Picture in your mind a 110-year old Chinese philosopher. Each such person is an individual with unique "character" created by a long lifetime of crises. With each crisis more character is added. The trunk is thin and the challenge is to keep it thin but with more and more character!  Trunks thicken when there is a lot of growth. So to keep the trunk thin, severely limit the amount of foliage allowed. Reduce the number of branches to the bare minimum. Keep pruning away large sections of a branch, creating a very complex branch line that swings and dips and flares in unpredictable sequence. Then cut away most of the branch to create a more dynamic pattern!

                Junipers are a less common type of plant in which a specific branch or portion of a tree is supplied by a specific root. It's as if the trunk is a twisted cable made up of wires with one end being the root and the other end being the branch or growth area. When a large section of the top dies or is pruned off, the connecting trunk wood and the roots die. Sometimes it takes two years or more to clearly see the effect of a major top pruning so it's necessary to train conservatively to be able to clearly identify the sections that will die-back.

                A tree with a round cross-section of the trunk is a tree that has not faced any serious crisis or die-back.  Imagine that a catastrophe struck and half of the tree died.   The old wood core would remain but half of the soft new wood and bark will die. The remaining living section would continue to add girth only on the living side of the trunk. After many years, the cross-section of the trunk would be kidney-shaped and the exposed deadwood would be bleached like driftwood.

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                This tree is about 20" tall. When training began, the original top of the tree was cut off about 6" from the current top of the tree and a branch trained to be the dominant replacement apex. As expected, lower and lower portions of the trunk died. It took two years to connect to the root section that once fed it and to expose the connecting deadwood. Branches that were in the path of the die-back also died. Once we identified which branches would live, we removed several more and left only seven branches. Each was severely shortened with the longest branch only 5" long. To create the illusion of a tall tree, it's necessary to have very short branches.

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                A close-up view of the lower half of the tree. There was die-back that followed the route that once supplied needed nutrients and this created an aged furrowed deadwood trunk. The portion of the branch that is the thickest is older than the adjoining section and there is a change in the direction where a branch was pruned. Each section is a different age and taper. When looking up into a well-trained bonsai, the complex branch pattern is very attractive.

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                The crown of the tree will become more complex. A large section of the old crown has recently been removed and growth is flowing to a branch that is being developed into the new dominant apical growth.

                In ancient China thin and tall mountain trees were especially appreciated by aristocratic literate individuals that retreated and became mountain hermits to escape the politics, corruption, and the unacceptable life of the world below. They favored trees that mirrored their sparse existence and these trees were prominent in their elegant paintings. The trees and the hermits became known as "literati" and this evolved into a style that may seem easy but is the most difficult of all forms of bonsai.

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