Our native yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, is an excellent species for bonsai. It is found mostly along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Seaboard, all the way to Maryland. Yaupon is a holly species—fortunately without the thorns—and like most hollies is evergreen. The leaves are naturally small and reduce further in bonsai culture. Male and female flowers appear on separate plants; unfortunately, they cannot be distinguished in the absence of fruit. The bark of yaupon is smooth, gray or sometimes white.
This is where native yaupon as bonsai tends to come to a screeching halt. The problem? Yaupon grows naturally without the slightest bit of taper to the trunk. This leaves the collector with the option of chopping and regrowing the trunk, which is certainly a viable option but greatly increases the amount of time to reach a presentable design.
I was fortunate to find this tree during the winter 2014 collecting season. It’s literally the only yaupon I’ve ever run across with a naturally tapering trunk. You can imagine how eagerly I sawed it out of the ground. Yaupons are easy to collect, though the wood is pretty hard. You don’t need to worry about leaving any foliage as with some evergreen species; yaupons backbud very well on old wood.
This one gave me plenty of new buds to work with. By April I was wiring the tender new shoots, which, it’s worth noting, you should definitely plan to do. The branches get very stiff very quickly and they grow arrow-straight, so if you want movement in them you’d better do it while you can. Otherwise you may find yourself having to start some branches over.
The first photograph was taken in August, four months after the tree first budded out. The new shoots had grown anywhere from about 10” to as much as 2’ in the apex. Even though yaupon is thought of as a shrub, it’s actually a small tree and as such wants to get tall as quickly as it can. This helps when you’re trying to build a new apex. In the case of this tree, I let the new leader run to thicken it and also let a secondary leader run to thicken the base of the new apex.
The final photos were taken on November 30, 2014. I trimmed back the branches that have produced secondary branching, and shortened the new apex in order to force it to backbud next spring. I need to take my time developing the tapering transition. It would be a shame to waste a tapering trunk with a non-tapering apex.
Stay tuned for more on this tree next year….