March 18, 2017

The Acer palmatum baobab bonsai

Source material: 2017, March 18

          Today at Elandan Gardens, Dan pointed out this unique maple tree he has been styling to mimic the African baobab. Dan wanted me to share this particular tree to get people's thoughts on the unconventional maple design.

         This tree was donated to Dan by Will Hiltz, author of Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees - a biography on Dan and his 50+ years in bonsai pursuing a naturalistic style against the convention of most modern Japanese and American bonsai tastes. Dan enjoys making bonsai which have similar characteristics to the inconceivably old trees he has observed in old-growth forests and other extreme, wild locations. Sometime after publishing the book, Will decided to liquidate the majority of his bonsai collection and pursue other activities and gave some of his best trees to Dan for preservation in the garden.

Dan Robinson and his strange African-inspired maple.
          The scar on the trunk is intended to convey a wound resulting from an elephant. As can be seen in the embedded album below, a determined elephant can deal considerable damage to these trees in the wild.
          Baobabs are actually a genus consisting of multiple species. The more iconic Madagascar baobab is not the same as the lesser-known varieties found on the mainland of Africa. Some of these species are shown below. Tanzanian baobabs strike me as the most similar to the design which Dan was emulating. I can easily understand how one might not see this as a baobab style if one thinks only of the Madagascar-style baobab. A variety of baobab examples are also included in the below album.

Apparently, I underestimated the destructive abilities of elephants. Elephants "denude" baobabs like this to access the moisture under the bark during the dry season. Source:
A mature African baobab - Adanosia digitata - in Tanzania. Source:
Another African baobab.
Perhaps the most famous Madagascar baobabs - Adanosia grandidieri. Most people first picture this species at the mention of the baobab genus. Source:
Another impressive Madagascar specimen of different species than above. Source:
This too is an impressive baobab. Source
This baobab is native to Australia! Adenosia gregorii. Source:


  1. Would love to see this once it's leafed out. Very unique...

    1. I've been waiting to reply until I have an update and I can tell you very soon I will be posting more photos of this tree. I made sure to document it while in leaf this year for you. The carving also got some added detail over the summer.