Saturday, May 13, 2017

Bonsai: Living Expression of Natural Art

What is the scientific explanation of the bonsai phenomenon?
Dr Abe V Rotor



 Bonsai Exhibits at Eastwood, Pasig MM

If Antonio Vivaldi, the Italian violinist-composer was able to transcribe the seasons through music (“The Four Seasons”), the Japanese copied the seasons in the form of bonsai that graces a garden or a living room.

In the story of Gulliver of Lilliput, by Jonathan Swift, one can imagine being a giant in a place where everything is small. This story was used to parry a friend’s comment in his belief that bonsai is bad luck. “Feng-sui. I want everything to grow big. After all, I am a businessman,” he said.

“But I wish to be a Gulliver,” I replied, trying to wring out some humor.

To the Japanese, bonsai is an expression of shin-zen-bi, which means truth, goodness and beauty. The Chinese, one thousand years ago, taught the Japanese the art of penjing, which later became bonsai. Bonsai represents a world-within-a-world, and is aptly called a “landscape in a pot”. It speaks of the culture and history of China, the longest surviving civilization.

Bonsai may not be a part of the Philippine culture and history, but Filipinos take pride in the art. The centerpiece of many garden shows and floriculture exhibitions is the bonsai. It is perhaps the ultimate symbol of mastery in horticulture. While bonsai is a living calendar in Japan and China that dates as far back as three generations, Filipino bonsai affection is considered more of an expression of a popular art form, or a hobby.

Bonsai – A Living Replica of Nature

The inspiration of bonsai is found in nature. The shape and position of the tree and the rock at its base are copied from real scenery. Bonsai expresses struggle: the hardier the tree becomes, the more it is prized. In nature trees growing in rocky crevices, high mountains, or cliffs, are windblown, gnarled and twisted, like the bonsai.

Other than physical symbols, bonsai expresses ideals such as mortality, austere living, unity and harmony. Bonsai is considered an heirloom since it is a living souvenir passed on from one generation to the next. It is like a window to the world’s oldest cultures, through which the West learns important Oriental lessons.

Aesthetics of Bonsai

At the Tokyo garden near the national museum, there is a garden exhibit that also enables one to admire different kinds of bonsai. Our guide, who also happens to be a professor, talked to us about these unique qualities of the art of bonsai.

• Implicitness,
• Ingenious use of opposite,
• Movement and complementary forces,
• Interconnectedness, and
• Balance and harmony.

Bonsai appreciation applies the principles of art which are similarly used in appreciating a sculptural work or painting.

Bonsai, the Plant

A bonsai is not a genetically modified organism or GMO. Nor is it a product of today’s genetic engineering, although it is, perhaps, the earliest form of cloning. This is if we consider that the plant is excised from a mother plant through air layering (marcotting), or cutting.

Marcotting illustrates the principle of cloning now used on animals. But like “Dolly, the sheep,” the first cloned animal, a bonsai grown from a cutting will not live as long as one grown from seed. Centuries-old bonsai came from seeds.

But to have an “instant bonsai”, one simply marcots a good branch, or choose a mature cutting. For starters, find a plant which is not difficult to grow, like balete (Ficus benjamina). Once roots are developed, transfer the new plant to an earthen or cement pot which will become its permanent foothold.

The idea of a bonsai is to first to wean a plant or part of a plant, then keep it dwarfed as it matures by limiting its supply of food and water, soil and space. “That’s cruelty,” my friend cried, comparing bonsai with animals.

“Look at the Bristle Cone Pine,” I answered, and proceeded to explain.

Nature’s Bonsai

The Bristle Cone Pine lives in windswept, dry, rocky and mountainous places where very few trees can survive. It is nature’s perfect example of bonsai in both appearance and age. It is only a few feet tall, gnarled and creeping, but it may already be two or three thousand years old. One tree, named Methuselah, is more than 3,000 years old. Although a miniscule compared with the Redwood, it is probably twice older. Redwood trees of California grow over 200 feet.

What is the scientific explanation to this phenomenon? Examine under a powerful microscope the chromosomes of a plant, or animal for that matter, that is undergoing the process of mitosis or cell division. Every time the cell divides, the telomeres of the chromosomes become shorter. Thus, the faster an organism grows, the sooner it reaches senility. Suspended growth, therefore, prolongs life. This means that tree life can be extended (which is also true to many animals, including man). That is why a balanced diet is key to long life.

To grow bonsai, first you limit the space in which the roots grow, then give it just enough water and nutrients. Prune the plant lean as you train it. Do not pamper it; instead expose it to nature to toughen it. These steps are important to keep the bonsai dwarfish and to make it live longer than its counterpart in the natural environment.

Bonsai from Seed and Branch

Bonsai from seed however, gives the enthusiast complete control over the plant. Just plant the seed in a sturdy tray or pot. As soon as it reaches manageable size, uproot it, cut the main or tap root, and repot the plant and allow it to grow strong side or radial roots.

If you use conifers (plants belonging to the pine family), cuttings are to be taken at the end of the growing season, which means that the buds are dormant at this time. For both hardwood (cypress) and softwood (pine) species it is advisable that the cuttings first be dipped in rooting hormone (available in flower shops), before replanting them in soil medium made up of garden soil, sand and peat. The newly planted cuttings are then covered with plastic sheets and kept in a shade or inside a greenhouse. Leave the cuttings for a year or until new growth appears. Transfer them individually onto pots or trays.

If the bonsai is produced from a garden stock, the potential material must have a strong and thick trunk with branches clearly radiating from the trunk. If there are buds you can choose which ones you wish to develop into branches later. Dig a trench around the tree, severing the major roots. Apply rooting hormone and fill up the trench with the same soil. On the second year dig out the tree. Avoid damaging the new roots when balling or wrapping the whole root system with cloth or sack. This is important in transporting the tree.

Before replanting the tree in an appropriate pot, cut the main or tap root, remove some foliage and prune according to the desired shape of the tree. Place the plant is the shade and after a month gradually exposes it to sunlight until it become fully adapted to its new environment.

A Replica of Nature

There is such a thing as a gift of a “green thumb”, whether it is with bonsai or other plants. But this gift comes through skill and common sense in gardening which is a by-product of patience and love for caring plants. A bonsai enthusiast is one graced with creativity. He is a person of peace, and one gifted with the intelligence of naturalism, where he is one with nature. Indeed, bonsai is a living expression of beauty in the art of horticulture. ~

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