Already being comfortable with the style of the banyan, it was easy to see the overall goal of creating a taller more elegant banyan that will have stronger thicker roots in the future.  These example were apparent on Banyan Drive where my hotel was located.  As you can see, the tree we are working with has the same characteristics as the banyans pictured here on Banyan Drive.  The right photoed tree is located right outside the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and is named after Herman “Babe” Ruth.  Each tree is named on Banyan Drive which is pretty cool. (Above caption and photos by Ryan Chang)


             (A collaboration article by David Fukumoto and Ryan Chang
of his fourth workshop visit  - May 30, 2014)


                 There are several outstanding Rainforest Banyans in the permanent Fuku-Bonsai collection.  Each was created over many years with a wide range of training techniques.  Evaluation of the various individual efforts resulted in both positive and negative comments.  Trees that throw out a lot of aerial roots are not common as this may be due to a combination of genetic factors and a specific environment at a critical point in its development.  Initially when such a tree was identified,  it was moved into a "growing-on" strategy to become a larger more impressive bonsai for the exhibit collection.

                  The current goal is to create a rainforest banyan bonsai in a modest size for Ryan Chang's collection. On May 30, 2014,  a workshop at the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center in Kurtistown allowed Ryan to start the transition from a nice banyan bonsai with already an abundance of aerial roots to extend the roots to more realistically depict a rainforest banyan.

                   Ryan has visited and has taken workshops during his three earlier visits and has made remarkable progress as the leader of the Fast-Track Study Group and is moving towards teaching.  His articles in the Journal and the pre-publication support, critiques and recommendations have accelerated his understanding.  So teaching is the best way to learn and while I set up and instructed this workshop and took the photos,  it was formatted with Ryan (RC) to write the captions to explain the photo activity.  I'll add DWF captions.


                 After learning both David and I share the same birthday, I returned the next day to find that we were working on a “Rainforest Banyan” theme.  Growing up I’d spend my birthdays celebrating amongst trees just like it at Ala Moana Beach Park on Oahu.  Already being comfortable with this style of banyan, it was easy to see the overall goal of creating a taller more elegant banyan that will have stronger thicker roots in the future. The Dwarf Schefflera is from Fuku-Bonsai’s Custom Collection (that is about 15 to 20 years in training) was pre-selected because of the aerial roots dropping like crazy.  It is a rarity even among this species and I am privileged that David allowed me to one day add this to my private Oahu collection. 


     RC:  At first I thought we would just refine.  David's two previous examples are in this month’s Journal.  Because this is the 3rd effort,  it should turn out better than the first 2.   The goal is to extend the roots 4" to 5”.  We will suspend the tree from the wooden frame, straighten out the roots to create a nice rainforest banyan-like structure, and use aluminum foil columns around the roots. 

     DWF: To extend roots, it is easier to hang the tree and allow the roots to fall straight down instead of raising the soil line and later exposing roots.

     RC:  The longer wooden piece you see running through the foliage will support the tree. The plastic tie was attached to a piece of wire to run the tie though the roots, back up and around the stick, back down and under main branches, pulled tight, and tied.  We continued on each side.

     DWF: By attaching the tree to a stick instead of the stationary frame,  we are able to hang it high while working on the roots, then lower it to the ideal height.  Later,  the stick could be moved higher to further lengthen the roots if desired. 

      RC:  To test the strength of the stick and the ties I lifted the entire tree while it was still in the pot.  I had one end and the other end was on a piece of wood.  Once we were sure the tree was firmly attached and supported by the stick, we were confident we could hang it from the wooden frame and could start work to straighten and extend the roots.

       DWF:  This was the first time that we used this method and it worked well.


     RC: The photo shows that using the plastic separator really works well as it pushed the roots outwards leaving a very shallow root ball.  We don’t have to worry about a thick trunk-like center. 

       DWF:  The tree had been repotted last year and the plastic separator works well to create a very efficient shallow root system near the trunk base.  It pushed the roots outwards leaving a shallow center that is easy to root prune and repot.  It also protects the coarse bottom from clogging so  drainage was excellent. 

        RC: David cut the roots flat 3"-4” around the base, and I was to cut thick crossing roots.  The goal was to have only single straight growing roots to train and extend downwards.

        DWF: Most Sumo type banyan trees start by creating heavy outward facing roots.  But for the very few that exhibit a profusion of aerial roots dropping straight down, the removal of the heavy outward roots allow the vertical aerial roots to fall in an attractive manner.  The more desirable vertical roots also have access to more of the potting media.

      RC:  After all the root  pruning on the bottom, the roots were straightened out as much as possible and whatever couldn’t be straightened out was removed.  Doing this allows us to bunch up the roots and form the future vertical columns. 

      DWF:  Fuku-Bonsai places great emphasis on creating the most efficient,  effective, and attractive root systems for both appearance but also optimum plant health. When repotting, we clear out all old potting media to the bottom of the trunk-root base and exchange a large amount of the potting media.

       RC:  Using the 3/8 screen and 1/8”, we got four types of media.  What is caught in the 3/8 screen will be the course bottom.  What is caught in the 1/8 screen is the body media.  The media shown in the bin is what fell through the 1/8 screen and will be used as the fines.  The media in front is before being separated by screening.

       DWF:  When potting deep  as when making tall extended roots)   either add coarse bottom to body mix, OR  screen out all fines and organic matter with the 1/8" screen.  Fuku-Bonsai's potting media can be rescreened and reused.  

      RC: The wooden frame has pieces identical in length.  Pieces are nailed in a box form, with one open side.  The stick from which the tree is hung was initially placed on top of the wooden frame. 

     DWF: By placing the supporting stick on top of the framing, we could easily work to remove crooked roots or those that crossed or emerged at an angle.  We will keep the tree at Fuku-Bonsai which has a better growing climate.  The framing is strong enough to allow shipping to Ryan after the tree is well along in recovery. 

      RC:  Straightening out the roots is easier with the tree suspended.  We removed crossing roots that were either in a bad position or unable to grow straight down. We also removed roots that are growing or branching out from the vertical roots to keep the single roots growing down.  The roots columns are really easy to see now.  The middle is looking a little more spacious.

      DWF: Rainforest Banyan is the most desirable styling and we believe such rare trees should be to the highest aesthetic and horticultural standards.  

    RC:  After working on the roots and the tree was ready,  we lowered the tree into position.  You can see the bonsai wire used to tie the stick in place.  The next step is to form the columns and start potting it up.

      DWF: The roots were all trimmed to the same length with the goal of them developing them as uniformly as possible.  The crown of the tree is already nicely formed and by creating uniform longer, single, vertical roots,  an impressive attractive bonsai will be created. 

      RC:  Loading the bottom with the course bottom and using Nutrient Granules in between, we filled the bottom.  It always surprises me how much is used; I know that the roots will love it when it hits the bottom. 

       DWF:  When potting,  make a cone of the coarse bottom material rather than flat all the way across.  Then create a larger cone with the medium body media and build up the foil column aprons on this with good draining materials in the foil columns.

       RC:  The base of the roots is about 4 inches.  Using the formula:  Circumference = π x diameter (3.146  x 4"),  the aluminum foil was cut about  12.5 inches.  Add a few more inches to allow for the crumpling to give it strength.  We filled the collar with potting media and additional Nutrient Granules.  The open top funnel-like tool was helpful in getting the media in the collar.

        DWF: Aluminum foil is used extensively at Fuku-Bonsai as it is an ideal tool when extending the roots,  potting high, or in taller rock plantings.

        RC: Using a bamboo dowel-like dibble, we added and firmed the media to the top of the foil.  Make sure to dibble between roots and make it firm so the roots will flourish.  If the media is loose with a lot of air spaces, the roots will struggle and be weak.

       DWF: When filling foil columns, you can shake  or clap the column it to get the media to go down. If the column is taped,  it is less likely for the foil seams to split open.  Making several foil columns is preferable to making one large column. 




      RC:    The bottoms were expanding as I was dibbling to make firm. So we used masking tape to firm up the collars and completed the other two collars before lunch.  You can see the tripod-like future pillar-like root structures. We can’t forget about the center, so we also filled the middle with potting media, make it firm, and used a single large aluminum collar to wrap all columns. 




   RC: The final photo shows me behind the tree that will one day look like a beautiful Rainforest Banyan bonsai!  I can imagine my younger self playing under the root columns.  I can see myself grabbing the falling aerial roots and trying to swing from it wondering if it will hold my weight or snap!


         I think I must invest in a good video camera so I can relive the experience and the lessons. There's so many to remember!  While I can only remember so much, but I’d like to think I do remember everything during my trip.  Each visit is a special one, and I am thankful for the opportunity to share my experiences with you all who take the time to read.  This tree is a reminder of my 30th birthday in Hilo learning from my friend David who just by chance shares the same birth day.  It was a celebration of life.  To the Geminis!     - - -  Ryan

         Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words."   Plautus      (Read more at



          I'm delighted with Ryan's progress!  If you look back to the first issue of the Journal just 18 months ago in January 2013,  you can relive his progress as he's been in every issue.  This was a fellow that had a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy but limited discipline and skill.  He's come a remarkable way!

         Ryan is the exceptional example.  He has the time as his on-call night job allows him to study bonsai when clients don't have problems or needs his help.  He works out of his home with a phone hook-up and doesn't need to lose hours commuting to work.  He's shifted a significant golf and bowling budget into a bonsai prepaid account and so has the resources to acquire quantities of choice plants.

         But most of all that huge amount of enthusiasm and energy is now focused and he's develop strong discipline and rapidly increasing his skills.  That's the key to excelling in anything and I'm excited about his potential and future.  In many ways his progress ran parallel to mine as in my generation,  I had that energy and enthusiasm.  As a bonsai professional with control over my time,  I also have access to choice plants and the freedom to do extensive research and trials.  In a very short time,  Ryan is already at my knowledge level when I was at least 25 years into my bonsai career and he's catching up fast! He learns proven principles and avoids all of the mistakes of learning by trial and error without a mentor.  That's great!

         At this point,  I've been doing bonsai for 52 years and have had the opportunity to train thousands of trees each year.  From the start,  I've enjoyed bonsai and even now, due to the energy and enthusiasm of Ryan, Jay, Jerry, the Fuku-Bonsai staff,  and the other members of the growing Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai community,  I'm also learning at an accelerated level. 

         I am more convinced than ever that Dwarf Schefflera is the best tree to learn (or teach) bonsai.  It grows the fastest and is extremely long-lived.  It's a tree that continues to grow vigorously even as it ages. They keep developing new roots that continuously give them the vigor of youthful plants. 

         Dwarf Schefflera have rare epiphytic traits ---  being able to survive with roots exposed and to grow extremely rapidly when there are good growing seasons or conditions.  The roots grasp onto trees and rocks and attractive root systems are an additional styling factor that other bonsai trees lack.  It can be trained into much more styles and shapes than any other tree grown as bonsai and we continue to discover new possibilities!

         Equally significant, Dwarf Schefflera can be trained into LARGE world-class masterpiece bonsai,  BUT ALSO MINI-BONSAI AND ALL SIZES IN BETWEEN!  They are the easiest to grow everywhere as heating usually kicks in at 65°F to warm interiors and air-conditioning cools to 75°F or so.  Prior to the publishing of the Journal,  the overwhelming perception was that Dwarf Schefflera was only for growing indoors throughout the year and the 18 issues prove that it is possible to get incredible growth outdoors when night temperatures are above 55°F or when given supplemental artifical light! 


        We are building a Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai community and Ryan's progress is an extraordinary example of the benefits and what is possible.  I invite all serious bonsai enthusiasts to start on my shoulders --- to develop a long-term win-win special relationship --- and to become a part of our future!  ~~~David  (


            © Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014