LESSON #24:  RAINFOREST BANYANS - PART I

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            The Indian Banyan (Ficus bengalensis) drops roots from high branches and those that reach the ground tighten, straighten, and become heavier pillar roots.  These trees were the playgrounds of my youth so it was natural for me to consider these as my optimum goal!  In the mid-1970's I studied many Ficus species.  But they required much too much light and my research switched to lower light houseplants for True Indoor Bonsai. 

 

 
              Our best Rainforest Banyan bonsai began in 1973 as one of the first Dwarf Schefflera introduced by the University of Hawaii. After initial styling it was ground planted where it became a large shaped tree in our parking lot.  In 1985 when Fuku-Bonsai evolved into a corporation,  three sections of that original tree was dug,  and with the entire staff participating,  assembled to appear as one giant tree and named: "Hui hanalike" which in Hawaiian is:  "A group working together."  It went to the Kona Fuku-Bonsai Center, and when the center closed and we retrenched to Kurtistown in 1996, it was mounted on a 72" diameter concrete disc with turntable hardware to become our Entry Tree. 

TREE #1:  EMPHASIZE ROOTS BY CUTTING AWAY THE TRUNK!

 

              I started training a small sumo about 2000 by fertilizing heavily, shearing the top to create a flat top with a lot of branches,  then with a mallet and curved blade wood carving chisel, I greatly reduced the heavy central trunk.

             By 2008,  much of the main trunk had been carved away and the aerial roots became larger.

              

 

 

 

 

             2009:  I started to extend the roots with a 4" high plastic collar.  The best roots were selected and efforts began to straighten all roots.

 

 

               2010:  The collar was kept on for a year and when removed,  roots were trimmed and multiple smaller aluminum foil collars were installed to keep them separated. A year later I raised it up again to further lengthen the roots.

 

 

              2012:    Two years of vigorous growth produced a lot of new growth,  more roots that were heavier,  and much heavier branches to widen the crown.  Note that this vigorous "grow-out" is only effective because the earlier work had created a lot of the traits that had been planned. 

 

               2012:  Again the tree was dramatically refined.  A lot of the new growth that did not contribute to the design were removed.  In pruning back the branches after vigorous growth,  there was expectation of many more growth points.  When these were trimmed, they sent out more shoots and within a year we were moving into refinement which created a more refined appearance and smaller leaves.

 

 

             May 2014:  The tree continues to develop and the crown is filling out.  I have some ideas for small improvements in the years to come.  This tree was satisfying but there's a better way!

 

TREE #2:  A TREE WITH NO TRUNK!

 

            When a branch with a lot of aerial roots is severed from the main tree, it's called an "outrigger" and these can be made into extraordinary bonsai!  Our Entry Tree once had low branches and the foliage reached almost to  the roots like a huge dome. 

             In 2006 when low branches were removed,  the outriggers were stuck into nursery flats until we could think of how to use them. 

 

            This was the appearance in 2010 when I got the idea.  I removed the 4" long branch section between the group of roots on the right and the next group of roots to its left.  The right set of roots was made into a unique tall skinny Roots bonsai. 

            The bulk of the roots was to form "The tree with no trunk!"

 

 

 

            A four legged support was made with each leg to fit into the corners of a square nursery flat.  The severed branch with aerial roots attached was tied to the top cross pieces with the long roots dangling down. 

          Where the roots were not long enough to reach the level of the growing media in the flat,  double aluminum foil cylinders were made to "raise the soil to the roots." 

         

 

 

           Two years later the roots had reached the level of the flat and thickened enough to allow removal of the supporting structure.  The top growth was starting to fill out and we began to shape the crown.

 

 

 

             May 2014:   "The Tree with no Trunk!" 

             We found that there are two ways to lengthen and extend the roots to create Rainforest Banyans: 

       1.   Raise up the soil, allow roots to lengthen, remove the soil to expose the roots and trim..  Repeat to get longer roots.  OR,

       2.   Hang the tree up,  bring the growing media up to to the roots.  Allow the roots to grow down, and remove the soil to expose the roots and trim.

             A workshop was planned for Ryan Chang to start with a Custom Collection with lots of aerial roots to extend the roots and to create a premium Rainforest Banyan!     

          May 2014.   Ryan Chang with two of Fuku-Bonsai's smaller innovative Rainforest Banyans.  In these two, the primary efforts was to create bonsai with an emphasis on the roots by minimizing the trunks.  They were trained in two different ways as detailed in this article.  The tree on the right is still in the "growing-on" stage with larger leaves and the complexity of the canopy still being developed.  The left tree has a complex branching crown and in the "refinement" stage with more compact smaller leaves.
 
 
                  Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014