This Trident Maple came to the yard about 3 months ago and is one of the trees I water on a regular basis. It belongs to another professional and is being kept at the nursery for the time being. As I walk by the tree, I always admired the strange stone that the tree is growing around. One day I asked Mr. Tanaka about the stone and if it’s the reason why there is some value in this tree and he quickly pointed out that this was a great tree and that the stone had little to do with it. I was a bit surprised when he said that and it got me to examine the tree more closely. As I sat in the workshop looking at the tree, I started to realize why this tree is quite nice. Mr. Tanaka pointed out a few things and then went on to say, “Only crazy Bonsai people can understand this tree, this tree has Great Taste!” Wow, I really needed to examine what this tree is all about. I went ahead and took some photos of different areas of the tree so you too can see what makes this tree special. We are in for a treat because a tree like this is not easily duplicated or found.
Working Our Way Up
The main reason why this tree is prized is the age. Looking at the characteristics of the tree roots, trunk and branches tells us that this small tree is actually 40-50 years old! The stone then adds that extra bit of charm that makes this entire tree interesting and desirable. Lets take a closer look at the little things that tell us this tree is old.
Trident maples have a smooth light brown colored bark when they are young. The color of the trunk will start to turn grey at about 15-20 years. 15+ years, the bark will start to exfoliate from the trunk exposing light orange colors. The trunk will also start to round out and have a plump and muscular look. Note how the root are grey and have a round and muscular look to them.
Here is an example of a 25-30 year old Trident maple that is loosing bark. After the bark is removed, the orange color can be very bright. After about a week, it will start to darken a bit and blend in with the rest of the trunk. Removing the bark on Trident is a good idea because it not only exposes the muscular colors underneath, but it also takes away a place that bugs can hide and breed.
Here’s a close up of the stone. I personally love this stone in this tree! Not only does it look old with all the detailed fissures in the stone, but it also has a depression on top that holds a bit of water!
Here is the first division in the trunk. Note how this branch has vertical fissures along the branch. Not only is the trunk on this tree old, but the secondary branches are old as well. This branch has to be 35+ years old! There are also no noticeable scars on the trunk.
As I move up the tree towards the top, we can still see fissures on the branches. The top of the tree is supposed to be the youngest part of the tree and it too has fissures on the branches. Again, another example of the great age of this tree.
Age, Age, Age…
Okay, so we get it, this tree is old! So I grow a tree this size and keep it for 50 years right? Not so fast! It doesn’t quite work that way. To create a tree like this requires having the tree grow at an incredibly slow rate and reaching this shape and structure at 50 years. This tree certainly didn’t look like this 10 or 20 years ago. Also, the slow rate of growth put the tree in a position where it could have easily declined in health and lost branches. Unfortunately, most don’t recognize the beauty of a tree like this unless they are the most enthused in Bonsai or have tried growing small Trident maples themselves.
I wanted to share this tree with you readers because though we always talk about making a tree look old, we don’t always appreciate a tree when they actually are old or look for signs of age. Topics such as taper, structure and pads come up all the time in Bonsai conversations but rarely do I ever hear people talk about the importance of age within those aspects of Bonsai.
Here’s a root over rock Trident maple that I defoliated recently. The tree is fairly ramified and I believe any one of us would love to own a tree like this. Also, for those that remember the Namako post I wrote earlier, guess what pot this tree is in? ;o)
After comparing the pictures, it becomes very apparent that the age of these two trees are different. The older tree shows us signs of stability and time whereas this second tree shows us more rapid development and growth which is a sign of a younger tree. Can this younger tree ever have the same feel of the older tree in the future? The answer is yes and no. If this second tree turns 50 it might have some characteristics of the older tree but not quite the same.
As far as trees in Bonsai goes developing trees in different ways never yield the exact same result. The results may be close but never the same. If we’re satisfied with the slight differences, then no big deal, but if we aren’t, then we have to first understand how to get a certain result and duplicate it. Think about that for a bit and see how it fits into how you’re developing your own Bonsai.
So Much To Learn
I hope this post gave you some insight into the concept of age in Bonsai. For many, it adds another element to Bonsai that was not thought much about before. Funny how Bonsai gets more complicated the more you understand it. Maybe that’s what’s so fun about it.
Thanks for reading and to Good Taste in all our Bonsai!
P.S. If you are actively reading this blog, I would appreciate it if you subscribe to it (right column of the blog). This is one of the best ways for me to know how many people are reading. Thanks!