One of my favorite forms of bonsai is the root-over-rock design. It incorporates an attractive stone with nice texture and fissures and a bonsai tree growing over it.
In this case it is a Ficus ‘Mystery’ that was planted on this rock about 15 years ago. The original plant was quite boring and frankly ugly but over the years it is maturing into a lovely piece that surely will improve over time.
More secondary branching is needed to mature out the design.
The ugly cutting placed on the stone about 15 years ago
The same plant on the left before trimming and on the right after trimming and some wiring.
Here are two Ficus microcarpa bonsai of small size. Both were taken from cuttings from one of my large Ficus. They have always been in small pots so their growth has been slow. They are now more than a dozen years since having been harvested. The mother tree has provided many cuttings over the years.
A cutting removed from the mother tree at least 12 years ago
Another cutting removed from the mother tree at least 12 years ago
Ficus microcarpa mother tree
In developing bonsai it is best to first start in larger containers for the early development of structure and size. Once structure and size are nearly completed the plants can be transitioned to bonsai sized containers for their final refinement training.
We all learn to appreciate thick trunked, massively tapered trunks in our first years in bonsai. I remember well trying to achieve this look with my trees and failing. I could neither afford nor find material that worked well for this style of bonsai.
In the last number of years I have come to appreciate and cherish trees made from young, thin materials that are relatively easy to find. In many ways these may be considered bunjin, literati or penjing type styles. In any case I hope you like some of them.
Long thin materials work well for these types of designs
In order to get a thicker branch on a bonsai fig it would mean getting the branch to grow faster and have more leaves than other branches on the tree. Another way is to fuse several branches together to achieve greater thickness.
The red circle shows three small branches that are coming out of nearly the same spot on this tree
The three branches were fused into one and created a branch that is heavy enough for this trunk
The easiest way to propagate most Ficus trees is to use cuttings. Cuttings of any size Ficus generally will root. However, some people prefer to use an air-layering process as this can be a safer way to propagate a specific piece.
Ficus salicaria that should be shortened
A groove is created around the area in which roots are desired
A plastic bag with sphagnum moss is wrapped around the grooved area- water the moss to keep it moist
Once roots fill the bag the air-layer is cut off
The top of the tree with all the moss is placed into a pot and watered normally. The lower section of the tree will sprout out in 1-3 months.
One interesting thing to know is that Ficus leaves can vary greatly. They can vary in size, shape, texture, color etc. They even can vary on the same plant or whether the plant is growing strongly or just slowly.
Growing figs from seed reveals also that almost every seedling shows some subtle or not so subtle variations. The picture below shows two leaves grown from a Thailand seed source and the other from an Australian source. They are both the same species, Ficus virens, Lipstick fig, Red Balete, Spotted fig are all common local names for them.
Ficus virens, left is Thailand form, right is Australian form
The two leaves really do not look similar and yet they are the same species! Makes me scratch my head trying to ID figs from across the world by just looking at the leaf. For a true identification the syconia or figs need to be seen. Unfortunately, we seldom see figs on our bonsai.
To learn more about growing figs buy the definitive reference work on Ficus for bonsai. The book is a softcover, 8 by 10 inch volume, with 144 color pages, containing detailed information for the beginner as well as the advanced hobbyist. Click here for more information
An uncommonly found Ficus species, Ficus glumosa is from Africa and has nice round, hairy leaves. It is in the grouping of rock-splitter figs. Those that seem to be found growing over and around rocks in the veldt.
Since they seem to enjoy rock growing this seedling was placed over the rock to emulate a root over rock style. It is in a small pot so its growth is quite limited and despite its age, about 12 years, it is still a very immature bonsai design.
Ficus glumosa root-over-rock style
One of the best small leaf fig species to use for bonsai is the Willow Leaf fig, scientifically called Ficus salicaria. It has many great features including aerial roots and wide-spreading surface roots. One possible issue is that it does not like having roots that stay too wet. Water the tree well and make sure to allow the soil to nearly dry before watering it again. Continually wet roots leave room for fungal and other rot problems.
Willow Leaf tree that I lost due to root rot
Ficus carica, the edible fig, is grown throughout the world for its delicious sweet figs. It prefers growing in climate areas that have some sort of resting season, either from cooler winter temperatures or a dry season. I have tried growing it in a tropical greenhouse without a proper cool or dry period and found that it does not grow well for me under these conditions.
Ficus carica growing out of cracks in a rock wall
Close up view of the fig
Yet, another specimen growing out of a rock wall
For interest I am showing a few specimens that I saw growing out of rock walls during a recent trip to Greece.