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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm Excited!

     Two days ago, I discovered pollen strobili developing on my large ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). Strobili (singular strobilus) are to gymnosperms what flowers are to angiosperms: the plant's structures for producing seeds. The reason I'm delighted is that the presence of strobili (and later cones) means that a pine is thriving and very healthy. And this ponderosa, a gift from my wife, is the pride and joy of my personal collection. :-)

They look like little pineapples, but they are strobili, developing on my ponderosa pine.
This tree is a yamadori, collected by Andy Smith of Golden Arrow Bonsai in March of 2010. He estimated its age at 78 years at collection. Andy is a professional forester with a great deal of experience, so I accept his age estimates. (A link to his website is provided under "Vendors I can recommend;" he has some fantastic native material.)

In its custom-built growing box.

My wife bought this ponderosa as my 2010 Valentine-birthday-anniversary gift, in Andy's semi-regular "Burlap Bonanza." When it came, I measured the rootball and then built a growing box while the roots soaked. The planting mix is a 6:3:1 mix of scoria, Turface, and composted bark.

Pines are somewhat exotic to me. I know that sounds odd coming from someone in the United States! But they are not native to Ecuador, where I grew up; tropical trees, and their growth patterns, are what shaped my thinking about trees. I find pines fascinating in much the same way that many people in temperate climates find tropicals fascinating: appealing to the eye, fun to work with, but different. 

Angled side view; you can see the new growth.
Partly as a result, I did not start growing pines until about five years ago. I enjoy them more the more I work with them, but I still have a great deal to learn. Timing of major operations is much more critical with pines than with broadleaves, and the expression "Only one insult per year" was coined, I understand, from Japanese growers' centuries of experience with pines!

The lower trunk is about the 3/4 the thickness of my wrist.
Andy Smith is coming to Fort Wayne, my home club, in June to lead a Styling and Refinement workshop (also known as "Bring Your Own Tree.") I want to take this tree for its first major shaping, but I must be sure it's ready. For any who don't know, it's vital that a collected tree be fully recovered from the stress of collection and adapted to its new environment, before major work is done on it. Andy recommends two to three years' recovery time for a collected pine, as do many other experienced pine growers.

This tree has been in its box for two years now. Many new buds broke on the branches this spring, a welcome sign of vigor. And the appearance of strobili, for me, is the icing on the cake: only strong, healthy trees produce them in a bonsai environment. I'm going to send pictures of the tree to Andy, to get his opinion before I make a final decision. But I'm pretty sure I'll be taking this tree to his workshop. :-)

What do you think? Feel free to comment even if you don't have much pine experience; but if you do, and particularly if you have experience with ponderosas, I'd like to read your opinion. Do you think this tree is ready for major work?


  1. Looking Good Steve. A good tree for a workshop to get that initial branch structure right.

    1. Thanks, Ian. I'm thinking of a semi-cascade, at this point.