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  • Writer's picturePiet Stoker (PhD)

African Bonsai Trees - Feature trees for small gardens

Updated: Dec 12, 2021

African Bonsai Trees explained

For readers interested in the history of bonsai art, please find an overview here

This reference states amongst others, that the underlying view of ancient bonsai practitioners was the idea that “natural beauty becomes true beauty only when modified in accordance with a human ideal”. This philosophy appears to be still followed today.

We at Treeshop differ with it. In the context of bonsai cultivation, instead of modifying nature to fit a human ideal, we strive to replicate nature best we can. We see replication (not modification) of natural beauty in our bonsai products as the ideal. So here is our philosophy: “Natural beauty becomes true beauty only when humans succeed in down-scaling it to closely resemble what is found in nature”.

We were privileged to have hiked mountains in China and Korea. The resemblance of Asian style bonsai was quite evident from what we observed from trees growing in their natural state.

Natural beauty was abundant during these early times. Hence one understands why ancient practitioners put some or other human ideal central in their philosophy. But the situation today is totally different. Natural beauty is fast being destroyed by humankind. It is already a scarce resource. It is our view that replication of natural beauty deserves to be the pivotal ideal in bonsai cultivation in the 21st century.

And this is what we want to achieve with our “African Bonsai" trees (#Africanbonsai). We strive to capture the essence of African tree flora as it exists in truly un-spoilt areas. Trees, as they grow in their natural environment, where they face browsing by antelope, damage inflicted by elephants, drought, fire, wind and more.

Capturing the essence of natural beauty

Many attributes combine to achieve the beauty of a tree. Examples include its root footing, trunk, primary and secondary branches, canopy shape, leaves, flowers and fruit. The African Bonsai concept endeavors to first capture the essence of a specimen tree of a particular species. Such is described by the tree’s trunk, primary branch structure and characteristic crown form. We scale this “big picture” of the species to a “standard 1.8m tall human”, thereby defining a relative size metric between different species. The size metric seeks to capture average sizes of mature species.

Next we research and document effects of natural occurring phenomena on a species’ growth history and form. Natural phenomenon includes browsing, elephant inflicted damage, etc. This information enables us to shape bonsai forms of specific species to resembling what one finds in nature, We take specimen forms as well as forms scaped by adverse circumstances as models. Example images in the gallery below were taken in the Kruger National Park.

Images from left to right: Marula tree re-growth after damage inflicted by elephants; Jackal-berry growing in confined root space between rocks; Specimen Marula tree. African Bonsai seek to create scaled downs versions of nature scenes such as the above.

A few examples:

Please follow the links below:

In conclusion

The African Bonsai tree concept is not limited to planting in large pots, as one would do to enjoy the beauty of our South African trees in a small (or even very small) garden. It also applies to growing regular (small) bonsai trees. By combining different species in either a few large pots or in a miniature landscape -classic bonsai style, one can celebrate the beauty that variety brings to our South African bushveld.

From left to right: 3 Silver cluster-leaf trees; 2 Jackal-berry trees; 1 Marula tree

Joyful pot gardening!

Piet Stoker, Treeshop

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