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

WeChat 圖片_20190524211752

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

Screenshot (179)

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.

IMG_5638 copy

Why Do I Repot a Big Ficus From a Ceramic Pot into a Wooden Box?

This Ficus microcarpa was potted into a 24″ round ceramic pot in 2015. By 2018, it needed repotting again but I procrastinated and did not do it in 2019 either. I finally repotted it a few days ago, but into a wooden box.  I jokingly said it was because I needed to reduce the overall weight. That is true but there are more important horticultural reasons repotting it into a wooden box, like rejuvenating the roots, regaining the tree’s health, and working on the overgrown aerial roots and nebari.

Potted into a 24″ round ceramic pot, May 2015.
July, 2018. Ready for a repot but did not do it.

Why Use a Wooden Box?

To restore a bonsai’s health, it is a good idea to repot the tree into a slightly larger container, preferably in a terra cotta pot, a wooden box or a Styrofoam box.  A slightly larger container provides more soil volume and extra rooms for the roots to rejuvenate, increased surface areas between soil aggregates also allow the roots to breath better and grow more fibrous roots.  A cedar picket fence wooden box is an obvious choice since I cannot find a larger terra cotta pot or a big Styrofoam box. Although the latter can protect the roots from over heating during our intense summer heat, it is too glaring and stands out too much among the other trees, unless I could paint it.

00000IMG_00000_BURST20200511113952392_COVER (1)

As for weight, the 24″ ceramic pot weighed 32 lb., a comparable wooden box weighed about 5 lb.  I made a rough calculation, this round pot with tapered wall has a volume of about 1,100 cubic inches (about 18 L.), a square box holds almost twice the amount of soil.  Your tree will thank you for the extra room while in recovery.

Reworking Overgrown or Thickened roots

Aerial roots are great for improving the tree’s nebari, but they can become too big, crisscrossed or grew in unintended direction if one is not diligent in controlling and incorporating them to the intended design.

These two photos show how the skinny grafted aerial roots grew in 4 years without repotting in between:

Ficus composite 2
Grafted aerial roots A, B and C in 2015 and 2019. Branch D was removed as it was sticking too much towards the front.

These grafted roots needed repositioning and incorporating into the nebari:

Ficus root work IMG_20200508_183513 copy
Repositioning thicker roots using aluminum wires and tourniquet.
Ficus cross root IMG_20200509_133046
Crossed roots repositioned, once fused, the top sections will be cut off.

Exposing More of the Nebari

Every time I repotted, I raised and exposed the nebari by about 1/2”. This time I raised it by about an inch. Exposing it gave the tree a larger nebari in each repot.

Ficus raised nebari IMG_20200510_144855 (2)
Root base raised by about an inch, shown by differences in tree bark colors.

Another advantage of using a wooden box is I could easily put in a few screws on the box to attach guy wires to bring down branches.

Creating Large Ficus Bonsai by Fusing Seedlings – Gede Merta’s Demo Trees Five Years Later

In the 2009 Bonsai Focus magazine, Issue #122, there is an article by Peter Thali on how the Indonesia’s Bali bonsai master, Gede Merta, used fusion technique to create large impressive ficus with spreading nebari from young seedlings. He did it in two stages: (1) using nails and tapes, 25 1½-year old seedlings were fused together to form the main trunk; and (2) after the main trunk has formed, 50 more 6-month old 24- to 32-inch long seedlings were added to the lower section to create taper; several of these seedlings were bundled together, wrapped with tapes and bent to form future side branches. Using this fusion technique and with Bali’s year-round tropical growing climate, the fused ficus quickly developed into a beautiful large bonsai with impressive nebari and thick branches. Please see the article for detail descriptions and photos.

Bonsai Focus Issue #122. Large ficus created by fusing together young seedlings.

Last October (2014) I visited Master Gede at his nursery, please see my earlier post: Gede Merta – A Multi-Talented Bali Bonsai Master. Besides having a wonderful time with this friendly and cheerful great artist and his family, I asked about the status of the fused ficus trees featured in the Bonsai Focus article; and here they are five years later:

An amazing progress! Compare this with the fused tree in the 2009 Bonsai Focus article.
Continue reading