An Unusual Ficus Bonsai Style From Taiwan

Huge massive trees with umbrella-like canopies and neatly arranged pads are hallmarks of Taiwan’s ficus bonsai. They are created and modeled after an old majestic Ficus microcarpa in Tainan’s National Cheng Kung University campus.


F. microcarpa at the National Cheng Kung University campus

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An Award Winning F. microcarpa modeled after the National Cheng Kung University ficus, height: 87 cm, by Hisu Yang

Over the last decade, there have been increasing criticisms among some Taiwanese artists that too many of their ficus bonsai look like each other, prompting comment likeif you have seen one, you have seen a hundred”. The artist of the above award winning “standard” ficus, Mr. Hsiu Yang, 杨修, did something unusual; he created two “non-traditional” ficus bonsai.


Planted in stainless steel tray, size of tray is 6-8 foot long if I recall correctly.


Another Mr. Yang’s creation. Note a cut wound filled with clear red resin. He had a spot light illuminating that red resin.

When I saw these two ficus at the Cheng Mei Cultural Park (成美文化園), I was shocked.  I would not be surprised to see bonsai styled this way in China, but in Taiwan?  However, these trees looked familiar and they appealed to me; I could appreciate them because I have seen oddly shaped ficus just like these two growing in suburban parks, street corners and village squares.

Taiwan is densely populated and is very crowded. Although ficus are widely grown as landscape trees in subdivisions and small community parks, as they grow their extended limbs eventually encroach nearby buildings, fences, etc., they compete for space with human dwellings.

When these encroaching limbs were cut off, since bonsai rules do not apply during tree trimming, new branches grow at odd angles and finally into a form which I could only ascribed to “a cohabitation between ficus and human competing for space”.


A ficus I saw in Lukang, which has become too big and too close to a shop house. It ended up a mushroom shape.

To many bonsai eyes, they are ugly looking trees but are nonetheless alternative “natural” models for bonsai inspirations. There is a Chinese proverb which says “there is beauty when ugliness is at its extreme,” and it might apply in this case.

Here are some photos from Taiwan streets and squares I downloaded from the internet with their respective sources:

清金門鎮總兵署內大榕樹 (1)

An old ficus growing in the Qing dynasty military governor’s compound in Kinman.×768

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Old ficus in Kinman Island. Source:


A plaque, not in this photo, said it was planted in 1886.

I thought these urban ficus inspired Mr. Yang’s creations but I was wrong!  I later found out he got his Master degree from the Mingdao University using the ficus in the stainless steel container as a project, and his thesis was entitled “A Study of Bonsai Sculpture Creative Method and Ficus microcarpa Linn. f. Example.” 

In his thesis, Mr. Yang discussed applying aesthetic principles to bonsai creations. This ficus was created based on his Buddhist believes of causality; aerial roots were used to create a more organic tree without an obvious massive trunk, and the whole creation process represented the three stages of past, present and future in Buddhism.

I do not understand the religious and philosophical meanings in this creation but I can relate to it because I have seen ficus growing in crowded urban areas. There are a lot of intentional “imperfections” from partly peeled irregular aerial roots, crisscross branches to unclosed large wounds, called “horse eyes,” throughout the bonsai. They are very different from the Japanese aesthetics of perfections.

Anyway, please enjoy detailed photos of these two unusual ficus bonsai.

Ficus in Stainless Steel Container: 


Multiple trunks created with aerial roots; they are not fused together into massive trunk we see in most Taiwan ficus bonsai.


Fused irregular aerial roots as part of the “organic” trunks. Even the moss dressings were not neatly arranged like those in Japanese bonsai exhibits.





Large unclosed wounds, “horse eyes,” accentuate imperfections.

Ficus with Filled Red Resin:


A light inside a 5-gallon white plastic bucket was aimed directly at the resin to capture the “tree goblin”.



No massive nebari for this tree.

The Cheng Mei Cultural Park is a beautiful garden worth a visit if you go to Taiwan.

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Growing a Good Nebari and Fat Trunk Base Ficus Bonsai

A  good nebari (exposed roots just above the soil surface) and a large trunk base are perhaps the two most desirable features we all wanted for our bonsai. However, they take a long time to develop. Many of us buy pre-bonsai. At the nursery, we may dig below the soil level, hold the tree up, turn it around and tilt it at various angles to choose the best possible material but it is rare to find one with both a good nebari and a large trunk.

In this post, I want to share my experience building a good nebari, at least to my eyes, and a large tapered trunk for a Ficus microcarpa pre-bonsai. I bought this ficus about 9 years ago from a gift shop of a local Chinese restaurant. As in all mass-produced pre-bonsai, they usually have messy or unattractive roots and a typical S-shape trunk. What attracted me to this tree was the large trunk base, however, it has a nagging thick root, about 2″ diameter, growing on the convex side of the trunk’s first curve, and plunging down into the soil like a large inverted J-hook. Nevertheless it was a good starting material.

When we begin to train our tree with a faulty root such as this one, uneven trunk movement or branch placement, it is imperative that we correct them as early as possible. If not, they will stay with the tree and may beome more troublesome to correct at a later date. We have to decide how we want our bonsai to look like in 5, 10 or more years down the line. There is no short cut unless you want to spend big bucks buying a “specimen” tree from bonsai professionals.

This is how this ficus looked in July this year after defoliation and wiring. The root spread is about 10″ at the soil level and the trunk diameter is about 4½” above the root base. DSCN6289

I do not have a photo of this pre-bonsai ficus when I bought it. The 2007’s first repotting photo gives an idea of how it looked after removing the ugly high up thick roots and cutting back all the excessively thick and unwanted roots.

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Shohin Ficus Bonsai

Ficus thrives in our hot Texas Zone 9 weather. I have several large Ficus microcarpa, whenever I removed a thick branch, I tried to root it. Over the years, I have obtained a number of second generation ficus, some grew into large trees, some were trained as shohin in different styles: banyan, informal, sumo-style shohin and Lingnan penjing.

I recently defoliated some shohin and wired their main structures, they looked naked but some had put out new buds and leaflets.

A banyan style shohin:


Sumo-style shohin:

I am developing a new leader for this shohin.

In the US, a lot of people like short and fat shohin, the so-called “sumo” style. Some may say that is not how a ficus tree grows in nature, but it is fun to style them differently instead of all in their “natural” shapes.

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A 19-Year Journey of a Ficus Microcarpa – From Pre-bonsai to Winning Awards

I purchased this Tiger Bark Ficus microcarpa as a pre-bonsai in 1997, and had worked on it for about 19 years. Over these years, it transformed from an ordinary looking pre-bonsai to one which won a place among the 25 Exceptional Tress Award in the 2013 World Bonsai Friendship Federation (WBFF) Photo Contest. It also won the Best Tropical Bonsai and Best of Show awards in the 2014 Lone Star State Bonsai Convention. I thought I would document its journey; and shared what I had learned working on this tree, both the good and the bad, and what would I do in the future to improve it.

Tiger Bark Ficus
Selected as one of the 25 Exceptional Trees Award in the 2013 World Bonsai Friendship Federation Photo Contest.

When I was shopping for a pre-bonsai in the nursery, this tree caught my attention because it had a rather big trunk base, about 3″, and it tapered nicely with a low first curve suitable for a moyogi style bonsai. Although the front looked good there was a severe flaw at the back, the back trunk base beveled inwards, no exposed roots at all. The whole tree looked highly unstable as if it would fall backwards with a slight push. Several large and disproportionate branches were at undesirable positions for a moyogi bonsai design. The attractive part of this pre-bonsai was the good looking front with a tapered trunk. It was also inexpensive and had potentials.

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One-Year Progression of A Shohin Chinzan Satsuki Azalea Bonsai

The purpose of this post is to show how to care for and maintain an imported satsuki azalea during the first year by selective pruning, encourage back budding and developing ramification of the branches.

I purchased this shohin “chinzan” satsuki azalea pre-bonsai from David Kreutz of the Satsuki Bonsai-En in April, 2014, at our state bonsai convention. This satsuki was imported, bare-rooted, from Japan about 3-4 months ago. It has a beautiful nebari and trunk taper. Since it was a newly imported tree, I removed the flower buds and let it gained strength for the rest of the year.

Front of the tree, 02/25/2015.
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Preparing A Small Bonsai Display For Show

Last weekend, we had our Lone Star (Texas) State Bonsai Federation education seminar, and the topic was literati bonsai. All participating trees must be a bunjin. My wife and I exhibited a small, 24″ x 18″, Japanese toko-kazari display.

Display consisted of a mame bujin Chinese Elm grown from root cutting, a dwarf Fiber Optic grass, a distant mountain viewing stone and a two-line poem.

Many attendees liked the display and commented how simple it looks, refreshing, quiet, peaceful, cute, and the lightly finished wood allows viewers to see all the elements clearly.

I will explain how we came up with the idea, why we selected the items and why we arranged them this way. The thoughts put into the process was a great exercise.

The Literati Theme Concept

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Bonsai, Kusamono and Companion Displays that I like at the Artisans Cup


The Artisans Cup has many powerful and beautiful bonsai. As a visitor, some of them appealed to me more than the others. I enjoyed them all, perhaps some trees related to something I had previously experienced, or the whole composition appealed to me more than just an individual tree.  I like Greg Breden’s Southwestern White Pine, it looks rugged, clinging precariously on a beautiful and rough textured pot. Doug Paul’s Douglas Fir also appealed to me. It has very natural looking shari and twisted live veins, which look very similar to a tree I saw during a hike in a British Colombia mountain. Not sure of the species but could be a Douglas Fir Pondorosa Pine (At the recent Texas State Bonsai Show, Todd Hang of Dallas told me this tree is a pine, more likely a Pondorosa Pine because of the exposed brownish-red border between the shari and live bark. Someone from Canada familiar with plant distribution said it is not a Pondorosa Pine based on the location where this tree was photographed. It is more likely a Lodgepole Pine). Here is the tree I saw in nature:

The shari created by rain, wind, snow and all natural elements. Unsurpassed by any human carving.

This is Doug Paul’s Douglas Fir:

A similar looking shari with flaky slivers, and live barks. The planting in a rock crevice simulates its natural growing environment.

I also like the Japanese Beech shown in my last post. It showed years of work put into it; a very slow process to bring out the branch ramifications of a deciduous tree compared to the much rapid development of foliage pads of conifers by wiring, severe bending and using guy wires.

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