The cycle continues: Hawthorn part 1

Here is post I’ve been reluctant to share, and work I’ve been reluctant to do. In fact, I started writing this post around December 2014, updating it now in September 2015, and I’m still not fully ready to share the work.

Consistent with the 5-7 year finished tree cycle, the hawthorn was collected in 2000, and developed over 12 years, until it was awarded the John Naka award, featured on the cover of the Journal of the American a Bonsai Society, accepted into the 2014 US National Bonsai Exhibition, and also appeared in an issue of the 2015 International Bonsai Magazine. Now it was time to spend a few years taking the tree to a higher level of refinement.
Unlike the maple, I’m rather proud of the hawthorn’s appearance in the USNBE.

During Sunday morning’s critique, Kathy and Boon were kind enough to take a moment to offer their critique of my entry. Here are their comments:

•Color of pot is good.
•Leaves have a lot of detail, but the stand is plain.
•Use a more ornate stand if using this pot.
•Edge of stand, edge of pot, and upper branches show too much repetition.
•Not much taper in upper primary branches. Normal for deciduous trees, but it does catch your eye, and the edge of the stand and rim of pot highlighted it.

•Trunk goes right, top goes left;
•Straighten trunk in pot, fix branches.
•Too far left in pot.
•Grow center branch out to thicken it.
•Shorten left branch; too long and straight.
•Middle branches pointing down, lower branches pointing up;
•Low branches point down, middle branches point out, high branches point up.
•Open area exposes 3 branches at same height.
•Balance foliage; upper left and lower right are strong, upper right and lower left are thin.

Well…I asked for it, I got it. Do something with it! When I got home, September 2014, I hosed away all the moss and top soil, slip-potted it out of its 1st generation Yamaaki show pot, and into the 3rd generation Yamaaki pot for the winter, and contemplated the work to be done.
December 2014:




Here are the 3 primary areas to be addressed:


Branch 1 was a no-brainer. It had become an issue for me too, and offered two secondary branches to cut back to.



Branch 2 was also pretty simple. It was a back branch, but someday, the back could become the front, so removal was done with this option in mind.

Branch 3 was removed at the trunk. Looking closely, it makes sense to remove it. It was the middle one of three branches emerging directly from the trunk in that area. The challenge was, to move other branches into the space involved still using fairly heavy branches…problem not completely solved…but we’re off to a good start and headed in the right direction.




Here it was after the round of work…


In the spring of 2015, it was root-pruned, and repotted; more to the center, into a much deeper container, with the plan to leave it for 2 years while encouraging the top growth to run wild.


In early May 2015, it was pretty shaggy, and was cut back. Wires were not scarring the bark yet, but are getting close. Before:


It was allowed to grow for the remainder of the year. Here it is again in August 2015:


A new Ino Shukuho

This one is a bluer glaze, with oil droplets normally seen on Oribe (green) glazes. Very interesting combination, and challenging to accurately photograph…it’s a bit of a camellion. And a bit larger than many Inos found in the US, at nearly 12″ wide.

This root-over-rock trident maple would be a good match. It’s currently in an Oribe-glazed Koyo pot, the more common color of glaze seen speckled with oil droplets.

A conversation with Enrique Castano on Ume

Have you ever heard the way to tell if an ume will bloom?  The leaves of a blooming ume have smooth undersides, and the underside of leaves on an ume that isn’t going to bloom are rough.  For fun, or maybe to torture myself a bit, I decided to try and cature rough leaves on camera.  What do you know, they’re furry…

As contrasted with the leaves from a blooming ume:

Non-blooming shoot has only vegetative buds at the base of furry leaves:

And flower buds appear on either side of vegetative buds:

1 & 3 are flower buds, 2 is a vegetative bud.  Sometimes, oftentimes, ume will produce flower buds, and no vegetative buds, making it a challenge to prune them to keep foliage close to the trunk.  More on that another day.  I’ve been photographing another experiment for the last couple years…but I digress…



But I digress again…I got curious about why non-blooming ume leaves were furry and blooming ume were smooth.  Juvenile vs. adult foliage maybe?  It’s not uncommon to have juvenile and adult foliage in other trees…apples change from lobed to smooth as they get to blooming age.  Junipers have juvenile and adult foliage.  I read a post by another ume grower stating he has observed rough and smooth leaves on the same plant.

The best botany book tailored to bonsai is named “Botany for Bonsai” by Enrique Castano.  Click the title to buy it at Stone Lantern. It is a great reference text to have on your shelves.  I decided to ask Enrique if he has any insight on the fuzzy leaf phenomenon, and he not only answered, but was kind enough to allow me to share the discussion here. Enrique is a molecular biologists who is specialized on gene regulation. So the subject is second nature for him.  Not me!

Hi Enrique,

I have been studying and practicing bonsai for over 22 years, and have enjoyed owning your book, Botany for Bonsai, as it is the only one I have found that really addresses the botany side. This is why I am reaching out to you.

I have noticed, and often heard that Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume with rough leaves on the undersides will not produce flower buds at their axil, but smooth-bottomed leaves do. I have 2 ume, a mature one that is smooth-leaved and blooms, and a younger one that produces rough leaves, and does not yet bloom.

Are you familiar with this phenomenon, and if so, can you help explain why this may be the case?

Many thanks!

Brian Van Fleet
Hi Brian,

Thanks for your compliment. With regard to Prunus mume, I only had that tree when I lived in the UK, and they were already quite old so I did not experiment on younger plants from this species in particular. However it is not uncommon to have distinctive features in the leaves between younger plants and older plants. 

From early on, the development of a plant starts with a particular shape of leaves, and this (shape) will change once the tree matures. However this is not necessarily like it ocurrs with animals. And older tree can become young if it is heavily pruned or if the nutrition forces the tree to grow like a young tree. For example adding too much nitrate will increase its growth and it will not produce flowers, since the tree is making leaves for light absorption and growth. When the nutrition is balanced, the trees requirement for growth depends more on the amount of light available (if it has few branches then it will make younger bigger leaves, if it has a mature branching the leaves will grow slower and will be mature) to manage the energy appropriately. 

The difference between mature and young leaves can be minimal or quite dramatic depending on the species. Some species can grow up to 4 different shapes of leaves depending on the maturity. But know that to address how the shape changes; well, that goes into how genes that control the leaf morphology are regulated. Usually this regulation requires what is called transcription factors.  These are proteins that bind to the begining of the genes and activate particular programs, that after a few more steps (if you want I can explain but it is long…) the shape of a leaf is created. Now the regulation of the transcription factors depends on signals that the cells get and some of these signals include phytoregulators that we call hormones, these hormones can be taken from the outside or created denovo on the plant depending on its growth. 

Well hope this helps, let me know if you want a longer version.

Cheers. Enrique

I haven’t gone back for the longer version yet, but I am tempted, as I think I finally internalized the short version!

Thanks Enrique for a great letter!