Displaying Bonsai with a Companion Plant – Is It a 20th Century Revival of an Ancient Practice?

It is now customary to display bonsai with a small companion plant, also called an accent or complimentary plant. In bonsai circle, a companion plant is often called a kusamono, but the correct term is shitakusa, an understory grass or herb, when it is displayed with bonsai. Such a display is based on the indoor tokonoma (alcolve) display of a Japanese home. Sometimes a suiseki viewing stone, a small art object or a scroll is used instead of a companion plant, and in various combinations. The guidelines can be very complicated. Morten Albek has a series of excellent articles on the display principles and guidelines.

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I displayed this Chinese Elm with an Oxalis companion plant at the 2013 Lone Star State Convention Show in New Braunfel. The tree was trained by the clip-and-grow method.

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Century Old Japanese Bonsai Postcards

Many bonsai people have other hobbies.  Sometimes they combine those hobbies together such as collecting bonsai-related pins, phone cards etc.  I collected stamps since I was a kid, and am interested in bonsai-related stamps and postal items. I also collect old bonsai and penjing postcards, preferably postally used.

Below are my Japanese postcards with bonsai in the pictures; they are about 100 years old and were hand-tinted. Strictly speaking, most of these postcards show Japanese woman activities with bonsai in the background. I have not seen postcard of that period with just bonsai as the main theme.  Nevertheless, they allow us to see how Japanese bonsai looked like a hundred years ago.

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1905 postcard with a potted pine. The writing reads: “Characteristic room furniture, no ornaments except few flowers. Low writing table & box containing ink disk and brushes. Lady in the act of writing a letter.”

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Malaysian Suiseki and Viewing Stone – Yellow Wax Stone

Viewing stone and suiseki enthusiasts may be familiar with Chinese Yellow Wax stones(黄蜡石), a type of yellow to brownish yellow hard stone with wax-like, lustrous surface textures. These stones are also found in several South East Asian countries. To learn more about Yellow Wax stone, see Tom Elias‘s excellent article on the subject in 2011 Q4 issue of the BCI magazine.

The followings are Malaysian Yellow Wax stones from  my collection and from my best friend, David Goh’s collection, in Penang, Malaysia.  David and I have been friends for over forty years. Malaysian Yellow Wax stones are found in the state of Kedah, and are called Kedah Yellow Wax Stones (吉打黄蜡石). Their main composition is quartzite, the yellow color varies depending on the amount of iron oxide impurities in the quartz.

David’s Kedah Yellow Wax stones:

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A swirl of multi-colors.

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