What species for leaning trunk?

by Dorothy Franz

This is the first in a series of articles on the suitability of species to certain styles. Some members might argue that with wiring one can create a trunk style from any tree. It is a case of yes, but ...

In this issue slanting or leaning trunk has been chosen as the style. If one is combining it with another style such as windswept, hollow trunk or rootrock it follows that one has an additional set of criteria to consider. Will the species maintain a hollow trunk or will it rot away? Will it take carving or jinning? In nature where trees are fighting for survival braving the wind , as in the windswept style, jins occur and one may want to include some in the design but not all species allow this.

If the tree you have selected already has a leaning trunk then you have to place your branches so as to create a counter balance to the lean which defies the laws of nature but still appeals to your visual sense, no easy task. This often requires lowering the branch Some species like Taxodium (Swamp Cypress) require one to break the branch at the point where it meets the trunk in order to lower it. One may also encounter species with thin or fleshy cambium which do not take wiring well, for example Scotia and Azalea.

Varieties like Junipers and Olea are particularly well suited for carving and jins which could well add the feeling of braving the elements in a windswept tree. Others like Erythrina do not allow this Privet requires early training It is extremely difficult to wire mature branches as it becomes very brittle when well established.

Cedars prefer to remain in their original shape and wires need to stay on for a long time. Even then it is usually necessary to rewire every couple of years if one is trying to keep a branch lowered. They tend to slowly return to their original position.

All trees have a genetic blueprint. Although in theory one can wire a tree into any style or shape and some may see this as a challenge, it can be very frustrating. I feel one should work alongside nature and not against it, ultimately it brings greater satisfaction and reward.

We are fortunate in the Cape to be able to grow most species. Below is a list of material which is easily available and suitable for the slanting or leaning trunk style.

  • Acacia (Mature trees have rigid trunks and are difficult to bend, also difficult to create taper)
  • Azalea (Difficult to bend mature wood also has thin cambium be careful with wiring)
  • Berberis
  • Buxus (Beware of mature trees, very brittle)
  • Buddleja
  • Cedar (Needs constant wiring)
  • Celtis
  • Coleonema
  • Cotoneaster (Especially horizontalis)
  • Cypress
  • Diospyros
  • Erythrina (Do not jin)
  • Eugenia
  • Ficus
  • Galpinia
  • Junipers
  • Lonicera (Honeysuckle)
  • Malus (Crab apple)
  • Maples
  • Olea
  • Pines
  • Privet (Beware of mature trees, brittle)
  • Prunus
  • Pyracantha
  • Scotia (Does not wire well, has thin bark)
  • Tamarisk
  • Taxodium (Break the branch a little when lowering)
  • Ulmus

When starting from seeds or thin cuttings any of the listed species can be used. Cuttings often have better developed roots on the one side than the other and lend themselves well to planting at an angle. Problems occur when using older material, collected or from a nursery, or when changing the trunk angle on an established tree.

There are most certainly many more species well suited to slanting style but I have limited myself to those which are readily available and with which I have had some experience. If you have no leaning trunk in your collection, read this issue carefully and then give it a try.

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Pools in the rocks

Softly tinted russet red and brown

Autumn is near

Random Bonsai Tip

Using deadwood can improve and enhance a number of problematic aspects in the design of a tree. If the tree doesn't have a satisfactory apex, create one with a jin. A shari can be used as a focal point or it can give movement to an uninteresting trunkline.