In Berkeley

So. I’m in the bay area for the summer as I take a class at UC Berkeley. A friend just happened to be in town and we met up and wandered around in San Francisco for a while. At one point he had to talk to his mother, and I climbed a tree. Since that glorious moment, I regret to announce that I have not climbed a single tree.

Today I’m going to write about an application of trees: Bonsai. These small trees have been grown for hundreds of years, in both China and Japan. Accordingly, there’s a lot of incredibly specific terminology (most of which is in Japanese) making Bonsai even more curious. I have yet to try my hand at this mystical art, but I have spent a fair amount of time trying to decide what type of tree I would like. Anyone reading this should not take anything I say as fact, as often I’m just straight-up full of BS. I think growing bonsai could very well be a male analogue of becoming an old crazy cat-woman. I bet if I had a roommate I could drive them crazy by constantly talking about my trees.

Generally with bonsai trees, smaller leaves are preferable, as it is easier to craft the illusion of a shrunken replica of an old, withered tree if the leaves aren’t humongous. One must also consider whether the tree will be an indoors tree or an outdoors tree–bonsai can be very particular about their climate! These seem to be the main practical considerations when choosing a bonsai, as before one can style a tree, one must grow it.

Ficus Benjamina, by flickr user OpenEye

It seems that the best starter tree for inside, beginner purposes is a Ficus, or Fig tree. In fact, one of the most popular subspecies of fig tree to be made into bonsai is Ficus Benjamina. Coincidence? I think not.

Another thing to consider when growing a bonsai tree is the style of bonsai you intend to grow. There are generally 5 different main bonsai styles:

Formal Upright Bonsai

Formal Upright has a very straight trunk, with symmetrically placed limbs.

Informal Upright Bonsai

Informal upright maintains the general trend of growing upwards, while adding a few twists and turns to the trunk. Limbs are not necessarily symmetrical, yet the plant looks balanced.

Slanting (Windswept) Bonsai

Slanting bonsai is where things start to get interesting. The tree seems noticeably off-balance. The roots help to stabilize the tree.

Semi-Cascade Bonsai

Semi-Cascade Bonsai grow outwards and down, stopping before the bottom of the pot. Bonsai growers will wrap wire around their tree’s trunk in order to “train” the branches and trunk to the desired shape over time. These look really cool (that’s a fact).

Cascade Bonsai

Okay, Cascade Bonsai are ridiculous. They look pretty awesome, but at the same time they just make me feel uncomfortable. This is a rather extreme specimen, by the way.

I would most likely grow either an informal upright or a slanted bonsai as my first, because they look cool but at the same time probably don’t need as much fine-tuning (conjecturing wildly here).

To be continued…

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