"YING" or feminine penjing has elegant grace.  Like the "YANG" penjing named "Benevolent Dragon,"  this "YING" penjing is also a Natal Banyan (Ficus natalensis) known for having an extremely aggressive root system. During the strongest summer growing season, an abundance of reddish-pink roots literally are jumping out of the pot. 

                At Fuku-Bonsai, our standard approach is to create an outrageous showcase that features the unique characteristic.  When the Benevolent Dragon styling began in 1977, it was considered a very bold effort. But it went off so easily that we needed something a lot more challenging to try to find the limits of what could be done.  In 1985 we began growing several in custom 12" diameter x 36" tall pots.  A few years later, a large amount of roots were running out of the holes in the bottom of the pot and on a damp rainy day, an unusual styling session began.

                The tree was removed from the container, roots loosened, and all media was removed by water-blasting.  There was a HUGE amount of strong long roots and at first, the trunk was lashed to a beam seven feet off the ground and with a single point root hook, the tangled roots were combed out straight. In a procedure opposite from most bonsai root control training, most of the finer roots were pruned off in favor of the stronger longer roots.

                A "teepee-like"  supporting framework structure was made by tying three pieces of 48" long bamboo poles and the plant was hung up-side-down and three limber roots were looped over the top of the teepee.  Roots were then formed into a column around the up-side-down tree and tied with paper-coated iron wire where they crossed each other. By the time the wire rusted off, the roots had fused together. 

                The entire assemblage was placed into a plastic tub (with drain holes) and a plastic sheet was wrapped and taped around the root column.  The roots in the tub went over a mound of coarse volcanic cinder drainage layer, the roots splayed out and trimmed to length, and the potting of the tub section with 2" of our standard "body media." The top of the tree stuck out from the middle of the column which was filled with very coarse volcanic cinder mixed 50% with spaghnum moss to help hold moisture.

                It was then placed in the shade, and when growth began again, was moved into the full sun.   In spite of this radical operation, the plant didn't skip a beat and we began removing an inch or so of the plastic column every few months to expose the roots.   By 1990, most of the roots were exposed and the current shape developed using conservative string-tie training methods. 

Dancing princess #1.jpg (15286 bytes)


      Photo 1.  Here's a bonsai that has a lot of roots,  what appears to be several branches, but no "trunk."  The original trunk is the long lowest "branch" sweeping down and to the right.  It will be refined with the apex more sharply defined with lively branches with a tall slender elegant overall profile.

Dancing princess #2.jpg (28618 bytes)       Photo 2. A close-up view of the upper roots. We're still undecided as whether or not to remove the root at the left.  There would be a more elegant appearance without it, but it seems to be an appropriate reminder of how this tree was originally trained. Note we're using pull down plastic ties which takes a long time to set the branch.  But with this technique there's no danger of wire marks.
Dancing princess #3.jpg (27790 bytes)       Photo 3. Close-up view from the side showing what was once the bottom of the tree.  The roots were still limber enough to be repositioned to form this unique shape.
Dancing princess #4.jpg (23899 bytes)       Photo 4. Close-up view of the top of the other side.  The original trunk is now sweeping down and to the left. 
Dancing princess #5.jpg (15632 bytes)       Photo 5. From this side, the tree can also be trained to be attractive.  Tropical bonsai grow relatively quickly and will grow towards the strongest light.  It must be turned often for even growth.  It should be trained so all sides are attractive instead of having a single formal "front" as in traditional Japanese temperate climate bonsai.

(Photos: July 2001 when the tree was about 17 years old; propagated as a rooted cutting.)

                Ficus natalensis has the most vigorous roots of all ficus in our collection.  This tree clearly demonstrates a Chinese penjing concept of having a very strong awareness of unique plant horticultural traits.  Designs don't follow styles or rules.  Rather,  in the highest form of aristocratic Chinese penjing,  each and every tree is unique with an individual strategy.  That doesn't mean we won't create another using this technique.  We tend to grow a number of variations at the same time to explore different was to exploit these vigorous roots!

               At Fuku-Bonsai, we tend to prune back heavily to create intricate patterns and branch taper. But with this tree, more conservative pruning produced loose flowing branches to compliment the graceful feminine YING concept. Compared to the less stressful load on the roots of Benevolent Dragon,  Dancing Princess has less vigorous growth.  So there may still be some additional potential to create more dramatic forms with Natal Banyan and several far out designs are being considered.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION about Chinese concepts, start at the  Aristocratic Chinese Penjing section introduction and continue through the links.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Aristocratic Chinese Penjing,  also see:  Yee-Sun Wu & The Spirit of Man Lung Penjing

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