Last weekend we made a promising future Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) bonsai from a piece of material that did not come through the collecting process intact.  I’m a big proponent of not wasting material, and the fact is a lot of great bonsai come from not-so-promising beginnings.  Don’t forget, it’s quite common for a bonsai to make a very clear statement about the hardships of life.  We see this most frequently in juniper and pine bonsai, where dead wood is prominently featured.  In the wild, Bald cypresses are often seen with huge dead snags where their former crowns once stood proud.

cypress10-29-16-1Here’s another BC lemon from this past winter’s collecting efforts.  Despite good post-lifting care and sealing the chop, it just didn’t bud all the way up the trunk.  As they say, it happens sometimes.  But that’s okay.  I can definitely make some lemonade out of this tree.

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Here’s another viewing angle for this specimen.  At this point I’m not sure where the front is.  But that’s okay.  I don’t have to make that decision now, or even a final decision after the tree is potted.  Once some time passes, I may want to turn it.  For now, I’ll show both angles and then settle on a preliminary front.

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Just so you can see how Bald cypress heals, take a look at this closeup.  The callus is rolling from the point on the trunk where the living tissue held up through to the root zone, and onto the dead tissue.  When I stripped off the bark, it readily shows.  Pretty neat, eh?

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And this is what can happen if you aren’t careful stripping off the bark on a specimen like this.  Notice the nice white tissue beneath the bark; contrast it with the dead wood above.  Is this a long-term problem?  Not at all.  If you’ll notice the round spot near the top on the right side of where I tore the living bark, that was actually another shoot.  The tree is going to push a bud there, which means the living tissue near that spot on the trunk will keep on living and will produce callus this coming year.  I don’t keep a shoot where the bud pushes, but I’ll let it grow a bit for a year or two in order to ensure I have live tissue all the way around the trunk of this tree.

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Now I’ve wired the living shoot, which is my new leader.  And I think you can see how this establishes the “dead snag-new tree” concept at its inception.

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A view from the reverse angle.  I can see both possibilities.

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Now the snag has its preliminary carving and the new leader is shortened.  This establishes the proportions I envision in the finished bonsai.  I want the young tree part of this bonsai to be shorter than the snag, to make a statement of age and hardship.  And though I’m going to let a new shoot run and lengthen in 2017 in order to thicken the entire young tree part of this design, I will reduce it back to within this silhouette as I complete the styling work.

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I like this front for now, and here’s the bonsai-to-be in its training pot.  It doesn’t look like much right now, but I can assure you this is going to be a very attractive bonsai in about three years.

The trunk base of this tree is 2.5″ and it’s 21″ to the tip of the snag.

What do you think?  Is this good bonsai lemonade or not?  Just leave a comment below.