  The goal here is to fix the amount of media and remove the plastic ties.       

           After removing the aluminum and plastic ties.  The roots were growing straight down rather than following he channels, so the plan was to correct that.  You can see the roots are nice and long, so it was easy to run it around in the created channels.


        The media was contoured in the channels.  Using the fine media covered with sphagnum moss, roots were positioned within the channels and thinly covered with more fine media and to hold it all in place. The sphagnum moss worked well.


        Starting from the bottom, I squeezed aluminum collar around to contour the shape of the rock.  I lightly taped it using strong filament tape. I  used the spoon to lightly cover areas with sphagnum moss and squeezed tight and finished with the filament tape. I continued to the top,  added the water catchment collar, topped it off with the fine media, and added air holes.  You can now see that the media is contoured to the rock, hugging it and hopefully the roots will follow suit and hug the rock as it grows. 


            CONCLUSION BY RYAN:  Iím now able to see where my weaknesses were; I think I did an okay job of remedying them.   Only time can tell if the growth will be strong, but I feel confident that the 3 trees will be awesome nonetheless.  This was the first 8 months, now, in another 8 months, they should be building some character as new branches emerge.  I learned that more body media is not necessarily the answer to get more growth.  There needs to be a balance and that the media needs to be tight for good root growth.  It was an eventful week and I enjoyed re-doing these trees.  Even though I didnít get to do any hard cut backs on the Roots and the Root-Over-Rock, Iím sure that they will be growing strongly now that Iíve corrected their structure. 

         There were times in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th re-do of the Sumo that I realized how much patience I learned throughout the process.  Once completed, when I noticed or critiqued and something needed adjusting, I just did it.  It felt even better when looking at the completed work.  "The joy of bonsai is like a breath of fresh air!" I'm not sure if thatís a good quote, but it sure does feel like taking a deep breath and feeling the good vibes!

         I think thatís the trees are talking to me, telling me how happy they are. There are times, when Iíll look and feel like something needs to be done --- whether if its watering more or watering less or giving more shade or more sun.  Dwarf schefflera will tell you what it needs if you pay enough attention.  It has been a learning experience with the Roots-Over-Rock, but without it going through this process, I would not have learned all this.   Roots-Over-Rock has been the main horticulture skill teacher.  If youíre looking at the tree and not happy with what youíre looking at, then it might be trying to tell you something. 

         - - - Ryan  (  


           SOME FINAL WORDS FROM DAVID.  Actually there is one more re-do recommendation as Ryan used too much coarse bottom,  too large a plastic separator, and not enough body media. I think this article is significant when you compare the growth of my three trees and Ryan's.  The day that we did the workshop 8-months ago, it was hectic.  I demonstrated and they took notes and if Ryan was confident and didn't ask questions, I kept on going!  Maybe I should have set a less aggressive workshop agenda and spent more time with details, but the objective was to give an overview of bonsai and judging by Ryan's overall progress, that day back in February created the relationship that is increasingly effective. 

            I took a lot longer than 8 months to learn optimum growth and I killed many more plants to learn!  When I began no one knew what was required to produce high-quality bonsai.  Most were happy growing bonsai,  even if there was little or no improvement each year.  I began to make progress when I recognized that it was more important to be able for trees to be growing vigorously and that made me concentrate on trees that grew well for me and to steadily discard or give away trees that I could not grow well. 

          I considered it a major breakthrough when I realized that superior high-quality plants only had great potential if it had character within one inch of the soil line.  I cut back hard or threw out a lot of plants with limited potential.  Some had gotten old and with limited future.  I was too ashamed to try to sell them so they were cut back really hard.  Those that did not die responded with great new growth and I recognized that a more radical form of Hong Kong's "Clip-and-Grow" pruning concepts produced exceptional plants and I named my more radical concept "Reduction-Building."

         That was the start of SUMO styling.  But like Ryan just learned,  it is not enough to just go through the motions.  It's necessary to be able to envision an exciting potential!  Don't advance a tree until you have created that potential!  In time, I mastered SUMO and it was another major breakthrough when ROOTS was conceptualized as a major alternative styling concept.  It is very closely related to ROOTS-OVER-ROCK.  So I teach these three concepts to beginners.

         Along the way, I discovered HAWAIIAN DRAGONS!  But that a much more difficult subject for the future.  I've introduced the basic concepts to Ryan who's already snapped a few and is slowly picking up the needed skills.  But that's for the future.  Suffice to say that I'm very proud of Ryan's progress and our study group members.  I'm equally proud that I'm receiving emails from our loyal customers that although they don't feel they have the situation that allows them to learn to train the plants,  that they enjoy learning how the plants were trained.  They now put a higher value on "QUALITY" and have come to recognize our older plants are our best values!  That's great! 

           Fuku-Bonsai is committed to producing the highest quality and teaching.  Join us!  With warm regards, mahalo, and aloha!  ~~~David  (

***  Return to October 2013 Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai
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