Trees growing in the natural landscape show great resilience to a plethora of destructive elements. It's inevitable that at some time a tree will suffer damage. Whether that damage is caused by a rock fall, avalanche, lightning strike or wind damage matters little, but these elements do have a hint of romance about them. For now though, I would like to focus on trees growing in the lowland landscape where damage is more likely to be inflicted upon a tree by a man in a hard hat wielding a chainsaw, or a car wreck.
In a mountain setting we find species that are well suited to the environment such as spruce and pine. Because of the nature of their wood, damaged areas are resilient to the elements and often produce the bleached, silver-white, shattered skeletal remains so highly valued in bonsai circles. We must make a differentiation between this type of deadwood, and that found in lowland situations where the climate is mild and often damp; species found in this environment tend to be deciduous, or have wood largely lacking in the resin content of many mountain-dwelling conifers.
During the great gales of 1987 Windsor Great Park lost many majestic trees that were simply thrown down by the tempest. However, Ted noticed that not one single old hollow tree was lost, only maiden trees in the full glory of their youth. The grizzly old gentlemen of the park had lost a few big branches and some had split, but every single one remained upright with it's roots firmly in the ground, ready to re-grow new branches and continue the cycle of procreation.
Perhaps we should look a little closer? Just as we begin to show signs of age so do trees. A fellow that is losing his hair doesn't have a decaying head, nor does he deserve to be composted!
In providing the pictures that illustrate this article I have tried to show how a wild tree responds to a situation that often occurs in bonsai; for instance, where we reduce the height of a larger tree, remove a superfluous trunk or cut away a large branch. The wild trees response to damage seems to be a restricted one, limited to a small amount of callusing in order to strengthen the broken edge of sound timber, whilst waiting for the old and now dead wood to degrade and fall away. In a damp lowland environment deadwood remains for a relatively short time before it decays back into the ground.
For the bonsai artist the significant factor is to consider, not how trees are damaged, but how they respond to damage over a period of time. Removing a large branch or shortening the trunk of bonsai material is no different to a tree losing the same in nature. The usual process in bonsai is to trim the wound carefully to encourage healing in order to hide the cut. In nature this rarely happens, only small areas of wound ever heal completely and most end up as hollows. We should be students of nature, so… if something is happening to trees in the landscape it ought to be reflected in our bonsai.
Take time to find old trees then, as they flush into new spring growth or settle into winter slumber, sit quietly with them for a while and contemplate where you will be in a thousand years.
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