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Punica granatum

Nearly Two Decades in the Life of a Pomegranate

HISTORICAL PROFILE

  • Scientific Name: Punica granatum
  • Common Names: Pomegranate
  • Origin: The pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region of Asia, Africa and Europe. The specimen used in this nearly two decade long project was purchased as a small stump from a nursery.
  • Age: Approximately 30 years: nearly 19 years under development.
  • Original dimensions: Trunk was 6″ in height and 1.5″ in diameter.
  • Dimensions after styling: 26″ in height, 22″ in width, and 5.5″ trunk diameter.
  • Design Challenges: To create a bonsai from a small trunk; the trunk would eventually require carving to smooth the transition from the base to the mid-section of the tree.
  • Unique Characteristics: Potential for twiggy, ramified growth, red flowers, and fruit.

LONGEVITY & BEAUTY OF THE POMEGRANATE

Many bonsai artists avoid pomegranates because of concerns over
the longevity of the tree. Contrary to the beliefs of misinformed bonsai practitioners, pomegranates are long-lived; some specimens at Versailles have survived for two centuries. In the Northeastern US, its leaves are deciduous, shortstemmed, oblong-lanceolate, 3/8 to 4″ (1-10 cm) long, and leathery.

By early summer, its unusual flowers appear on the branch tips, either singly or with as many as five in a cluster. The flowers are generally 1 1/ 4″ (3 cm) wide and characterized by thick, tubular, red calyx having five to eight fleshy, pointed sepals that form a vase from which the red petals enclosing numerous stamens emerge. Although its flowers are truly unique, its fruit is even more unusual, and when displayed against the tree in its leafless winter state, the image is mesmerizing.

FROM STUMP TO BONSAI

My first encounter with this 10-year old stump was anything but exciting. If you can imagine a sawed off stump with a 1.5″ diameter boasting a couple of flimsy shoots, you have managed to capture the unexceptional beginning of what has over nearly two decades become a striking bonsai.

Development of ramification over nearly 20 years.
The attention to detail is what bonsai is all about, and there is nothing
more important in deciduous bonsai development than the creation of
attractive branch formations.

BRANCH & ROOT DEVELOPMENT

The purpose of this brief article is to provide a few pointers on how to develop a bonsai from a stump. The simplistic diagram above shows the incremental progression of the tree over the decades. While the development of ramification with this species is a relentless effort, I was not prepared for the long wait- staring at a trunk for many years – before my efforts paid off.

Although I worked with emerging shoots from the beginning, the detailed work did not begin until trunkline lignification occurred and I had managed to form the basis of the apex. With the trunkline in place, the long process of developing and nurturing primary, secondary and tertiary branch elements began. As shown in the diagram, substantial effort was devoted to cutting back growth on the tips of branches to promote the desirable level of ramification.

With few exceptions, branches growing outward and upwards on the canopy were maintained, while all branches growing downward and towards the inside of the trunk were removed. This basic approach produces fine, balanced branch formations throughout the entire canopy of the tree. Surface root development for pomegranates requires constant pruning and redirection of what is emerging on the surface of the root pad.

As new roots emerged, I selected those of interest based on their position and strength. They were then pinned into ideal positions with wire and covered with moss to keep them moist and encourage extension. Once the roots reached a desirable length, the moss was removed and the surrounding soil scraped away to emphasize their presence on the surface of the root pad.

Surface root development and pinning the roots. The development of surface roots is not unlike branch development. The most attractive surface roots have been carefully pruned of undesirable growth and positioned with wire pins formed from aluminum wire to complement the bonsai composition. The time investment is well worth the final outcome.

Lower Portion of Trunk preserved with Min-Wax Wood Hardener. My experimentation with Min-Wax Wood Hardener began nearly 18 years ago. In this instance, the surface is cleaned of any desirable growth with sandpaper, and a light coat of lime sulfur is applied. When the lime sulfur dries, the new application of wood hardener is applied. Several days later, after the treatment has been absorbed, the surface is lightly sanded and brushed.

TRUNK CARVING AND MAINTENANCE

In addition to the work with the branches and surface roots, the front of the trunk was progressively carved (using Japanese gravers and the Foredom Carving System) over the years to create a more interesting appearance. Min-Wax Wood Hardener is still applied on a yearly basis to preserve the carved wood on the trunk.

A QUESTION

After nearly ten years of development (photo taken in 1996). At this stage, the basic foundation of the tree has been developed, but detailed ramification has yet to be completed.

Consider the deciduous trees in your private collections in the context of the following question: how many of these trees would you be willing to present in their leafless state? All too often, practitioners focus more on the umbrella of foliage or the presence of flowers than on the essential structure of the tree. While these components are an integral part of many bonsai, the practitioner’s mastery of any deciduous specimen is truly revealed by the winter appearance of the tree, i.e., the trunkline and branching. I encourage you to evaluate your deciduous specimens and consider that the leafless state is the true expression of beauty and artistic achievement and a testimony to your mastery of technique. With that said, the stark contrast between the exposed (leafless) structure of the pomegranate bonsai and the presence of bursting fruit has long been a fascination to practitioners of the art and, in particular, the Japanese. The following closeup of the fruit was taken in ovember in Pennsylvania.

Bursting fruit showing the brilliant red seeds. lt is not a coincidence
that the final image of the tree was taken with the fruit breaking open.
The end of the growing season and the fruit bursting with new seeds
speaks to the persistence of nature and the miracle of growth.

The following image of this pomegranate shows nearly two decades of detailed design work. In January of 2007, a Foredom Carving Tool will be used to refine the carved trunk and to contribute to its continued preservation. The deep pot was selected to promote trunk growth over the past four years. The pomegranate will be repotted into a shallower pot next year to better emphasize the beauty of the tree in its winter state.

A PERSPECTIVE ON DECIDUOUS TREES

One of my long cherished deciduous bonsai was struck by a falling piece of timber in late November As things often go, the wood directly struck the upper quarter of the trunk and completely removed this portion of the apex. After regaining my composure, I realized that this unplanned occurrence had just made a difficult decision for me … one that I should have made years ago. Two hours later, the basis for a new, better tapered apex had been created and set in place for the following spring.

The world of bonsai art is often complicated by our hesitancy to make difficult decisions (hard cuts and major reductions) when we first begin our work with a specimen. This failure to act can result in years of distracting work and a creation that is conspicuously flawed. Our preoccupation with leaf size reductions, flower presence and position, and fall color is certainly an essential component of the art, but I view these concerns as incidental to the structural development of our bonsai.

While no deciduous tree is perfect, one of the greatest challenges in working with deciduous bonsai is creating a tree whose hidden beauty is revealed in its winter presence. Making difficult design decisions now with your deciduous trees will bring greater rewards in the years ahead as you and your bonsai advance with
this ever-changing art.

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