When we found an interestingly curved partially rotted dead Ohia-Lehua branch section, it suggested a soaring spiraling mammal .  .  .  a Hawaiian Spinning Porpoise.  The branch was positioned to stand up with reinforcing rods and a concreted rock base.  The splintered end was carved.  Like "Tad's Ripple,' we utilized long air-layers of Schefflera arboricola 'Manila Ripple' that had been rooted in 1986 and the initial cross-fusion grafts were made in 1991.


                "Cross-fusion graft" is a made-up term to describe the "fusing" or "welding" that occurs in some tropical trees when trunks or branches are kept tightly against each other.  (See photo #4 in the series on Monkeypods)  In setting up these grafts,  we planted nine long air-layers at varying distances from the "trunk" base.

                Some were planted very close to the trunk with others over-lapped and were as much as 6" away from the trunk.  None were planted in the front.  While interestingly curved, the branch lacked the heavier tapering base that was desirable in bonsai. By planting some of the air-layers away from the trunk, when the space between filled in, it would appear to be stouter with the desirable trunk taper.

                In the middle and upper parts of the "tree," the air-layers were wrapped and tightly secured with plastic cord that would not rot.  A rock was placed over "floating" sections and lashed until it was tightly against the Ohia-Lehua "trunk." In some instances, we threaded another air-layer through the gap. We discovered the basis of this tropical training technique in the 1960's when serious tropical bonsai research began.


                Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro was a pioneer in training a number of tropical plants as bonsai. Although he initially trained them into traditional single apex-tier branch "pine-tree" shapes utilizing a lot of wiring,  his styling evolved into multiple apex-arched branched designs that better reflected the shapes of tropical trees.  This tropical bonsai structure depended upon skillful pruning techniques with little or no wiring.  Papa encouraged us to develop new styling concepts and techniques and we honor him as the "Father of Hawaiian Tropical Bonsai."

               Hawaii is amongst the most isolated land masses in the world with unique indigenous plants.   Beginning with the first Polynesian settlers and throughout Hawaiian history, plants have continually been introduced into Hawaii from all parts of the world.  Many plants are still unidentified.

                Famed Hawaiian horticulturist Dr. Horace F. Clay was an invaluable resource to the bonsai community and served as president of the Hawaii Bonsai Association for the first ten years.  He especially enjoyed training plants in a manner that featured the unique characteristics of the plant and his "Walking Mangrove" masterpiece resides at the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center.  Horace was a founding director of Fuku-Bonsai and we often talked about developing bonsai training strategies to accentuate and feature unique plant characteristics. 

                When I developed an interest is the ficus plant family and in banyan forms,  he provided the botanical and horticultural background information that resulted in developing the "cross-fusion graft" technique.  This was first utilized in the 1970's when several rooted Dwarf Philippine Banyans (Ficus benjamina 'philipinensis nana') were planted around the base of a collected potential Ohia-Lehua bonsai that had died.  Each cutting was trained to become a branch with one becoming the top.  What appears to be a bonsai is really a fusion of several plants.


                Dwarf Schefflera can be styled into more bonsai shapes and concepts that any other plant. When I first began bonsai, Myrt kept kidding me that all my trees looked similar.  I thought she couldn't appreciate the subtle differences, but looking back, I have to agree with her.  Most of my original trees were Ironwood (Casuarina equistifolia) that were all collected seedlings from the same place, about the same age, and trained by wiring into single apex-tier branched forms. 

                As I expanded my collection, Myrt insisted that I keep only one bonsai of each plant variety of each "distinctively-different" styling.  That's been the major factor that made Fuku-Bonsai's collection the most varied in the world.  I began study of a plant variety with many plants propagated from seed, cuttings, air-layers, or collected stock.  They were trained utilizing Japanese, Chinese, or Hawaiian concepts and techniques.  Once I had a number of trees trained and I ran out of space, I thinned out the collection and retained only the distinctive trees.

                In this manner,  I went from Ironwoods to Brassaia to Junipers to Cryptomerias to Ficus to Eugenias to Azaleas to Pachira to Pines to Raphiolepsis to Dracaenas to Melaleucas to Chamaecyparis to Severinias to Serrissa to Schinus and on and on with many new plants continually in trials. Ficus and Dwarf Schefflera continually are proving to have more creative applications than all other trees.  They are the "King" and "Queen" of Tropical Bonsai!

                Several Dwarf Schefflera cross-fusion grafts have been made with several different varieties.  "Tad's Ripple" and "Hawaiian Spinning Porpoise" are two that utilize longer air-layers of the Manila Ripple variety. Several Variegated Dwarf Schefflera were planted on an inverted tree trunk utilizing rock planting techniques. In both of these applications, several plants eventually appear to be a single bonsai. Dwarf Schefflera is also effectively trained into exciting exposed root styling.  If the media is cleaned out, there's an elegant root filigree. If media is left in, new roots eventually create a stout complex furrowed trunk.


                For the past twenty years,  my most creative efforts were done in public presentations or with a small group of friends. I've come to recognize that outstanding results are only possible when you're working with outstanding stock or an outstanding concept.  At one point, each bonsai takes on a life of it's own and irregardless of who's the trainer, it is likely that several knowledgeable professional bonsai trainers will create similar results if they each had the same outstanding stock tree.

                So realistically, we can say that to create a masterpiece bonsai, start with masterpiece quality stock or a masterpiece level concept!

                The most famous traditional temperate climate bonsai were created by nature over hundreds of years.  Saburo Kato's extraordinary Ezo Spruce forest arrangements artfully utilize trees that may have estimated ages of 200 years or more.  So a person's reputation tends to be in direct proportion to their ability to acquire outstanding stock material and to then enhance and refine the potential.  Far fewer larger older extraordinary temperate climate bonsai masterpieces have been trained from seeds or cuttings. But it's different with faster growing tropical bonsai.

                "Fuku-Bonsai University" was established to accommodate special friends and associates to provide more in-depth training than the monthly Bonsai Days held on the second Saturday of each month and which is open to everyone.  Kirk Harris and Fred Galloway of southern California have visited the Big Island at least annually for many years.  On last year's visit we had an extensive discussion, they got hooked.  The November 29 and 30, 2001  2-day full-emergence workshop focused on bonsai training strategies. 

                The first day was a series of pruning sessions of techniques with young seedlings to progressively older plants.  The second day began with a review of principles and background information of the methods and concepts utilized in training "Hawaiian Spinning Porpoise" to date.  Begun with air-layers rooted in 1986, the plants were 15 years old.  The initial "cross-fusion grafts" were made in 1991, so it's 10 years into the training strategy.

HawnSpinPorpoise 1.jpg (22228 bytes)

November 30, 2001  

        1.   "Hawaiian Spinning Porpoise" was to receive it's second major pruning session.  The first had been three years ago and the plant was allowed to grow aggressively to develop and thicken.  Branches had grown out to over 8' long. In front from left: David  and Kirk. Back from left: Michael and Fred

HawnSpinPorpoise 2.jpg (27516 bytes)         2. Fuku-Bonsai collection curator and plant manager Michael Imaino was to assume full training responsibility for Hawaiian Spinning Porpoise from this session.  He led an introductory discussion on identifying the important apical point. The major apex and branches were marked with red plastic tape.  The distribution and the spacing of branches for the entire tree  were double-checked before any pruning began.
HawnSpinPorpoise 3.jpg (25166 bytes)         3. At the first pruning three years ago, the primary branches had been selected and pruned very close to the trunk to begin the development of a complex branching structure.   In this pruning session, a length equal to about three times the thickness of the branch would be added. If a branch is 1" thick, 3" would be retained and the remainder pruned off. After the apex and upper branches were pruned,  a stick was used as a guide to prune back secondary growth. 
HawnSpinPorpoise 4.jpg (26245 bytes)         4. Once the top was established, emphasis shifted to the bottom and Michael pointed out desirable features to preserve and undesirable sections to remove.  Generally,   we retain as many usable branches as possible to help thicken the lower trunk.   While these can be removed later,  they would be more difficult to develop if they were pruned off now and needed later. The ongoing emphasis is to retain all training options. 
HawnSpinPorpoise 5.jpg (21499 bytes)         5.   Utilizing the pruning principles learned the day before, Kirk and Fred quickly pruned the central section, giving Michael the honor of cutting the final branch.   There are two major types of cuts.  "Dive-bombing" has the pruner almost vertical to establish new apical-type growth.  "Branch cuts" has the pruner parallel to the ground to produce horizontal or downwards growth. A variation will produce left and right branches.
HawnSpinPorpoise 6.jpg (26333 bytes)         6. With the more important work accomplished, the trio began clowning around while completing the second potting half. Due to the huge amount of top pruning, most larger roots could be safely removed and over 90% of the media would be exchanged to provide for another major accelerated growth cycle.
HawnSpinPorpoise 7.jpg (22150 bytes)         7. Michael used a nozzle to clean down the tree and remove media that had been filled between the original air-layers.  This would result in a more interesting "furrowed" appearance.  The plants and roots had developed well and most of the "trunk" had filled in and the appearance was of a wide nicely tapering trunk.  The concerted base allowed the tree to stand upright and made everything easy. 
HawnSpinPorpoise 8.jpg (25863 bytes)         8. This view shows the back and right side of the tree where the air-layers were originally planted out from the Ohia branch section.  With the areas between the air-layers filled in with roots,  there's an illusion of a thick tapering trunk. The training container is a 2'x3' plastic tub fitted with 2"x2" rim support and carrying handles.  The tree was pulled to the right side to give more root area and faster growth to the left side of the tree.
HawnSpinPorpoise 9.jpg (17374 bytes)        9.   Even if the trunk completely rotted away, this will still be an exciting distinctive bonsai! Three hours after the start, the group is happy but tired.  Kirk dons his patriotic skull cap to celebrate completion of a great day!

            It takes 25 to 30 years to create a tropical bonsai with a mature appearance.  Fuku-Bonsai's oldest certified Dwarf Schefflera trees are now reaching this stage while Hawaiian Spinning Porpoise is about halfway there.  

                Significant outstanding bonsai are the result of extraordinary collected stock or inspired design and strategy.  Our original Dwarf Schefflera bonsai begun in the 1970's and early 1980's focused on creating banyan forms with several types of aerial roots.  There are a number of distinctive trees that we retained for the exhibit collection and each year some are being offered for sale as Custom Collection items. 

                About fifteen years ago we began a new tropical bonsai cycle utilizing original concepts and new techniques. "Tad's Ripple" and "Hawaiian Spinning Porpoise" are two from this period.

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