Surinam Cherry (Eugenia uniflora) is highly recommended for outdoor tropical bonsai.  It has a long life and is relatively easy to grow. It is botanically related to Jaboticaba or Brazilian Grape and Australian Brush Cherry. These two other Eugenias are also recommended for growing outdoors in the tropics.  All three have flowers and fruit to add to their appeal. 

                There are several Surinam Cherry in our collection and others will be added to this page when photos are taken.   If you started learning bonsai with traditional Japanese outdoor bonsai information as I did, it was difficult initially train Surinam Cherry. Most instruction was based upon a structural model of a single apex trunk with pine-type flattened tier branches.  It took me many years to understand the concept of "arching branches" and to apply them to tropical bonsai. 


                Bonsai woody trunks take many years to thicken and if trained by wiring,  growth is further slowed.  Because the trunks are stiff even when young, it's easy to make curves but difficult to create sharp bends and good stout trunk taper. Eugenias are ideal for trunk development using in the Southern China or Lingnam method popularized by Yee-sun Wu.  A young plant is pre-trained to have some interest in the lower trunk, then ground planted or placed into accelerated growth in a large training pot.  By allowing it to grow vigorously, the trunk base increases more rapidly.   The time in this accelerated growth can range from six months to 10 years or more.  

                At one point, the tree is dug up, root-pruned, and the tree drastically reduced.  It could go back into the ground or large pot for another cycle of accelerated growth. This method produces the finest tropical bonsai from young plants.  In Hong Kong and South China, ordinary trees growing in yards or in field rows are allowed to grow vigorously through several cycles.  Each time, it may be planted at a different angle and each tree over time becomes a unique specimen.

                Conceptually, each tree can take on many possible shapes. The tree in Photo 1 was trained from A  seed planted about 1974 and has been in bonsai pots for most of its life.  The trunk has a modest 1.5" diameter at the base.  Imagine if all of the trunk was removed above the lowest branch and the section of the branch turning to the right was also removed.  If the remaining branch section was greatly shortened, in three cuts, the tree would be radically restyled!  If the tree were replanted so the trunk was leaning out and down, an interesting cascading bonsai is possible. 

Surinam cherry 1.jpg (17436 bytes)  

Photo 1.  The photo was taken in early spring while leaves still had their fall colors and as new green growth appeared.  I began as a very conservative trainer and having such a dynamic slanting trunk was a departure when this tree was styled.  I wanted only a few branches, but each having a lot of fullness and interesting network designs.  

          At the next repotting, the crown will be removed above the third branch from the bottom.  This will improve the trunk taper and reposition the crown to the right for a shorter tree with a wider appearance.

Surinam cherry 2.jpg (15861 bytes)  

Photo 2.  From the other side, it's easier to imagine a tree formed from only the lowest branch.  Creating long interesting branches requires strong pruning skills.  Having well spaced branches effectively displays the attractive hanging fruits.

        As a general rule, tropical bonsai are trained to be attractive from all sides. This allows major restyling from time to time to continually improve the complexity of the tree styling.

                Surinam Cherry tends to be stiff and difficult to wire and to create taper.  So reduction-building is an ideal way to create both interest and taper.

Surinam cherry.jpg (20260 bytes)  

  Photo 3.  This cascade was styled using Lingnam training techniques from a seed planted about 1974.  After developing some trunk interest, the tree was planted in the ground for about 10 year an initially styled as a slanting tree.  This created stronger growth as trees that are cascading tend to grow very slowly. At each repotting every few years, the tree was lowered. 

         Cascading trees were the most difficult for me and there are relatively few in our collection.  

              Most of us began with traditional Japanese styling concepts and over time, recognized that it was difficult to apply to tropical trees that grew in different forms.  Training primarily by wiring was difficult as tropical trees were often very stiff.  In many ways, Surinam Cherry is similar to the Japanese Stewardia which grows slender and tall and is a favorite for forest arrangements.  It also takes a while to thicken and relatively few Stewardia are seen with stouter trunks and character.

                In many ways,  Chinese penjing techniques are superior in training the trunks of tropical bonsai to have a lot more character. The Surinam Cherry bonsai above utilize Japanese, Chinese, and Hawaiian bonsai concepts.

                (This page will be enlarged in the future to include other Surinam Cherry in our collection,   including Dwarf Surinam Cherry being trained from seedlings.)

                For more information about Yee-sun Wu and Lingnam training,  go to Yee-Sun Wu, The Spirit of Man Lung Penjing.

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