The Dreaded "S" Curve
 By Jerry Meislik

In recent years many imports of bonsai into the US include trees that seem to have a very similar shape. The trees often have one or two similar curves in the lower and middle trunk, a straight trunk above that and a nicely shaped canopy of foliage. The sheer number of these trees on the market is quite staggering.

Ficus salicaria with "S" curves and straight top, Ryan Thompson

These trunks are often created by using a bamboo stake and tying a young flexible trunk to the stake with twine forming two bends. The young tree is then moved to a growing area and allowed to grow unattended except for a cosmetic shearing to make a foliage silhouette that is pleasing. The tree is then exported to buyers in the west.

Many of the trees are purchased by newcomers to bonsai who post a shot of the tree on the internet and ask for suggestions on how to style the tree. They are often intrigued with the exotic shape of the tree but soon found themselves lost as to how to proceed.

People who respond to their requests for help often mention cookie-cutter, boring, repetitious, etc. in describing the identical curves in the trunk.

Solutions for modifying the appearance can vary depending upon the owner/artist’s desires.

            1. Leave the trunk as it is and shape the branches to match the trunk movement

            2. Shorten the trunk to break the repetitive pattern   

 Ficus salicaria above shortened, Ryan Thompson

Ficus salicaria, with top removed to be rooted, Ryan Thompson


            3. Tip the tree so that the curves are not seen directly head on

4. Time and growth alone will soften the curves

5. Grow some aerial roots from the curves to hide the shape and modify the curves

Tree one: Ficus microcarpa 'Gold Coin' only one curve retained, tree tipped over to create cascade

Tree two: Ficus microcarpa newly imported

Tree two: Trimmed, wired, and shortened to new apex

Tree two: A few years later aerial roots soften the lowest curve
Tree three: Ficus microcarpa, shortened back to new apex

In summary, even rather cookie-cutter trees can be shaped into attractive bonsai with some basic bonsai manipulations and allowing time to mature the design.

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