Re-designing A Fig in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens

By Jerry Meislik


This fig tree, a Ficus microcarpa twin trunk in the banyan style, is in the bonsai collection of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens of the University of Michigan. ( To learn more about the collection at the Botanical Gardens and how you can help it to grow click here.) The common name of this species is Chinese Banyan. It is a material found for sale in many nurseries and bonsai shops, and is a rugged tree that tolerates abuse as well as extensive manipulations. At the invitation of Connie Crancer, the Senior Horticultural Assistant of the collection, I spent two sessions examining, analyzing, and working on the tree.

Picture one, shows the tree before any work was performed. The trunks have a poor relationship to each other, and the branches are arranged in a more or less random pattern. Aerial roots are numerous and randomly arranged.

Picture 1. October 1998


Picture two, shows the tree before the initial work session. With the assistance of Dr. William Heston lll, master gardener and bonsai expert, and Connie Crancer, we removed the tree from the container, and determined that the two trunks were fused together at the base. Rotating did not improve the relationship of the two trunks. A decision was made to separate the two trees and to reposition them in order to more closely relate the trunks to each other. The separation of the trunks was done with a saw, and excess wood was removed at the base of the trees to allow them to fit together.

Picture 2. April 2000

At the second work session, there was further refinement of the tree. Aerial roots that were too numerous, and messy in appearance were thinned out and re-oriented. The branches were thinned, and significant wiring was done to shape and position the branches. Picture three shows the tree immediately after the last work session. We all agreed that the pot was too deep and that a new pot would likely be needed after the tree recovered.

Picture 3. July 2000


Picture four is a virtual image of the tree created on a computer to help guide the future training of the tree. The image was created immediately after the original styling was done. Notice that the original pot has been "transformed" into a shallower and wider pot. A green glazed round or oval pot without feet would be an even better choice.

Picture 4.


Picture five is the tree as it looks in February, 2004. The canopy is fuller and the aerial roots have thickened dramatically.

Picture 5. February 2004, photo by William Heston lll.


In 2006, picture 6, the tree is shown in a different pot. Note how much thicker the aerial roots have become. It may be necessary in the future to remove the large aerial roots and replace them with new thinner aerials. The canopy could also be opened up a bit to show more of the branch structure.

Picture 6. 2006, photo by William Heston lll.


We await future developments in the maturing of this bonsai.


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