Category Archives: Twists and Turns, shaping trunks

How to create bonsai figs

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

How to get a thicker branch

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

Leaves vary a lot

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

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