Category Archives: Twists and Turns, shaping trunks

Ficus glumosa, uncommon bonsai

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

Bunjin style

Bunjin or literati style is a less common bonsai style. It mainly relies on the line of the tree for its focal point. The canopy and the pot should be minimal to keep the focus on the line of the tree. It is a style that has its admirers as well as many that do not like it. I have a short article at

Ficus ‘Mexicana’ showing an interesting trunk line, minimal canopy, and restrained pot


Creating something from nothing

Ficus ‘Mystery’ developed from root cutting, having little interest

Wrap the trunk with plastic ribbon

Apply heavy wire over the ribbon

Take two small branches and fuse them with cable ties

More cable ties placed along the branches to help fusion and develop a heavier branch more quickly

Final result is a more interesting plant that one day could become a pretty bonsai

Making your bonsai taller

With exposed root bonsai it is possible to create a taller tree. One can simply raise the tree up on its finer root system while keeping it supported with wire until the new roots harden sufficiently to make the trunk stable.

The new roots will need to be covered for some months until they harden off and become adapted to dry air. Once so adapted the alluminum foil can be removed.

Ficus in exposed root style but a bit too short

Root system elongated,  wire used for temporary support

Foil is placed for some months until newly exposed roots are stable

Twisting and Turning

When presented with material that is young and lacks interesting features I will search for ones that have twists and turns. Great bonsai can be created from this rather unexciting material. Using wire to shape long and limber pieces is another way to introduce interesting shapes. Another way is to use root cuttings that often have great shapes, The pictures below are all of Ficus ‘Mystery’, a fig that is not identified yet.

Ficus ‘Mystery’

Ficus ‘Mystery’

Ficus ‘Mystery’

Ficus ‘Mystery’                                                                        



                                                                        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

Suanphung, Bonsai Village and gardens

Ficus rumphii of very large size

Chinese garden is seen through decorative window

Ficus virens, just one of the many species on display

Pond with marvelous rock work

Main entrance at the resort hotel

Just a small part of the bonsai on display

Lovely bridges and pagodas accent the water features

For all my bonsai and non-bonsai friends traveling to Thailand, I would like to highly recommend a visit to The Bonsai Village, Ratchaburi. The Bonsai Village is named after a ,  a local tree. The bonsai village is a spectacular resort featuring Japanese and Chinese gardens and containing thousands of bonsai trees. The resort covers some 40 acres along the Pa Chee river! 
In the gardens are beautifully displayed bonsai trees of museum quality; in fact it is one of the best tropical collections that I have seen anywhere. The bonsai were developed in Thailand as well as imported from many countries including China, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia. And close to my heart are large numbers of Ficus trees including Benjamina, Microcarpa, Virens, Religiosa, Racemosa, and Rumphii – to name just a few. They are all displayed in wonderful matched containers.

It will take many hours to view even a portion of the bonsai and gardens but it will be well worth the time to see this international museum quality collection even if you have a few hours to spend.
There are also exquisite accommodations with well-appointed guest rooms, dining facilities, and a Japanese villa in which one can stay. I highly recommend staying at the resort and enjoying the gardens and bonsai.
To learn more about this world class garden click here

Identifying a Ficus by using the leaves

Fig leaves are very variable from species to species. This is helpful in trying to identify a fig as belonging to a certain species. The problem is that the leaves on even a single plant can show great variation depending upon cultural conditions of light, moisture, growth in a container, wind, etc.

As an example the shot below shows several leaves removed from a single Ficus plant. The variability would make an attemp at a scientific identification very difficult. Many factors must be used to help in correctly identifying a fig. These include the leaf, bark, syconia, stipules etc.

Figs are wonderful plants to use for bonsai but they can infuriating to correctly identify without figs/syconia.

Ficus leaves removed from one plant showing the highly variable shape and character of the leaves

Ficus leaves removed from one plant showing the highly variable shape and character of the leaves

Genetics and figs

These are two seed grown Ficus virens, Lipstick fig. Each plant shows some variation in its leaves, bark, growth pattern etc. These characteristics can be influenced by the growth environment. In the case of these two plants the newly emerged leaves are red in color. This color changes to a deep green after a week or two.

Since the two trees are grown in identical soil, identical lighting and identical fertilization the variation in the red color is due to genetics. One consistently has darker red new leaves. I would love to find a clone that has red leaves that remain red! That would be a great addition to the bonsai community.

The virens on the left has bronze colored new leaves while the one on the right has deep, dark red new leaves. Genetics of each is determining this factor.

The base of your fig

One of the most attractive features of Ficus trees is their amazing, wide-spread surface rootage and the strong buttress of the base of the tree. This occurs more quickly when the tree is kept in relatively shallow containers. The fig responds by developing a very strong base and radiating powerful roots. However, care must be taken in shallow pots to keep the roots from rotting.

Ficus salicaria with powerful basal rootage and buttress base of the trunk

What I do when I am puzzled

Very often I have some trees that just seem to be a puzzle. I can’t quite figure out what design might work for the tree. I usually put these on the bottom shelf and just let them grow and wait for a burst of inspiration. Perhaps the tree will speak to me and I can listen to it and style and train it to become a wonderful bonsai.

But, sometimes the tree isn’t speaking or I am not listening. Not all bonsai creations will be created “instantly”. Sometime the bonsai will evolve after the tree or the designer mature.

Ficus virens which has been allowed to grow wild

No brilliant ideas so I take the tree back to the best basic structure and allow it to grow

Another Ficus virens that has not worked for me and it was allowed to grow wild

With no inspiration, I just cut it back to the best trunk line that I could think of. Time and growth may show me a way in the future.