Ficus glumosa, uncommon bonsai

An uncommonly found Ficus species, Ficus glumosa is from Africa and has nice round, hairy leaves. It is in the grouping of rock-splitter figs. Those that seem to be found growing over and around rocks in the veldt.

Since they seem to enjoy rock growing this seedling was placed over the rock to emulate a root over rock style. It is in a small pot so its growth is quite limited and despite its age, about 12 years, it is still a very immature bonsai design.

Ficus glumosa root-over-rock style

Ficus salicaria, Willow Leaf fig

One of the best small leaf fig species to use for bonsai is the Willow Leaf fig, scientifically called Ficus salicaria. It has many great features including aerial roots and wide-spreading surface roots. One possible issue is that it does not like having roots that stay too wet. Water the tree well and make sure to allow the soil to nearly dry before watering it again. Continually wet roots leave room for fungal and other rot problems.

Willow Leaf tree that I lost due to root rot

The Edible Fig, Ficus carica

Ficus carica, the edible fig, is grown throughout the world for its delicious sweet figs. It prefers growing in climate areas that have some sort of resting season, either from cooler winter temperatures or a dry season. I have tried growing it in a tropical greenhouse without a proper cool or dry period and found that it does not grow well for me under these conditions.

Ficus carica growing out of cracks in a rock wall

Close up view of the fig

Yet, another specimen growing out of a rock wall

For interest I am showing a few specimens that I saw growing out of rock walls during a recent trip to Greece.

Bunjin style

Bunjin or literati style is a less common bonsai style. It mainly relies on the line of the tree for its focal point. The canopy and the pot should be minimal to keep the focus on the line of the tree. It is a style that has its admirers as well as many that do not like it. I have a short article at

Ficus ‘Mexicana’ showing an interesting trunk line, minimal canopy, and restrained pot


Playing with images to design your tree

One thing that I find very useful is to photograph my trees on a regular basis. This allows me to see how the trees progress over time and lets me photographically change the images to see if a better design emerges from the image manipulations.

A series of pictures to illustrate how the design might change after playing with image manipulations.

The Ficus benghalensis as it looked some years back, straight trunk and large leaves

Using some heavy wire the trunk was bent to create some movement in the trunk

The tree partially defoliated as it looks today

With Photoshop one section of the tree was removed. Is it a better desgn?

Yet, another piece is removed graphically. Is this one better?

Creating something from nothing

Ficus ‘Mystery’ developed from root cutting, having little interest

Wrap the trunk with plastic ribbon

Apply heavy wire over the ribbon

Take two small branches and fuse them with cable ties

More cable ties placed along the branches to help fusion and develop a heavier branch more quickly

Final result is a more interesting plant that one day could become a pretty bonsai

Making your bonsai taller

With exposed root bonsai it is possible to create a taller tree. One can simply raise the tree up on its finer root system while keeping it supported with wire until the new roots harden sufficiently to make the trunk stable.

The new roots will need to be covered for some months until they harden off and become adapted to dry air. Once so adapted the alluminum foil can be removed.

Ficus in exposed root style but a bit too short

Root system elongated,  wire used for temporary support

Foil is placed for some months until newly exposed roots are stable

Twisting and Turning

When presented with material that is young and lacks interesting features I will search for ones that have twists and turns. Great bonsai can be created from this rather unexciting material. Using wire to shape long and limber pieces is another way to introduce interesting shapes. Another way is to use root cuttings that often have great shapes, The pictures below are all of Ficus ‘Mystery’, a fig that is not identified yet.

Ficus ‘Mystery’

Ficus ‘Mystery’

Ficus ‘Mystery’

Ficus ‘Mystery’                                                                        



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The tree with no taper

There are many ways to handle a tree with little or no apparent taper. In this case a Ficus ‘Mystery’ was grown from a very straight and taperless cutting.

Fortunately there were several existing aerial roots that were brought down along the trunk and rooted into the ground. The aerial roots provide a visual thickening to the lower part of the trunk creating some taper that just does not exist. The roots coming off the aerials provide a nice surface flow that helps to visually stabilize the tree.

The area circled in red shows the straight cutting including a few aerial roots

The bonsai shows some nice taper provided by the aerial roots as well as nice surface rootage.