“Good Taste,” Trident Maple

“Good Taste,” Trident Maple

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.

360 View

Tree’s left

Tree’s back

Tree’s right

Working Our Way Up

The roots (nebari).  This tree was repotted this year hence why all the sphagnum moss around the roots.

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!

I thought this photo really give us a good sense of the texture on the trunk.  Only age gives us that kind of texture.

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.

A look at the underside of the canopy.  Note the smooth flowing branches.

This branch is no thicker then a pencil and it too has vertical fissures.  Can you imagine 35+ rings in such a tiny branch?

Now we’re getting into the ramified branches and even they have fissures on them!  No that’s just ridiculous!

This Trident maple is also the small leave variety, which helps in tree proportions.

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.

Lets Compare

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)

Though this is a very nice tree, when we look closer at the trunk, it doesn’t have that same grey texture that the earlier tree has.  This tree is about 20-25 years old.

When we look at the branches, there are signs of branches that were cut and rapid scar healing.  Notice that there are no fissures on the branches as well.

More examples of branches that don’t quite have the fissures of the older tree.

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!

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28 thoughts on ““Good Taste,” Trident Maple

  1. Bill Coles says:

    Takes a short time for rocks to smooth when tumbled in a barrel. Small rocks can smooth in hours, days of months depending on the speed of the water in a river. In the end who cares how long it took it looks great.

  2. Michael Marchand says:

    Good Morning from Chicago!

    I love this tree. Being a fisherman, that river rock makes the tree look MORE natural to me! Only question I would pose is; was that rock smooth before 50 years of watering?
    Imagine 50 years ago, some young person may have wondered if that rock would grow in there correctly, maybe even to hold that water, thinking if it did, it would be one-of-a-kind.
    Now that person is old, or older! And it worked! So to them, Omedetou, (is that correct?)

    Thanks Peter, your wisdom and curiosity builds mine.


    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Michael,

      From the looks of the stone, I believe it was round for a very long time. I’m sure watering for 50 years smoothed it out a bit but may be microscopic. How long does a jagged stone become round sitting in a river bed? I have a feeling that it took 1000s of years for this stone to become round. 😉

      Thanks and take care Michael!

  3. Thank you so much for your insightful information. I am ofter guilty of judging a tree just upon my initial feeling of how it looks. Many times I ask someone with more experience what they see in the tree and why they like it. I find that my initial judgement becomes changed when, for example, I understand the rarity of seeing this type of material in a show, its wonderful display of age or the difficulty of successfully creating a beautiful bonsai from this type of material. So are so fortunate to daily be working with some of the most revered and aged bonsai.

  4. Peter Tea says:

    Thanks for the comments everybody and I’m glad you all got something out of the article.

    The important thing in this article is not if we like or dislike the tree, but understanding it for what it is. Our own personal taste in trees should not limit our understanding of Bonsai.

    In this particular case, I was focused on the age and the characteristics of age in such a small tree. That’s what makes this tree unique and warrants an more in-depth look. There’s so much to learn and think about in how this tree came to be and it would be a shame if we just overlooked it because we didn’t like the shape/styling of the tree.

    So liking or disliking this tree doesn’t matter as much as what we can learn from it. LIkes and dislikes are just our own humble personal opinions.

    Thanks again everybody and take care! ;o)

  5. Connie Hi says:

    I don’t much like the tree either. How did the rock get stuck in the side. Seems like a freak accident. But you did an awesome job explaining.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Connie,

      I’m not sure how the rock was put into the tree. I’m thinking the tree was already a tree and someone took a chunk out of the side of it and tied a rock to it. As the tree continued to grow, it started to grow around the rock. It does seem very usual and strange. LOL It sort of made me want to try making a tree where there was a rock sticking out of the middle of the trunk. That would totally freak people out. Hahaha. What would we even call it since we can’t technically call it a root over rock. Trunk over rock? ;o)

      Thanks Connie and see you in September!

  6. Peter, good morning from Spain.

    Always learning with you, you’re as an open book!!

    AS you already know i’m subcribed yet.



  7. Barry Dixon says:

    Your articles are always fascinating and I always look forward to the next
    Keep them coming 🙂

  8. Bill Coles says:

    Tyro here. Am continually broadened by your blogs. Would like to
    hear how you defoliate (mentioned above) in a future blog.

  9. alex says:

    Hey Peter, I’m just curious…how much would a tree this size, this age, and this quality cost in Japan? I’m sure the price would vary depending on the seller, and the style and species of the tree, and probably the area in which the tree is being sold…? but generally speaking, how much do you think? If you don’t wish to discuss costs, don’t worry. I know a lot of people tend to avoid that subject based on principal. 🙂

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Alex,

      It’s not a big deal for me to discuss prices of trees because we do all have to eat sometimes. LOL

      The reason why I don’t like talking about prices, because people tend to reference to it without any regard for supply and demand in their area. Also, pricing trees can be extremely difficult at times because of the variables.

      Having said that, I will tell you the price for this tree. If this was a young tree that was grown for 15 years and got to this shape without the aged appearance, it would probably be about 100 US dollars. The price of this tree is 2,200 US dollars. 😮 So for this tree, rarity and age plays a big part in the price.

      2200 divided by 50 = 44 dollars a year. I’d say that’s pretty cheap! How much is a year worth to you? 😉 I think I spent more then that on coffee per month back at home…. hum… I should have gone into the coffee business…

      Take care Alex!

      • alex says:

        Hey Peter, thanks for replying! I definitely know what you mean about people not taking things like demand and location into considering when discussing tree prices. Also, like you said, age seems to be another thing that doesn’t get as much consideration as it should. I imagine in the US, depending on the area, of course, this might go for double what Mr. Tanaka got it for! But yes, $44 per year certainly sounds reasonable.

        If it makes you feel better, I just spent $6.10 on a coffee drink yesterday. So yes, definitely should’ve gone to the coffee business. hahaha

  10. yenling29 says:

    Love that tree, really like trees that are different or have a unique feature like that stone embedded in the trunk. Was great to learn the characteristics of age in Tridents. I feel like this is the type of tree you never get bored of looking at.

  11. Tom says:

    Very insightful post Peter, hope they are more to come.

  12. duane kalua says:

    Great post Peter, I totally agree that bonsai gets more complicated the more you understand it 🙂

  13. cherylas2009 says:

    interesting post Peter. one could apply that logic to all forms of learning.

    so how did that trident remain so small during development? is it the species or did somebody apply some special techniques to keep it from getting bigger.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Cheryl,

      The reason why the tree stayed so small for all these years is probably because the tree was in a small pot for most of it’s life. Sort of like Boon’s first juniper. That tree is just about the same size now as it was when he first started Bonsai in the early 90’s. LOL

  14. Sam Ogranaja says:

    Thanks for continuing your work on this blog. I know I appreciate it deeply and I’m sure so do many others.

    Have a great week!!!!

  15. Penny Pawl says:

    I was surprised that this tree is so highly counted. I love the roots and where the stone is embedded but it seems like a long space from the stone to the first branch. Am I being too picky. Penny

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Penny,

      It’s not that the tree design is highly prized, but mostly for it’s age, size and rarity. If we developed another one that had better branch structure, then sure, it would be even more valuable and prized. So you’re not necessarily being too picky because you are correct in your observations. I think at this point for the tree, it’s just going to be enjoyed as is as opposed to trying to fix all of it’s flaws. I think for the most part, people would consider this tree to be a very natural looking style (minus the rock that is) as opposed to a more refined style.

      There’s always going to be people who like and dislike this tree and that’s totally understandable. It’s hard to find a tree out there that everybody likes or dislikes. LOL especially a wierdo like this one. ;o)

      Thanks Penny and take care!

  16. FRED says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful article but I still do not like the tree.

  17. Mac says:

    Peter, Another great article. Thank you for sharing your and Mr. Tanaka’s knowledge. I would sure appreciate knowing the size of this tree, say the dimensions of the pot and how high and wide the tree is above the soil level?

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Mac

      I probably should have put that info in the post. Doh!

      Anyways, the tree is about 12 inches tall. The pot is about 1.5 inches deep. The pot size is about 9 inches. The root mass is about another inch higher then the lip of the pot.

      Thanks and take care!

  18. ed curlee says:

    Very nice and interesting article. I have what I tho ught was a very nice p
    Trident maple butvi’m going out right now and look arbiter with all that you have said in mind. Thanks again.

  19. Judy Barto says:

    just when I thought I was wrapping my mind around the concepts of bonsai…. 🙂

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