INNOVATIVE TROPICAL DESIGN;  The essence of elegant banyans!

          Since its start in 1973,  Fuku-Bonsai focused on "Sumo" styling as stout heavy trunked trees with multiple trunks and low branches. This style are ideal for rock plantings which were then our primary products.  As we recovered from the Benlate catastrophe and began moving toward production of potted bonsai, there was a need to develop additional styles and "Roots" was introduced as a major innovation in Tropical Bonsai styling. Our earliest Roots were trained from the early 1970's.

          We introduced the smaller potted 4LL8 Living Lovables in Sumo, Roots, and Dragon stylings in 2001 and Roots has grown to be our most popular. 

          We obtained our first Dwarf Schefflera cuttings in 1973 and 1974 from several different sources and they varied greatly.  The Entry Tree and several others are from the early cuttings and since then, we've continually improved our selections and found ways to produce higher quality plants.

          This is one of our oldest Dwarf Schefflera in ROOTS training since the early 1970's.  The crown was developed with Sumo techniques but every few years when it was repotted,  it was planted higher and higher with the roots rearranged each time.  The tree is about 32" tall.  At mid-height, the root-trunk is about 8 inches across and over 12" across at pot level. 

           This Natal Banyan (Ficus natalensis) Tropical Penjing was selected, requested, and donated by Fuku-Bonsai as the youngest tree in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum.  It began as a cutting rooted in 1976, the same year that the at the  National Bonsai Collection was established with the Bi-centennial Bonsai Gift to the United State from Japan.  Fourteen years later in 1990 the cutting had become an innovative exposed roots penjing and was requested to be the youngest tree in the initial American Collection!  

            It was featured in the opening phamplet citing being an African banyan, in a Chinese penjing exposed root styling, in a priceless Akiji Kataoka pot, and trained in Hawaii and donated by a Chinese-Japanese American David Fukumoto of Fuku-Bonsai.  It was also on the cover of the American Bonsai Society Journal in the Winter 1995 issue, five years after it was donated while still in its original styling and in the donated Akiji Kataoka pot.  Note the major changes since! An article is at  "FUKU-BONSAI TROPICAL PENJING AT THE NATIONAL BONSAI & PENJING MUSEUM"

           Several of the oldest specimens in the Fuku-Bonsai Collection are the result of creating bonsai from "out-riggers."  Outriggers are a branch section off an old tree that has attached aerial roots.

            "ARCHES" began as a heavy 5" long section that is the portion at the top of the bonsai.  It had two long branches that were allowed to lengthen, trained downwards, and in time these dropping branches developed aerial roots.  This photo was taken many years ago and it has since developed into an amazing bonsai!

          The ultimate "THIN, STRAIGHT, AND TALL!"  This unique tree was also started as a short outrigger branch with attached aerial roots pruned off an older bonsai.  The branch was bent down to combine with the aerial roots which were bundled to grow compactly and trained straight down. 

           "SUMO" represents a stout, healthy "sumo warrior."  "ROOTS" provides an extreme contrast and represents penjing concepts like a "110-year old Chinese philosopher!"  It's thinner with a lot more detailed character.

         This tree is part of our 1:10 Project in a shallow 12" diameter saucer-pot. Branches are kept a sparse and creatively pruned to have a complex drooping branch pattern.    

         Three other "thin and tall" Roots in the "1:10 Project."  Note that the bottom half of two of them are still protected with the aluminum foil collar as the roots are still not sufficiently developed to be exposed. One is still braced up as roots have not yet locked into the anchoring wires. The trees are 18" and 24" above the rim of the shallow 12" diameter saucer-pots.


         Three other smaller "thin and tall" Roots in various stages of training in our experimental collection.  One is in an 8"diameter x 2" pot, the second in a shallow 7" saucer-pot, and the third in a 9" saucer pot that was featured to illustrate the concept of "CHI Styling Concepts."



         The Fukumotos began with a Brassaia houseplant in 1962 in their newlywed apartment. Soon after, they moved to the suburbs and David was asked to be a last minute evening adult education bonsai course substitute instructor at a time there were no suitable tropical bonsai plants or published information.  When supplied with prepared bonsai stock from Myrtle's backyard "nursery" and with the first mimeographed published handbook, student success soared and the Aloha Bonsai Club was formed. 

         We began Fuku-Bonsai in 1973 as a certified export nursery with the goal of creating a traditional outdoor bonsai nursery, knowing a lot of research was necessary. We began with production of very easy-care rock-planted houseplants to produce income while we worked toward producing "real bonsai."   Over the years,  we learned that very few can successfully grow traditional outdoor bonsai. Most wanted to grow bonsai indoors, and while it did not have to be old and valuable,  it needed to be easy-care so even beginners would be successful and they would be very suitable as gifts.   

          In the 1970's and 1980's,  we corresponded with bonsai enthusiasts from all parts of the United States who were often leaders of their local bonsai clubs or national bonsai organizations. Most were not successful in growing trees that are considered easy common Hawaiian outdoor tropical bonsai. We initially test-marketed a number of Hawaiian tropical outdoor bonsai that grew well for us including Japanese Golden Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Aurea,'  Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper (Juniperus squamata 'Prostrata,'  Wild Hawaiian Olive (Olea chrysophila), Chinese Banyan (Ficus microcarpa 'Retusa,'  and others that are amongst the most durable of all Hawaiian tropical outdoor bonsai. 

         We learned that what we can easily grow in Hawaii were much more difficult to grow in the continental U.S.   Over the years,  correspondents assisted in testing various plants.  The most successful was Chinese Banyan and we became a research affiliate of the Harold Lyon Arboretum of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. By 1979, our collection included over 200 ficus species and clones and a series of articles were published in the American Bonsai Society Journal titled:  "Ficus; An Inspiration for Bonsai for Indoors!" We concluded that Ficus Bonsai were significantly more successful than traditional Japanese temperate climate outdoor bonsai, but that they required much more light than available in average homes and offices.  They would grow best in greenhouses or under high intensity lights. 

         We increased researching proven durable houseplants and initially specialized in the common Schefflera (Brassaia actinophylla).  After we sprayed defective Benlate contaminated with weedkillers in 1989,  we could no longer grow Brassaia commercially and over time Dwarf Schefflera (Schefflera arboricola) became our new specialty.  We had been growing nice medium and large bonsai since the 1970's but not able to create small bonsai. 

         Over the years, we learned to grow high quality small bonsai and began the transition to Dwarf Schefflera in the late 1990's.  The key to our success was developing methods to create trunk character within 1" of the soil line, to produce multiple trunks and low branches and a shallow compact root system within 1/2" of the soil line.  These created our primary "SUMO" styling.

         In 1999,  Fuku-Bonsai's website went online and this gave us a great new way to stay in touch with a number of Fuku-Bonsai customers,  some of whom had visited us and been correspondents since the mid-1970's, and who originally helped us to develop and introduce our Hawaiian Lava Planting products.  Some were pleased and excited about growing houseplant bonsai and there was increased requests for workshop packages and prepared bonsai stock or semi-trained bonsai in a wider range of styling.



        Dwarf Schefflera can be trained into better Banyan Bonsai than any other tree grown as bonsai.  SUMO styling produces outstanding plants to train into the most common banyan forms with very heavy trunks, multiple trunks, low branches and a low heavy wide canopy.

     This photo of a banyan at Angkor Watt shows an extraordinary tall root system that develops within the humidity of a forest canopy. If there's a light opening, the apical growth elongates in a race to reach that light. Upon doing so, it quickly creates a network of branches to capture the light and close up the canopy, creating high humidity that produces an abundance of roots!  

FicusEpiphyte6Liliukalani.jpg (30935 bytes)

       This second photo shows two banyans in Hilo's Liliuokalani Park. The left banyan is a more typical Sumo banyan. The right tree began with a bird eating a fig that traveled through its digestive system and emerged as a "fertilizer encased seed" deposited high in a host tree.  The seed germinated, roots reached the ground, the host tree strangled and died, and a Sumo canopy developed on top of a tall elegant root-trunk as an "epiphytic banyan."

        Between SUMO and ROOTS, almost every banyan form can be created as bonsai!






         Conceptually,  "Roots" is a column of exposed roots with a "sumo" crown.  In theory,  roots would develop around the tall trunk like the Angkor Watt tree, or grow down from high while forming a crown like the Hilo tree. 

         The most difficult challenge is merging the exposed aerial roots into the primary branches that will form the crown. Our strategy was to focus on this section to give growers a good start towards the final styling.

         Some growers would prefer to create a larger sumo crown and build out stout heavy roots while others would create taller, slender elegant roots with a proportionally smaller more compact crown. 

          It was necessary to train staff to create a styling target to train toward.  A specific older bonsai would give a better visual concept of what we were trying to achieve. This 1:10 Project tree was selected to represent "TYPICAL ROOTS"  as it matures.  The tree is in a 9" diameter shallow saucer-pot and about 11" tall.  It's about the size of a 8.5"x11" sheet of typing paper.

         From time to time we will prune back the crown to create a more complex pattern with the overall bonsai size staying about the same.    The second photo shows the roots from the other side.  Roots are parallel and crossing roots trimmed off.

        Three 4LL8-Roots from the section now being shipped.  Promotional standard photos along with dimensional standards provide a general idea of our products.  Each is a unique item covered by our satisfaction and safe arrival limited warranty. Customers are generally very happy with the plants we ship. 

       These three show the range of styling within this model standard.  Some have fewer heavier roots that may form a more compact bundle while other roots may slant or fall farther apart.  At this price range it is not feasible to take individual photos.        

          Our youngest 4LL8-Roots are close to five years in training when shipped and are outstanding values as each has the potential to make a nice bonsai.  Those who grow toward this ROOTS design using our Introductory Workshop Package (Beginner Workshop I) will take 3 to 5 years or more to achieve this standard if they have good indoor growing conditions, but they may be able to accomplish it in half the time if they have some skill and grow outdoors when night temperatures exceed 50F. 

          IWP-8 (Beginner Workshop I) is the most economical complete premium package and is ideal for beginners to learn one at a time. More committed growers start with three units and by the time they complete the third and have grown the trees for a growing season,  they pretty much know whether they'll enjoy bonsai as as life-long hobby to take on larger challenges.

         Some prefer to begin with the more developed 4LL8-R (shown above) and order INTERMEDIATE WORKSHOP II - ROOTS which includes a True Indoor Bonsai Workshop Handbook and a #8 Conversion Kit.   This workshop package is intended to produce bonsai closer to our 8LS-Roots Living Sculpture at a savings and give the grower the opportunity to participate in the training of the plant.  Generally it may take 4 to 8 years to achieve our 8LS8 standard.  This medium size is the most popular and ideal for windowsill bonsai. 8LS8 Living Sculpture are popular as gifts for special friends. 

        For those who have the space and interest to create large bonsai, the Advanced Workshop III - Roots includes a 8LS8-Roots, a True Indoor Bonsai Workshop Handbook and a #17 Conversion Kit.  This will produce larger bonsai such as those in our Custom Collection.  We discourage beginners from purchasing our oldest Custom Collection plants until they have developed confidence and skills with our younger plants first.               



        One of our oldest and tallest Custom Collection that was shipped in the past year.  The root-trunk is attractive and well established and there's a full range of branches in ideal positions.  At this stage, the new owner has training options including developing a larger bonsai with larger wider crown in a larger pot, or to maintain at current size and reduce and refine the crown.

      A branch section with attached aerial roots was pruned off a larger bonsai with a portion of the branch and aerial root forming the loop at the top.  Roots were trained into a flowing root-trunk pattern with a shaped aluminum foil collar.  It took several years to develop the roots that formed and took the shape of the foil collar.  We are now slowly removing the media between the exposed roots to create an exciting textured root-trunk.
         Two additional photos of the same tree in the Fuku-Bonsai Collection show complex styling creates an exciting tree attractive from all sides.  This is the highest standard for exciting bonsai! 

       When we first developed ROOTS styling concepts, we stayed with upright trees as banyan roots tend to grow straight down.  But some trees trained nicely with slanting roots and in time we came to develop swirling roots such as this tree.

       Developing new concepts and new forms has been a major part of the ongoing trials.  This tree was inspired by the vision of a jellyfish with a body to be represented by an "umbrella (or kasa) shaped wide flattish crown made up of several longer flaring branches eminating from one area for a thin, wide umbrella-like foliage crown. 

       The "handle" of the umbrella will be a flowing network of roots like the hanging tentacles of a jellyfish!  Like the concept of "CHI,"  this interpretation was based on a non-traditional styling inspiration. 

       During the creation, team member Anthony Diaz remarked that it really suggested some type of alien and the name "Alien Jellyfish" has stuck to this plant.  The creation was featured in an article published in the American Bonsai Society's Journal. 

      "ROOTS"  adds another major styling direction and Dwarf Schefflera can be trained into more bonsai shapes than any other tree trained as bonsai!

       Creating a bonsai interpretation of a Rainforest Banyan with an abundance of aerial roots dropping from far out on major branches and falling free of the massive trunks is extremely difficult to depict.

       In photographs,  the massive trunks totally dominated and the long aerial roots are almost insignificant due to their slender bulk.  This was an artistic as well as technical challenge that was approached in two ways:

   1.  The major trunk was carved away and the tree raised up each time it was repotted and this reduced the main trunk mass and emphasized the lengthening aerial roots.  We have made significant progress and another technique includes totally carving away the remaining original trunk and greatly lengthening the aerial roots. This is currently in progress.

    2.  The photo shows what was once a large section that was removed from our oldest Entry Tree with attached aerial roots.  It was suspended from a wood scaffolding and aluminum foil columns raised up to catch aerial roots that were not long enough.  This has been our most successful to date.



              The training of exposed root designs has a long history and an exposed root Shimpaku Chinese Juniper is part of a Japanese ukiyoe woodblock print created in the mid-1800's.  Occasionally they are seen in Japanese bonsai and Chinese penjing to depict trees whose roots have been exposed by raging storm waters. In the 1960's when we were actively collecting naturally shaped bonsai stock,  we would see trees in windswept eroded hillside gullies with sparse foliage at the end of long dangling exposed roots being blown side to side.  This became the inspiration for "dangling root cascades."

              Several tropical trees have potential for exposed root styling including especially ficus and citrus.  But neither can match the potential for Dwarf Schefflera Exposed Root Bonsai designs!  We've come a long way, but we are still very far from reaching the full potential of all possible root designs. In addition to exposed root designs, it is very desirable to have established long aerial roots as these are ideal for creating dramatic rock-planted bonsai with slender tall rock formations or epiphytic bonsai trained on the skeletons of driftwood trees!.

             Fuku-Bonsai styling is still evolving and even after we introduced "HAWAIIAN DRAGON" styling, we are tweaking and creating more character into both Sumo and Roots designs. 

*** Return to MPBF Journal #2 - February 2013
*** Go to MPBF website home page
*** Go to Fuku-Bonsai website home page

Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai 2013 and 2019

***  Go to Advanced Roots - 1:10 Project