Faces of Joys and Fascinations I Saw in Bonsai Shows

Most clubs hold bonsai show once or twice a year. Typically the shows are formal with bonsai on stands, some accompanied by kusamono or scrolls against backdrops, some even have judging and awards for best trees.

For the last few years our club has held informal shows at the Houston Japanese Garden in conjunction with the Japanese Festival, and most recently at a local shopping mall. The number of visitors are phenomenal. We brought 1,300 copies of our club brochures to these two shows, and they were all gone. We estimated at least two thousand people saw our shows, and we also recruited several new members! Such an exposure of bonsai art to a wide audience is not easy to achieve in a formal show.

To me, the most gratifying reward participating in these informal shows is to see the joys these little trees brought to our visitors, many of them saw bonsai for the first time; their reactions, from curiosities to fascinations, the questions and amount of photos they took, made all the volunteering efforts worthwhile. Here are some of the heart warming photos from this year’s shows:

Spring Show at the Japanese Garden

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Beautiful sunny spring day and the Japanese Festival brought a lot of visitors to the Japanese Garden.

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“Are these special kind of trees?”, “How old is the tree?”, “What kind of tree is it?”  These were frequent questions asked by visitors. We like questions, it meant we had piqued their interests.

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Pete Parker explaining how he worked on a Yaupon bonsai. An interested visitor picked up our club brochure. We brought 800 copies to the spring show and they were gone by the next afternoon.

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A demo by Soon Cheah,  Best Kusamono winner of the 2016 US National Bonsai Show. A lot of visitors were fascinated by these cute little plants, and drew comments like: “These are weeds…I have a lot of them in my garden”, “I didn’t know weeds could be so beautiful…”

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Who knows these two little girls might get into bonsai in the future from this encounter?

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A senior couple closely examined the root-over-rock Melon Seed Ficus to convince themselves there was indeed a rock beneath those roots.

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Flowering bonsai like this bougainvillea always draw oohs and aahs. Glad to see these happy faces.

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No doubt they really liked this small Japanese Black Pine.

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Mmm.. This does look like a big banyan tree.

Fall Show at the Memorial City Mall:


Seeing these loving senior couple enjoying our show filled me with warm joy. The lady took her time enjoying every tree and her husband was always a step behind her. Don’t you want to grow old together just like them?


Another couple enjoying this South Texas native, a Fiddlewood bonsai with berries.

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Many people got close to smell the fragrance of this flowering Water Jasmine.

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A lady told me she had seen this type of tree somewhere in California when she saw this wind-swept Yaupon. I asked: “Monterey?”, and she immediately said “Yes!”

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A happy family stopped by the show.


The Mall has such a huge traffic, some people just walked by without even looking at the bonsai, some would stop, enjoy and ask questions.

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So many visitors became interested in bonsai, over 60 people signed up Timeless Trees’ mailing list! And a couple joined Timeless Tree’s workshop the following weekend.

Bonsai clubs do have a mission to educate and promote the art. I feel these informal displays at high-traffic places are great ways to achieve this mission.

Will your club start doing this kind of show catering to the general public?

We thank the American-Japan Society for inviting us to participate in the Japanese Festival, and the Houston Memorial City Mall Management allowing us to use the mall facilities; and many thanks to our volunteers.


Taiwan Bonsai Journey 3 – Juniper Bonsai at the Wanjing Garden

The Wanjing Art Garden (万景艺苑) is one of the six venues of the 2017 Taiwan BCI Asia-Pacific Bonsai and Viewing Stones Exhibitions. It occupies an area of about 5 hectares. The garden has a collection of rare native Taiwan trees, Chinese pavilion, ponds, bonsai and an art museum. It used to be a private garden, owned by Mr. Chen Chang-Hsing (陈苍興), who is also the co-Chairman of this year’s BCI exhibitions. The garden was opened to the public in May, 2014 and had hosted many bonsai events.

Juniper bonsai displayed along the path to the museum which is constructed with large hinoki cypress beams.



Old Ficus microcarpa in the Garden.

The following juniper bonsai were displayed specially for the BCI event, and were of exceptional quality.


A Taiwan Juniper by Mr. Ho Yong-Yu, a young second generation bonsai master from Taichung’s Yu Yuan,


Another juniper by Mr. Ho Yong-Yu.


Details of the shari and twisted trunk.

I like this display a lot because of the two huge stone background, which made the juniper appeared to perch on the rock face of a mountain.




From Mr. Huang Nan-Hsun’s (黄南勲) collection.


Juniper by Mr. Luo Rui-Pen (罗瑞本).


Wanjing Art Garden Juniper Bonsai Collection.



Juniper bonsai from Mr. Chang Ting-Ren’s collection.


From Mr. Hsieh Wen-Fu’s (谢文福) collection.


Mr.Chen Jian-Liang’s (陈建良)juniper bonsai.


Mr. Kobayashi was also at the garden that morning, and of course, photo op with several other friends from China.


L to R: Liu Shaohong (刘少红) owner of the very popular Penjing Shijie web publishing company, myself, Mr. Kobayashi, Huang Lianhui (黄连辉) BCI China Region Vice Chairman, Huang Zhiqing (黄志清) BCI China Region, Assistant Secretary. Both Mr. Huang are also well known penjing masters in China.

I do not know how many juniper bonsai were displayed, my guess is there were at least 50. I will post several photos without going into details who owns the trees. Some were from the Garden’s own collection, some were invited to display for the BCI event.






Taiwan Bonsai Journey 2 – More Trees from the Hwa Fong Show

As I walked into the main exhibition area of the Hwa Fong Show, a row of magnificent bonsai set against steel-gray background captivated my attention! Upon reading the labels, these were past Hwa Fong’s winners, they were on display by invitation only. I do not know whether this is a tradition of the Taiwan national show or this was specially arranged for the benefits of foreign visitors participating this joint BCI event.

Among them were beautiful tropical species such as Premna and Sea Hibiscus which are seldom seen in shows outside of the South East Asian region.

Sea Hibiscus (Hibiscus tilaceous) is a tropical species. In nature, the leaves are very large, however, they could be reduced to tiny leaves. Ramifications in these bonsai are astounding. Looking at the dense twigs, it would take several days and a great patience to defoliate. Here are two past winning Sea Hibiscus owned by Su Wen-Hong (蘇文宏).


Hibiscus tilaceous, height: 92 cm. A 2009 Hwa Fong Show winner.


Another Su Wen-Hong’s Hibiscus tilaceous, height: 99 cm, which won a Special Award in the 2010 show.




A 2016 winning Juniperus chinensis, height: 85 cm., by Lin Qiu-An (林秋安):




A 93 cm tall Juniperus chinensis, a 2007 winner owned by Liu Chan-Ling (劉燦琳):




A 2015 Special Award winner, Gardenia jasminoides, height: 75 cm. Owned by Li Man-Nan (李满男) and kusamono:




Here is a seldom seen tropical species for Bonsai, Horse Bush (Dendrolobium umbellatum), height: 85 cm., owned by Chen Chong-Bai (陳聰柏), a 2003 winner.



A 2015 winner, 95 cm. tall Juniperus chinensis, owned by Chiang Jin-Chun (蔣金村):



A highly ramified Celtis nervosa, height: 82 cm. This tree won the 2013 Hwa Fong Special Award. Tree owned by Chang Jing-Siao (張景堯).



A 2013 Special Award Juniperus chinensis, height: 93 cm, by Chen Chong-Bai (陳聰柏):


A 2016 Special Award winner, a 65 cm. Pinus thunbergii by Chou Wei Chen (周渭臣).


I visited Mr. Chou at his store in Taipei’s Jianguo Weekend Flower Market where he had a lot of high quality shohin for sale.



Mr. Chou’s shohin for sale at the weekend flower market. I think we all like to take one or two home!



Juniperus chinensis, 113 cm, by Mao Shi-Ling (毛實麟).


Fukian Tea, Carmona retusa, 95 cm.


Pinus morrisonicola, 80 cm, by He Zhi-Siung (何志雄).


Taiwan Five-Needle Pine (Pinus morrisonicola), 100 cm., by Chen Wen-Huan (陳文煥).



Juniperus chinensis, 85 cm., by Lin Sheng-Cheng (林勝政).


Dyospiro ferrea, 99 cm., by Chiang Jin-Chun (蔣金村).


Celtis sinensis forest by Professor Amy Liang (梁悅美教授).


Clump style Ficus microcarpa by Tsai Zhen-Sin (蔡正信).

Mr. Tsai’s Red Lantern Nursery (紅燈籠) is located in the Yangming Shan area in Taipei. He has photos of his other award winning trees on his studio wall.


At Mr. Tsai’s nursery, it was very nice that the Taiwan show sent the participant a photo of their entry tree. L to R: Mr. Tsai, me and Mr. Chun-Sheng Chen (陳春生).


Photos of winning trees in the various shows.


An interesting Ficus microcarpa by Hsieh Si-Siung (谢喜雄).



Eurya emaginata, 78 cm., by Liu Bang-Yong (劉邦勇).

I will end this post with a large Ficus microcarpa by Tsai Ming-Long (蔡铭隆). As there were so many trees, shohin would be in the next post.


Taiwan Bonsai Journey 1 – Hwa Fong Show

The Hwa Fong Show is the most prestigious bonsai show in Taiwan. It is held once a year in November. Exhibited trees went through rigorous selections and this is where one can see some of the highest quality Taiwan bonsai in one place. This year’s 22nd annual show was jointly held with the 14th Bonsai Club International (BCI) Asia-Pacific Bonsai and Viewing Stone Convention from November 4-6. My last visit to Taiwan was eight years ago. With this major show, Professor Amy Liang’s invitation to attend the opening ceremony and banquet of her bonsai garden, “The Purple Garden”, opportunities to meet old friends and several Facebook friends for the first time, and shopping for bonsai accessories, especially bonsai stands; my wife and I decided to take a two-week Taiwan bonsai journey.


The exquisitely dressed Professor Amy Liang in purple, her favorite color, during the opening ceremony of her “Purple Garden”. More about it in a future post.

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Met Facebook friend, Mr. Chun Sheng Chen (陳春生), for the first time at the opening of the Purple Garden. Mr. Chen conducts bonsai classes in Taipei, and helps out at Professor Amy Liang’s garden. He has a lot of good looking shohin!


My wife with Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Chong (張珺理), met also for the first time after being friends for 2-3 year on Facebook.


Hwa Fong Show 華風展 

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A 2014 Grand Champion Podocarpus costalis greeted visitors of the entrance of the exhibition venue. The tree was 80 cm tall.

The Hwa Fong Show is held in the Xizhou Park (溪州公園) of Changhua county, in the central part of Taiwan. Although it is close to many horticultural production centers, landscaping and bonsai nurseries etc., it is not so easy to get there without a car. It is even harder for foreign visitors to get to the park without knowing which train and bus to take, which left the only option of taking the BCI convention buses. However, wait time and an hour journey, each way, from the Taichung convention venue to the exhibit limit the amount of time one could spend at the exhibition hall. Though not familiar with Taiwan, since we speak Chinese we decided to take train and taxi on our own so we could stay as long as we want to.


Travelling by trains in Taiwan is convenient and they are on time. We bought a prepaid card and could go anywhere by subway, bus or train by swiping it at the turnstile. We took the 8:04 a.m. train, got out the nearest station and took a taxi to the exhibition venue. No traffic jam in the morning rush hours.


Several large trees were brought in from various nurseries to the park for the bonsai show. This one is a Podocarpus, a landscape tree in a very large cement pot.



Entrance of the exhibition hall. It is very big. I think it is at least the size of two football fields.

Afternoon of the opening day, a Saturday, was filled with people. It was hard to see the trees or take photos without people crossing in front of you. We decided to come back on a weekday, Wednesday, when there were fewer general public; and we could enjoy the trees leisurely, talk to people on duty and with one of the judges who kindly explained merits of the winning trees.


By afternoon, the crowd was so huge that it was difficult to closely examine individual tree leisurely.

I took a lot of photos, too many to show in one blog. So I decided to first show the winning trees, and will post more photos in Part 2 of the blog. People on Facebook might have seen these trees posted by various people. I generally do not post while travelling, too tired after walking and standing for the whole day, just want to enjoy a good dinner and beer, then go to sleep.


Dinner at the Fushan Japanese Restaurant in Changhua. Excellent and very fresh sashimi of yellow tail, tuna, salmon and amberjack. We asked for the fatty belly portions.

The Winners

The show awarded one Grand Champion and ten Superior Awards. Two shohin group displays were among the winners.

This is the Grand Champion tree, a 90-year old Ficus microcarpa:

A 90-year old Ficus microcarpa won the Grand Champion. Owner: Hsieh Gui-Zi (謝貴子) of Tainan City Bonsai Society.

This Ficus microcarpa won the Superior Award:


What made the first tree won the coveted Grand Championship while the second tree a Superior Award?

This is when one would appreciate having unhurried ample time on your own, it pays. I was able to talk with Mr. Huang Shi-Shan (黃泗山), one of the judges and popped him this question. Mr. Huang brought me back and forth between the two trees and explained the subtle details between the two Ficus.

First the nebari. The Grand Champion is on the left in the below photo. Rootage distribution is better than the tree on the right; though both have flared roots, the first one has finer and more natural tapering distribution merging into the ground gradually instead of ending abruptly. The fused younger aerial roots on the right side of its trunk is more interesting, a little messier but a more natural look of an old ficus in nature, whereas the aerial roots formation of the second tree is more even with a feel of man-made manipulations.

One can also see the left side of the Grand Champion tree trunk just below the left primary branch was reduced to give a slight taper than the second tree. Although it left a large, not yet healed scar, it did not detract the overall appearance of the trunk taper. Fattening of main trunk is a problem in old Ficus bonsai. One has to carve out part of the trunk to maintain the taper, not too much nor too little. They call this maintenance step, “slimming the waistline”. In the second tree, the abrupt change in the left side trunk formed by large aerial roots made the tree less natural than the first one.


Not seen in these two-dimensional photos, the branch movements of the first tree are more natural than the second tree, with up and down, back and forth movements, which are features of an old ficus in nature. The leaf size distributions were very even and dark green in the first tree, which is hard to achieve. The overall look is a more powerful healthy old tree.

This Grand Champion Ficus only won a second prize in the Tainan City Bonsai Show in October, and yet it is the best of this show. Why? Mr. Huang explained it is the display. In this show, trees were spaced further apart which brought out the look of a large old ficus while in the Tainan show, the space was smaller and more crowded with other trees, which did not allow the tree to show its grandiose.

Enough discussions on these two winners. I will show the rest of the winners.



Juniperus chinensis by Chen Ding-Hwa of Shinpei City Bonsai and Stone Art Society.



Juniperus chinensis by Chen Chong-Bai


Premna obtusifolia


Hibiscus tiliaceus


Buxus harlandii by Hwang Shi-Shan



Pinus morrisonicola, Taiwan Five-Needle Pine


Premna obtusifolia

Shohin winners, both were seven-point displays. I will also show photos of the individual trees.



Itoigawa shimpaku.




Semi-cascade Premna.



Shohin Winner # 2:



This is a Chinese Jingdezhen pot commissioned by Xingrongyi, a bonsai nursery in Taiwan.





Defoliating Ficus Bonsai

Defoliating ficus bonsai can be tedious as there are literally thousands of leaves to remove. For a shohin, this could be easily done in half an hour or less but for a large tree, it would take several hours depending on how big and how ramified the tree is. When I prepared the Ficus microcarpa (19′ H x 36″ W) for last year’s 5th US Nationals , it took me 6 hours, spread over two days. But there are short cuts.

This microcarpa measures about 54″ across and is a large tree. I have been working on it for at least 15 years from an imported raw material, basically a cut-down bare-rooted tree with stubby trunks. I have been concentrating on developing branches with good taper. The tree has developed reasonably good secondary and tertiary branch ramifications, and now is the time for finer ramifications to fill out gaps between those branches.


Since it had been growing freely from last defoliation about a year ago, there were a lot of new growths and it looked bushy. I am not going to start cutting off each leaf from such a large tree, it would take me several days! As I am familiar with the tree’s branch structures from previous works, I just treated it like an overgrown bonsai and simply cut off all the branches back to the tree’s silhouette, a quick hatchet job.


This is how it looked after cutting back the excessive growths. Now defoliation looks much more manageable, I then selectively cut the branches where I want to develop finer ramifications. Below is an example of where to cut, indicated by the red lines:


Branches, labeled A, were older growths. They were defoliated perhaps a couple of years ago, from which new buds popped up and grew into smaller twigs, B. Branches A have now served their purposes, they can either be cut off completely to get a Y-branching like the one on the left; or as in the case of the right branches, shortened to encourage back buddings; by removing the strong upper growth, it allows the small branch B to grow and thicken.

This process is repeated for the whole tree. This is how it looks after cutting back branches A and B.


C is the newly formed syconia, ficus’s fruits which should also be removed to direct growth energies to the new buds.

Nearly all the leaves were removed except for a few small inner branches, leaves were left untouched for them to thicken further.


July 26, 2017, after defoliation and cut back.

I left the defoliated tree under full sun. My wife and I then happily vacationed for the next two weeks. It thrived and budded very well when we returned. These are the new growths photographed on August 15.


August 15, 2017.


There were profusions of back buddings and new growths. Generally, back buddings and growths occur near the cut tips and along the branches up to about 5″ away from the cuts. By removing the auxin-rich branch tips, back buddings are encouraged but there is a limit as to how far back buds could grow. It is rare to see buds pop up all the way down to the main trunk in a large and mature tree like this.

The following two photos show back buddings in two of larger branches. Buds formed as far down 8-12″ from the cut ends. These buds are good for developing inner branches. My observation is stronger branch tend to bud back further down. There might perhaps be a relationship between the strength of the branch and how much cytokinin is activated for lateral back budding.


August 15, 2017.


Some branches buds later than the others. The right branch in the following photo has three new growths while the left branch is still barren. Upon close examination, there were some tiny green specks indicating some buds will pop up soon, they are somehow suppressed more than the others.


With back budding in full swing, it is time to select which one to keep and which one to remove. This is a photo of the branch I worked on. It is growing almost vertically upwards.


To see which new growths to remove, tilt the branch in the direction where you would wire in the future. It is easier to see which new growths to remove. Keep the new side growths and remove those pointing upwards, downwards or too close to each other. The red lines indicate where the unwanted growths were cut off.

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This is after removing the unwanted growths, and energies will be directed to growing and thickening only those branches we want to keep.


Should I Remove the Fertilizer or Not After Defoliation?

That depends on the purpose of the defoliation. If it is to prepare the tree with more uniform and smaller leaves for an upcoming show, then remove the fertilizer and apply light fertilization with fish emulsions when the new leaves have hardened off. If the tree is still under development, I do not remove the fertilizer tea bags. Leaf size may be uneven but growth of the new twigs are benefited by the readily available fertilizer, and with good unobstructed sunlight for photosynthesis after defoliation, they are fed as soon as they emerged. I did not find the young leaves to suffer fertilizer burn even the pot is piled with organic tea bag fertilizer.

Those familiar with summer decandling of Japanese Black Pine to get short needles, the advise is not to fertilize for the first month to keep the needles short. However, ficus is quite a different beast, it has so many latent buds, branches can be severely cut back and they bud back readily. It would be better to continue fertilizing, thicken new growths as fast as possible during developmental stage; when it is time uniform small leaves and fine twigs are needed, one or two more controlled defoliations would do the job.

Let Your Ficus Grow Before Repotting and Defoliation

Summer is a busy time for people who love and grow a lot of sub-tropical and tropical bonsai. I live in Southeast Texas, and start to repot, defoliate and wire my ficus in June. By this time the Texas heat is intense, daily temperature is in the 90s with heat index over 100ºF; it is very hot working outside even under the shade. I repot my ficus later than what most people living in Zone 9 would do because I want my trees to take advantage of spring growth spurt before doing any major maintenance work. You may have read advises such as repot tropical trees when the night temperature is above 60ºF. That is correct for safety reason but it does not mean you have to plunge right into it when the weather warms up. Just take it easy and let your tree grow, let them become healthy and strong before repotting and defoliation.

Our last frost date is around third week of March. In early April I moved my ficus out of the greenhouse and let them sit under full sun in open air. Ficus grows virtually year round for us, when over wintering in greenhouse they just slowed down their growth, hardly noticeable but definitely continue to grow. That’s why I do not remove my fertilizer in winter. Once outside, with plenty of sunshine, fertilizer and water, there is a sudden surge in new growths. I let them have about 2 months of growth to gain vigors before starting any work.


The ficus are in open space on the south east side of the yard. Full sun till around 2 p.m. when the oak tree which is about 40 feet away begins to block the afternoon sun and casts some shadows.

I put my fertilizer in tea bags and placed them on top of the soil surface. A lot of new roots grow underneath the tea bags, and some may even grow into it. I move the tea bags around every few weeks.


Fine root mass formed underneath the tea bags.

How much is two months of spring growth?

These two Tiger Bark photos were taken around mid-June. The lighter, larger green leaves are the new growths, the dark green smaller leaves are from last year.



This large Ficus microcarpa (Tiger Bark) put out a lot of new growths from April to mid-June. The round pot is 24″, and the tree width is probably 4-ft. across. Just went out to measure, the width is 54″!

Both trees are now ready for defoliation. For curiosity, I measured how much growth they put out in spring months.

Weaker shoots put out about 2″ growth.


Stronger shoots put out about 4″ new growth.


Some shoots grow very strong like they are on steroid, more correctly high on auxin trip. Keep them if you want the branch to thicken, if not, just cut them back.

Leaves are food factory for trees. Ficus loves sun, water and fertilizer. The more leaves they have, the more rigorous the growth. When they begin to shade out the inner branches, it is time to cut back and defoliate. Just be aware that overgrown shoots will eventually shade out the inner and weaker branches, and cause die-back. Exercise controls as needed.

Penjing in Hong Kong (Part 2) – Unconventional Penjing in a Daoist Monastery

The next penjing garden we visited was in a Daoist monastry, Qingsong Guan (青松观) or Ching Chung Koon in Cantonese dialect used in Hong Kong. It is located a little out-of-the-way in Tuen Mun (新界屯门) in the New Territory area. The late abbot, Mr. Hou Baoyuan (候宝垣 1914-1999) was one of the early pioneers of Lingnan penjing. As a Daoist monk, his penjing were steeped into his philosophical thoughts and believes, they are unpretentious and follow the Daoist Way of harmonizing with nature. His penjing also tell stories and have distinct personalities. Their compositions are not from the typical old school teaching.

Instead of showing photos of penjing after penjing, I am going to select a few and describe my impressions the way I saw them.

A Twin-Trunk that Broke the Rules


Twin-trunk Chinese Hackberry

When we make a twin-trunk bonsai or penjing, we are taught to place the two trees, one large and one small, close to each other like a mother and child. Who would have ever thought of planting two large trees at opposite ends of a pot? Oh no, that would be breaking the rules! Yes, Abbot Hou did just that and he did it very well.



This bushy fierce looking Shiwan figurine is Zhong Kui (钟馗) with his sword, an evil slayer in Chinese mythology.

He approached this creation by envisioning the viewer is inside a forest, facing two large trees at close range. Don’t we often encounter such a familiar setting when we take a walk in a mature woods or an old forest? To reach for light, trees in old growths grow straight up to the top, the canopies do not overlap but just away from each other. That type of canopy does not allow much light into the interior, competitive smaller trees eventually die off. So the tall trees tend to be a little apart from each other, and without much penetrating light they do not have low branches Continue reading