We’ve been following the development of this bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, since last year when I first collected and direct-potted it. BC grow so quickly that it’s very easy to develop them completely in a bonsai pot, provided of course you begin with a suitable trunk. In the case of this specimen, I had a fine buttress and great taper to work with. The tree was chopped at 24″, which meant I’d be able to complete the design at a height of about 30″. Considering the basal trunk diameter of 3″ 3″ above the soil surface, this gives an ideal proportion for a bald cypress bonsai. They look best when you can produce a convincing impression of height (this is for the standard upright styles; certainly you could grow BC in most any style if the material lent itself).
In this photo you can see a couple of things. One, the apical dominance that defines bald cypress is fully on display. There are countless shoots that have emerged and are growing straight up, having extended in excess of a foot in length. Making a bonsai out of a piece of material that behaves this way is a challenge, since the branches all want to grow upward in order for the tree to get very tall. But as bonsai artists this is what we do all the time anyway: except for bushes and shrubs, every tree wants to get taller until it reaches its predetermined height. So we fight against this to create a small tree. In time and with root restriction, this tendency declines; however, it won’t ever go away completely.
The second thing you may have noticed about this tree is that the two lowest branches did not survive winter. This is not an uncommon thing for the smallest of BC branches. With apical dominance in full force, the tree didn’t feel the need to hang onto those lower branches. But they’re easily replaced, and with a little care this year should come through Winter 2017 just fine.
Here I’ve removed the two dead lower branches and wired two new branches on the right-hand side of the tree. I’ve also removed a number of the superfluous shoots pointing straight up. I had created a pretty complete design in the lower part of this tree last year, so my chore for today was to re-establish it. That involved mostly removing unwanted growth.
Now the rest of the unwanted shoots are taken off. I’ve also added some wire to the lowest left branch to bring it lower and enhance the appearance of height in the tree.
And finally I’ve wired a few smaller shoots in the apex of the tree and clipped the new leader. Notice how well the tapering transition is coming along. This multi-step, very reliable process is critical to making your BC (or any tree) look right. You don’t want to take any shortcuts.
In my experience with bald cypress, in order to find a specimen with a significant buttressing root base the trunk diameter near the soil will have to be 3″ or more. In fact, the cutoff point seems to be 3″ for reasons I don’t understand. In this case of this specimen, the base is 3″ in diameter but there’s a really nice, full buttress – in fact, the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a rare find.
This tree is available at our Bald Cypress Bonsai page.