What is the Normal shape for a tree?

19th June 2016 - 3 minutes read

I was recently asked to give a talk to a local bonsai club and took the opportunity to explore a few themes that are of interest to me. The talk was demonstrate that a tree shaped against its nature was, literally, unnatural and could only look right if styled by an exceptional talent. Instead a tree shaped with nature would start to look good very quickly

My starting point was to challenge the audience with their knowledge of what the natural shape of the tree species they used was, either as young specimens, or as mature trees.


A very common bonsai that is shaped into to incredibly contorted images, but in nature it is a bit dull when young

tree_juniper_hetzi_column juniperus_chinensis_0

only taking on a bit more character as it ages:

Juniperus_chinensis__Chinese_juniper-001 cedartree

It is hard to see how someone can go from this to create a bonsai like these (below) with the wild, curving deadwood:

deadwood-bonsai-techniques jundeadwood

To explain my problem with these trees is that the common explanation of deadwood on a tree like this is that it has been shaped by immense natural forces on a mountain top or cliff edge and has been sculpted by strong winds or snow. That makes sense if you live in the mountains (thanks to Sam Edge and the San Fransisco Bonsai Society for the images):

wild juniper    2013-08-17-16.33.00

JuniperBut where then do the manicured pads of foliage come from? These are trees that are clinging to the edge of survival that is capable of killing buds and branches. The only places on these trees that foliage can survive is where the wind is slowed by an obstacle such as deadwood or a nearby rock. You can easily see the direction that the wind strikes these trees



The ‘story’ behind those trees just does not make any sense! Much better styling are the trees below. Here the foliage is nestled to the leeward side (the side protected from the wind), the deadwood is exposed to the weather and gets shaped, carved and sand-blasted to its polished sculpted forms. These are true masterpieces (apologies to the owners but I don’t know who you are, I am happy to give a photo credit so drop me a line…)

4cb3811055ebb1e570541402f1b22752   bonsai 2

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