The seasoned bonsai enthusiast often takes on projects that, at least in the beginning, seem full of promise but later on go a bit sideways. That’s another way of saying that trees usually do what they want, and it’s not at all unusual for you not to appreciate what they’re doing. Take this Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, as a prime example. There’s no denying that if you venture to make a bonsai out of this species, you’re asking for a challenge regardless. But what if you find your way into the realm of sumo bonsai with it? I’m thinking it can only turn out great or awful. Here’s everything that we’ve done together so far (which means I’m not taking all the blame).

Once upon a time there was this massive Sycamore tree growing at the back of my property. I needed all of the trees to go, because I needed the property to be cleared. So the only thing that remained of the massive Sycamore, once the clearing had been done, was a massive stump.

The next year, I noticed this small specimen growing between two of the huge surface roots of the stump. Nobody grows Sycamore bonsai, so how could I resist? What you see to the left is a somewhat interesting specimen. It has some bark, nice taper, and a god-awful below-ground root-thing. Yes, it just had to go in a pot; I mean, who doesn’t get tired of working with great material?

It doesn’t look so bad in the pot, does it? With the ugly root thing underground, all we have to focus on is a decent trunk with great taper. The trunk base is 3″, and it’s chopped at 12″. From here, it’s not so hard to visualize a bonsai.

Moving ahead to now, I can report that the tree recovered in the nursery container and pushed quite a bit of growth last year. Unfortunately, the part of the trunk above the barky base died back last year, but I just let it grow out however it needed to. I mean, this is not the make or break for Bonsai South or me personally.

Today it was time to cut off the dead stuff. By the time I got done with trunk splitter and knob cutter, this is all that was left. As I noted above, this is the tree doing what it wanted to do.

When things get really weird with a tree, I’ve found that often it’s best just to push the weirdness as far as you can. After I’d chopped and nibbled what was in the nursery pot, I decided it was time to see what was beneath the soil. Wouldn’t you know, there was a huge amount of root there. So why not go ahead and put whatever this thing is into a bonsai pot? Again, nothing to lose.

I went ahead and reduced the leader some more, and this is all that’s left. Is it great, or is it awful? I’ll be honest: I kind of like it.

If it lives and does anything resembling bonsai-ness, I’ll post an update. In the meantime, feel free to weigh in with your impressions.