February 27, 2017

One Sweet Bougainvillea

Source material: 2016, August 06

          Dan Robinson has collected and developed many rare, unusual, and gnarly trees over his 50+ year bonsai career, hundreds of which can be seen at Elandan Gardens. As will be explained in the near future by a new post, Dan's artistic style values the existence of some "focal point" on his trees. In most cases, that takes the form of a great trunk or some stunning deadwood feature. However, certain components of that focal point style can incite controversy among bonsai hobbyists. Some people are critical of excessive deadwood use - particularly on softwood species. Others appreciate Dan’s use of deadwood as an imitation of natural features on old and ancient trees. A unique bougainvillea featured in today's blog serves as a demonstration of his controversial - but naturally inspired - deadwood use on softwoods as well as an example of a unique focal point trunk.
Before pruning.
Although neither related to the redwoods nor sequoias, this particular bougainvillea has the same red-orange color of bark. The red effect is created as an artifact of the environment where these bougainvilleas were grown and is not due to a unique cultivar or genetic variety. The particular environment where such specimen originated was adjacent to sugar fields in Hawaii. The wind kicked up the reddish, clay soil of the Hawaiian sugar fields as a fine dust. Those particles were then embedded into the bark of nearby bougainvilleas.
This makes me wonder if other species in the area are similarly affected; although, even if other species do have a similar effect, they would not be as easy to bring back to the continental US as bougainvilleas. One could collect these specimens as air layers (growing roots on a branch mid-air to be later cut off as its own entity). However, due to the resilience of the bougainvillea, Dan was able to avoid the inconvenience of having to return to Hawaii to remove an air layer. Instead, he simply cut off stump-sections of a branch and planted them as large cuttings upon his return. They root easily with full sun in this condition. I discovered Bonsai Man Dan’s tale of the sweet bougainvilleas when he brought this bushy tree to the garden be returned to order.
Back before pruning.
Side before.
It definitely needs pruning. One can't even tell it is a bonsai from this angle.
Here you can see a deadwood shari (a Japanese deadwood term for when the outer bark is absent, revealing the wood underneath) and a hint of the red bark.
The unusually red bark is clearly visible now that the bush has been beaten back.
A wild Bonsai Man Dan (or should I say naturalistic?).
You can now see the deadwood Dan has carved in the past. To me, it resembles a softwood species eaten away by insects.
Front. Further branch development is needed.
The deadwood reminds me of a scythe from this side angle.
Another side.
Finished and back in place.
This bougainvillea is from the same area as the previous one and can be seen here in flower a few months after the source material for the rest of this post.


  1. I had a ponderosa pine style by Dan Robinson in the early nineties. He called it "early times". It was a beautiful tree but unfortunately i I had to have a friend take care of it for a few weeks while I was in the process of moving. I guess he under watered and it died. Always wondered if the old part was still kicking around.

    1. Haha yes he is very much still kicking. I'm sure he'll be working on trees for many more years over at his bonsai island of Elandan. Too bad about your tree though :/