I think we don’t grow enough oaks as bonsai. As a genus, Quercus is one of the more agreeable out there. Aside from being strong as oaks (ha!), this genus features a vast number of choices suitable to pot culture. I’ve written before about live oak and willow oak and water oak – Quercus virginiana, Quercus nigra and Quercus phellos – touting their superior qualities when grown as bonsai. And there are many, many more.
When we think of the characteristics of various species that make them suitable for bonsai, among these are smallish leaves that reduce in pot culture along with short internodes. While there are any number of oak species that fit this bill more than adequately, there are plenty of others inhabiting the other end of the spectrum. One of these is Southern red oak, Quercus falcata. This stately species features leaves ranging from 4-8″ long and 2-6″ wide. It’s not a species you’d necessarily set out to find when trying to decide on the various species to grow as bonsai.
So with that said, I was sure this tree was a water oak when I found and lifted it, which is another way of saying if I’d known it was a red oak I probably would have passed it by. It was collected in winter, of course, but there were plenty of leaves on the ground near this specimen that were water oak leaves. But of course, just because you find a certain type of leaf on the ground near a tree you want to lift, that doesn’t mean it’s from that tree. It never hurts to have an old lesson again.
Still, there’s no denying this oak has a lot going for it. I mean, look at that root base! Three nice lateral roots to stabilize the tree and its appearance. A very cool uro near the base to add to the character. Rugged bark with some lichens on it. No matter the species, I’d work on this tree just because it has a lot of bonsai potential.
So the tree came out starting in early April. The buds looked a bit weird for a water oak, but I didn’t think too much of it at first. But once the shoots began elongating I knew I had identified it wrong. The leaves were getting a lot bigger than I expected. Okay, so be it. Might as well start wiring it and see what I can make of this tree. This photo, incidentally, was taken about two weeks ago.
Did it grow a lot in two weeks or what? I put some more wire on the tree today, so those branches don’t get away from me. Interestingly enough, the primary branches are already pushing secondary branches. This is always a good sign when you’re training a tree, regardless of the species. A better tendency to branch and sub-branch means you’re more likely to make a suitable bonsai out of the species you’re working on. You can also see in this photo that the internodes are not all that far apart. That should mean I can get decent ramification on this tree, and that would mean leaf-size reduction.
Stay tuned for updated on this specimen. I imagine that by the end of this growing season I’ll have a very nice set of branches built. Next spring I’ll carve out the chop and possibly go to a bonsai pot with it.
The trunk base of this tree is 2.5″ in diameter above the root crown, and it’s 11.5″ to the chop. I can see it topping out at about 20″.