Now that spring has taken hold, a number of my newly collected specimens are starting to get established and closer to their initial training. One thing I like to do whenever feasible is to directly pot new trees into bonsai containers. I do this in part because it shortens the time from initial collecting to finished bonsai, and who doesn’t want that? Of course, there are some important considerations when undertaking a direct-potting approach. For one, you need to have either a mostly complete trunk or stick with specimens that have enough apical dominance that you can create the appropriate taper through to the apex in two or three seasons. Bald cypress and hawthorn are two species that have sufficient apical dominance to allow you to do this. But with just a few exceptions, you want to stick with trees that are complete trunks only needing a branch structure.

Hophornbeam4-6-16-1This is an Eastern hophornbeam, Ostrya virginiana. It’s a cousin to American hornbeam – they’re both members of the Birch family, Betulaceae. When I ran across this one during a collecting trip, I saw a complete trunk with nice character (damage, actually) and even some branches to start with. It was a no-brainer to direct-pot it into this beautiful little Chuck Iker round. The trunk base is 1.25″ and it’s 11″ to the tip of the apex. It’s mostly leafed out now and starting to push shoots. I would expect it’ll be ready to sell in another month.

Hophornbeam differs from hornbeam in a few important ways: one, it eventually develops a rough, plated bark which is very attractive; two, the leaves are persistent through winter as they do not produce an abscission layer (like beech), light tan in color and easy to spot; and finally, the leaves are somewhat coarser than hornbeam’s and remain lighter green in color through the growing season. They ramify and reduce leaf-size well as hornbeam does. One other significant difference is that they are surprisingly hard to lift in large sizes with a high success rate.

Oh, and hophornbeam also shares with hornbeam the common name ironwood. If you’ve ever tried to chop one down with an axe, you understand what that means.

I think this is a nice little specimen with a great future as a bonsai.

Privet4-6-16-1As with the hophornbeam above, when I spotted this Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense, I knew it was going straight to a bonsai pot. Except for a couple of stubs, I didn’t have any branches to work with but I knew that wasn’t a problem. The trunk line was pretty much complete and perfectly tapering – I just needed to finish out the apex. You can probably see where I chopped the trunk up near the apex to the thinner (new) trunk line. And now I’ve got plenty of buds to wire into a branch set once they’ve extended enough. That should happen in another three or four weeks.

I think this terrific Byron Myrick oval really suits the tree. The color will complement the color of the bark and provide a nice contrast with the leaves once the tree fills out.

The trunk base on this specimen is 1.5″ above the root crown, and it’s chopped at 13″. Finished height will be about 16″.

Watch for this tree to go up for sale in May as well.