This Water-elm, Planera aquatica, was collected on August 11th of this year. It’s a really nice triple-trunk specimen, as you can see. It came back from collection quickly, and has thrown foot-long shoots. It’s certainly a strong tree. So what would you do about that?

Well, there’s no doubt I could wait until Spring 2019 to begin styling this specimen. But I can get a head-start on the design if I style it now. You may wonder if this will put the tree at risk. The short answer is no. The longer answer has to do with the characteristics of the species, plus the growing environment in the area where I collect them. Here’s the story.

Let’s begin with the most recent dormant period for this tree. It started in December of 2017. That’s not unusual for down south; our growing season begins in late March to early April, and then runs for 35 weeks give or take. But … not for these Water-elms. You see, up until early July this tree was under several feet of water and (of course) leafless. Back on April 1st, it was under almost 20 feet of water. This is because the collecting area is seasonally flooded to promote wildlife, especially ducks. So while most everything is growing away from April into early July, these trees are waiting for air and sunshine. Once they emerge from the flood, they start pushing growth. Then I come along and lift them, just a few weeks after they’ve managed to put on their first flush of growth for the year. I’ve always thought it was nothing short of miraculous that they can recover from all of this. But not only do they recover, they grow like weeds all through the high heat of our brutal summers. In fact, that’s when they seem to grow best (as long as you give them plenty of water).

So given all this, you can see why I have no problem styling these specimens now. I’m simply taking advantage of their natural summer vigor.


The first step today is to carve down the area inside at the base of the tree where there was a fourth trunk (that didn’t add anything to the design, so I removed it). That went fairly quickly with knob cutters and a couple of hand-carving tools.
The next step? Remove conflicting and low shoots that don’t serve any design purpose. Remember, on your multi-trunk, forest and clump-style specimens you don’t want shoots growing into the middle space between/among the trunks, as this is not horticulturally sound. These branches will tend to weaken and die, not to mention the fact that they do not allow you to establish depth of view by obscuring sections of the trunk you want to show. So out they go. Note: as you get closer to the crown of the tree, you do want branches filling in the space between the trunks. They have to be positioned just right, of course.
I began the styling work on the left-hand trunk, and I worked my way from base to apex. I also kept to the principle that less is almost always more in bonsai. Just enough branches to express the tree.
Next I moved to the right-hand trunk. Again, the branches were edited to give me the essence of the tree. There’s also, if you look closely, coordination of branch positions between this trunk and the left-hand trunk. This means I avoid having branches emerging from the same level on the respective trunks.
And finally, I worked the back trunk. You’ll notice that the back trunk features the lowest branch of this group. This is an important principle to follow when you’re creating multi-trunk and forest plantings. The low branches in the rear of the composition provide visual depth, which is critical to believability.

The left-hand trunk is currently taller than the one of the right. This will be adjusted down as the tree continues to grow. I only had one shoot on the leader, and I left it long to ensure it maintains its strength as the tree continues its recovery. In time, the right-hand trunk will be the tallest, as it’s got the thickest trunk.

As far as specs go, the base on this tree is 2.5″ across and it’s going to finish up right at 18″. I’d estimate the age at 40 years give or take. It can be placed in a bonsai container next year. A glazed round will work perfectly.

Finally, while this tree is of very high quality it’s not quite a Bonsai South Collection tree. So if it speaks to you and you’d like to add it to your collection, it’ll be available next spring. Shoot me an email if you’d like first dibs.