THE 'MYSTERY' FIG
By Jerry Meislik (Whitefish, Montana) Journal contributing editor

            I acquired my Mystery as a gift from David Fukumoto in 2004. You can read about it in my article in BCI magazine, ‘Breaking Up is Easy to Do’, Bonsai Clubs International, Vol. 48, No. 3, 2009, p. 38-45 or on my website at http://www.bonsaihunk.us/info/BreakingUpIsEasyToDo.html

            In the article I detail how the original plant was split into 5 pieces, each of which has become a unique bonsai. I will review some of the highlights and updates in this article.

            Despite some careful study and research the exact scientific name is still in question. David acquired his original plant under the name Ficus natalensis. In comparing David's plant to other specimens of F.natalensis that I have seen and own,  I feel that it is not true natalensis. So far David and I have not seen figs on the Mystery tree to help confirm a scientific identification. So for accuracy I am calling it Ficus 'Mystery'. Perhaps one day it will fruit and we can confirm its species.

            By whatever name it is one of the most suitable figs for bonsai and should be in every fig collection.

 

       (Left) "Benevolent Dragon", one of David's large Mystery figs.  (Right)  One of David's Mystery trees in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington DC

   

   (Left)  David examining the Mystery fig that he gave to me, 2004  (Center)  Two 5-gallon pails joined together as a deep container for the tree, 2004.  (Right)  Mike Imaino (Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation president) and Jerry Meislik reducing the tree to small segments, 2004

 

    (Left)  Jerry holding segment 1 and 4, 2004    (Right)  Mike holding segment 2, 2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The trees in my plant room in Montana, 2004

 

 

 

 

 

            DESCRIPTION OF ANATOMY.  The Mystery has a moderately thin leaf texture and is never fleshy like Ficus microcarpa. Leaves have some small hair on top of the leaf, along the petiole and the main vein and are quite hairy on bottom of leaf and petiole. The leaf color is a light green, bark color grey brown, stipular bud is dark brown and hairy, and leaf venation is prominent on both surfaces,

            STRONG POINTS.  Mystery is an extremely vigorous grower, with excellent leaf reduction, good twigging, good bud-back, easy cultivation, and one of the few figs to very easy develop aerial roots even under relatively dry conditions. Propagation is easy from cuttings of branch or roots. It has some of the most aggressive roots which allow easy root-over-rock, exposed root, as well as banyan designs.

  

      (Left)  Leaves of the Willow Leaf Fig on left, Ficus microcarpa leaf in middle and Mystery Fig on the right     (Right)  Close up of the naturally large leaves of the Mystery Fig

           WEAK POINTS.  Mystery has a relatively large leaf but this reduces very easily with defoliation and good cultural practices. I am not sure how well it will do in home environment. I suspect that it needs supplemental light and humidity in an average home growing situation to be at its best.

CULTURAL NEEDS         

            LIGHT. Give it as much light as possible. It  can grow indoors in a bright window but supplemental artificial light is really helpful to get strong growth. In warmer areas  or in the summer time in the north you can leave it outdoors in full sun once sun acclimated. I have tested plants outdoors in freezing weather and it has tolerated several days of freezing without killing back.

            TEMPERATURE.  Normal range of 65-95F

            HUMIDITY.  Will grow in dry air or moist - aerials can form in quite dry air!

            SOIL.  Potting media should have open spaces, well aerated with large particles sized 3-4mm

            WATER.  When the plant is nearly dry, check soil every few days

            FERTILIZER.  A regular fertilizer routine as health and growth dictates with little fertilizer during a winter rest period

            PESTS. Scale and mites, but it is not particular susceptible                                          

            PROPAGATION.   Very easy from branch or root cuttings; so far no fruiting or seed.

 

SUITABLE BONSAI STYLES. This fig can be grown in any style but due to extremely aggressive roots the material is really valuable for:   1)  Root-over-rock,   2) Exposed roots,  3)  Banyan, and 4) Epiphyte

 

DISCUSSION OF THE TREES:  

 

   (Left)  Wild growth encouraged to thicken up roots and develop branches, 2006 (Right)   Tree #1, 2005

 

   (Left)  Tree 1 accepted for display in the 2nd US National Bonsai Exhibition in 2009   (Right)  Top shortened back, 2014

             TREE #1:   This was the largest section of the original plant. As with all the pieces wild growth was allowed to get the sections healthy and to develop many choices of branches, as well as to thicken up the exposed roots.

            The tree was so adaptable that in 5 years it was in quite nice shape and was selected for display in the 2nd US National Bonsai Show in 2009. This is a remarkably short time to take a material from raw stock to a show-quality tree. The incredibly powerful growth of this material is a major factor in the speed of development.

            Despite the fact that the tree was quite handsome, I chose to remove the entire apex of the tree. With David's prodding my thoughts were that the emphasis in this tree's design should be on the roots. By removing the apex and re-growing a new shorter apex and keeping the foliage mass tight the focal point would be the roots and not the foliage canopy.  It took me another 5 years to re-grow the new apex. But I think that the design now is more powerful and coherent.

                (Left)  Tree # 2,in wild growth 2006,  (Center) Tree potted and cutback, 2006, (Right) Tree #2, 2014

        TREE #2  was a smaller section of the original material with a lovely root display but really no trunk. The tiny branch that eventually became the trunk was allowed to grow vigorously and cut back many times over the years to produce movement and taper. Over time the canopy was brought back close to the roots and the tree tilted more to the right to emphasize the dropping primary branch.

        

        (Left)  Tree #3, in foliage, 2014,  (Right) Tree #3, defoliated, 2014

        TREE #3 was an ugly blunt cutting which I nearly discarded. At a loss of what to do with it, it was placed on a lava stone and grown on. The tree can be seen illustrated in my Root-Over-Rock article Part lll in last month's issue of the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai.      (www.fukubonsai.com/1a9a20.html)    Although initially one of my ugliest trees it seems to be coming into its own and may one day become a good bonsai.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                    Tree #4, 2014

         TREE #4 was a straight piece of stem with several attached aerial roots as can be seen in the photos. Over time it has filled out and become a very attractive tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             Tree 5, root cutting developed from the original tree

            TREE #5 started out as a root cutting with no leaves. Root cuttings of some species of fig will sprout leaves from their cut ends. One of the sprouts was selected to become the trunk's terminal. The loop in this trunk has become the focal point in this design and the foliage is kept tight and short to keep this in focus.

 

 

 

            SMALL CUTTINGS.  Over the years I have taken many, many cuttings of both stems and roots and formed some interesting bonsai. I have an assortment of styles and shapes to share with you. Most of these plants are less than 6" in longest dimension. Leaf reduction in these small trees is critical to keep the proper perspective but leaf reduction only will be done after these trees are nearly done being shaped. Excuse the large leaves on these small bonsai. With time I will get them properly sized and shaped. Most are still early in their development but are attractive in their own right.

            CONCLUSION.  The Mystery Fig is one of the best figs that I have ever used for bonsai. It is aggressive and vigorous, forms aerial roots with ease, propagates from roots as well as stem cuttings and its naturally large leaves will diminish in size.   I highly recommend this species for bonsai growers who can provide it  with medium to bright light levels.

            - - - Jerry  (jerry@bonsaihunk.us          URL:   www.bonsaihunk.us

           A  NOTE FROM DAVID.

                       Mahalo Jerry for another great meaty article!  I continually am amazed at the extent of Jerry's bonsai activity and his creations.  At one time,  I did a lot of ficus research and had over 200 species and varieties under trials.  I really expected that one day the "King of Indoor Bonsai" would be a ficus as it is the only true tree that is considered a houseplant --- provided it gets a lot of light.  In the early 1980's I gave up on ficus as it required more light than normally available in homes and offices and I focused on creating True Indoor Bonsai™ and have since come to specialize only on Dwarf Schefflera which is the best and only proven durable houseplant that meets all of our criteria.

                      But ficus is an extremely tough durable tropical that will do well with strong supplemental light and when growing outdoors in full sun when night temperatures are above 55°.  I'm delighted that Jerry has taken over where I left off and that he has increased his knowledge far above where I once was and is amongst the most approachable of all who are knowledgeable about ficus bonsai.  Please contact him if you have questions regarding ficus bonsai.

                     A SPECIAL OFFER TO FOUNDATION MEMBERS.   We originally obtained what Jerry calls 'Mystery Fig" as Ficus natalensis many years ago.  Although Fuku-Bonsai does not produce Ficus Bonsai,  we have a significant amount of stock of this ficus for those who want to obtain plants.  We will make it available to members of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation based upon donation of fair market values to the Foundation.  Fuku-Bonsai will handle the shipping under our standard shipping rate of $15 for the first plant, $22 for 2 plants,  $24 for three plants, and free shipping for 4 or more going to the same address. 

                 Please specify budget range,  size and preferance,  and your city and state:   "Young plants less that $25;  Semi-trained up to $100;  Younger specimens to $500 and older exhibit quality $1,000 and up."  Photos will be provided for prior approval for the purchase of older plants.  Please email for more information to david.f@fukubonsai.com

                     I commented to Jerry that "In many ways our various focuses are beginning to merge --- the need for selecting and working with strong, fast-growing durable plants that allow significant manipulations --- the need for optimum growth --- the movement towards smaller higher quality bonsai rather than “large public collection sizes.”

                     Four years ago,  Fuku-Bonsai began our 1:10 Project to pot trees into very shallow containers that are ten times wider than they are deep.  We are finding out that Dwarf Schefflera has no problem at all in these shallow containers.  Although it requires special techniques to establish them properly we have never lost a single plant!

                     IN OUTDOORS IN BRIGHT LIGHT INCLUDING SEVERAL HOURS OF FULL SUN,  WE ARE FINDING THAT LEAVES BECOME SMALLER AND THAT MAME BONSAI ARE VIABLE AND REALISTIC!  THOSE INTERESTED IN GROWING MAME BONSAI ARE URGED TO JOIN OUR BEGINNER AND LATER OUR FAST-TRACK STUDY GROUP TO PARTICIPATE IN THESE TRIALS!  GENERALLY THERE IS A LIMITED AREA TO GROW TREES INDOORS SO FOR SOME PEOPLE, IT MAY MAKE A LOT MORE SENSE TO GROW MORE TREES, BUT SMALLER TREES,  TO HIGHER MORE CHALLENGING BONSAI STANDARDS.  EVERYONE INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE TRIALS TO FIND THE OPTIMUM SITUATIONS!  ~~~David

*** Return to the May Issue of 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