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Articles

The Taiwanese Juniper

by Salvatore Liporace, Italy
Images by Ruben Roig Bernado
Italian Text by Alessandra Cappelletti
Translated by Marco Favero
Edited for English by Andy Rutledge
the projected design
Above: The projected final result of Mr. Liporace's work on the juniper in this article.

Editor's notes:

Special thanks to Marco Favero for his translation of this article.

Also, a somewhat similar article by Mr. Liporace recently appeared in the BCI publication. This is a different article featuring a different tree.

* * *

The mighty base and winding trunk, ripped with dazzling white shari pressed between swollen live veins ascending in a twist, like bulging muscles, holding up shining and healthy foliage…

This image struck Salvatore Liporace like thunderbolt. Even at first glance he was sure that his skilled hands could transform this plant into a wonderful specimen. The dream of every bonsai artist is to find high-quality bonsai material for shaping into a masterpiece. This was just such material.

It has always been the desire of Westerners to find plant material that combines the tortured yamadori look (as if collected from the wild) with lush and healthy foliage. There is a part of Asia where patient experts grow such material from young trees. These growers carefully tend their plants so that they became extraordinary specimens reserved for an elite group of Eastern artists.

Salvatore Liporace had already worked with some of these excellent junipers, which had been imported into Europe. However, during his trip to Taiwan in December 2001, he met with a shock. Those trees that had impressed him in the past were only a pale sample, a scant advance guard of the marvelous array now before him: hundreds of wonderful junipers growing in fields in the north-central region of the island.

fields

View of a Juniper cultivation field in Taiwan. In background you can see the terraced terrain, which keeps the ground from being washed away and from becoming too soggy. The soil is mostly clay. Even though it is rich in nutrients it has the disadvantage of becoming a pasty and compact mass when wet, which inhibits aeration and promotes root rot. Excess drying of the clay during dry season causes the soil to crack, which can damage the roots. The growers, therefore, have to carefully monitor the soil moisture level and water when necessary.

Cultivation of these specimens, which according to the quality of these plants must last 20 to 40 years, begins with air-layered stock. With excellent care and shaping over the years, these trees now possess sinuous trunks with thick foliage. Years of selective branch trimming, followed by bark stripping, creates nice jin and shari. This meticulous care and planning results in extraordinary bonsai material.

When the trees reach a good level of development they are put into large pots for several more years and then sold to bonsai artists. Clearly these plants are worked hard, but their health and development show that they are allowed to recover fully between styling operations. Therefore, the artist can have a dynamic plant with dense foliage and good root development, well adapted for a bonsai pot.

The subject of this article is one of these excellent junipers.

fields

Sometimes the tops of the plants that have interesting movement, removed during the formation process, are kept as plant material by air-layering. This produces some nice shohin material. In this image you can see some of them in the lower right.

fields

Removal or death of a branch on junipers often causes the death of the vein on the trunk that fed it, leaving a dead wood section (shari). Evidence of such work can be seen on the juniper in the center of this photo.

excellent material

Two decades of cultivation in the field isn’t enough for making an interesting juniper for a master artist. Rather, it is necessary to grow the plant for several more years in a large container to promote the development of fine roots, compact foliage, and to further define the shari. Only at this point will the specimen be ready for offering in the vendor's sales area.

shari

Detail of the amazing shari formation on a Taiwanese juniper. In Taiwan, artists of this technique have attained a very high level of skill. There are some artists who specialize just in creating beautiful deadwood features. This art requires years of experience and specific tools, which, unlike basic cutters, bring a sense of absolute naturalness to the results of the work.

During his trip in Taiwan, Mr. Liporace was invited to assist with a private demonstration by Master Cheng. There he was astounded by the precision and accuracy of the work. If you create a shari using the Taiwanese artists’ method you can spend many days, but the final result will be powerful and natural looking. That demonstration persuaded Mr. Liporace to see to it that this technique was demonstrated in the West. So he arranged for Master Cheng to tour Italy with demonstrations, workshops and a special training for IBS instructors. Master Cheng then also attended the World Congress in Munich as the Taiwanese delegate.

* * *

The Taiwanese Juniper is a variety of Juniperus chinensis especially appreciated for its thick foliage with soft needles. It normally grows in wet places and clay soil, rich in nutrients. This juniper needs carefully watering. Over-watering, like other stressful conditions (cutting back hard or repotting), often results in the growth of juvenile foliage (a coarse, spiky needle). This foliar form represents the juniper’s defense against unsuitable and damaging conditions. This generous plant quickly reverts to the soft needles of mature foliage when the stress factor is removed.

The Taiwanese Juniper will back-bud even from old wood if cut back hard. The buds grow rapidly, especially in its native climate, where they may keep foliage for up to 5 years. The abundant foliage provides a strong draw for sap to keep the branches healthy. As you know, sap travels up the live veins from roots to the leaves, only to return with nutrients to the roots. So as nature is concerned only with cost/benefit relationships, not with bonsai styles or elegance, you should always carefully evaluate the removal of foliage. Careless elimination of important foliage in order to achieve some stylistic aim may cause irreparable damage to the veins feeding the branch. When trimming, be sure to leave enough foliage to keep sufficient sap flow.

In order to preserve the nice foliage of this interesting juniper and to promote soft needle growth, fertilize with proven organic products like Bio Gold or Aburakasu. Remember that if you over-fertilize you risk inducing the spiky, juvenile foliage.

the material for this article

The tree selected by Salvatore Liporace for this article. It has been growing for several years in a pot while undergoing training and shaping. Its main characteristics include the spectacular tortuous trunk movement, excellent health, soft foliage and excellent ramification. The relatively shallow pot will make transplanting into an appropriate bonsai pot quite easy.

juniper

This tree stands out among the others, of which many will be sold to Japanese artists. Several years ago during one of his many trips in Japan, Mr. Liporace heard Mr. Masahiko Kimura extol the virtues of these Taiwanese junipers. Mr. Kimura showed him books with images of bonsai created in Taiwan, calling them the best in the world. It was many years before Salvatore could find out for himself. Then in December 2000, on his first trip to Taiwan, he saw ample proof of what Mr. Kimura had told him years before.

The Shaping Begins

shaping1

Back in his workshop at Studio Botanico, the artist chooses the front. Here you see the first front, which didn’t satisfy because it hides the live vein at the soil level. Moreover, the strong trunk movement is neither graceful nor pleasant.

shaping 2

The best and final front. Here, the base, shari and live veins are emphasized, while the trunk line is softer and has more overall appeal. There is harmony now in how the various elements interact (live veins, shari and base).

A delicate repotting begins. Here, Mr. Liporace works on the back side of the root ball. The soil is a mixture of clay and sand, favored for development of the fine roots. Note the size of the tree.

juniper

View of the tree (previous front) in its new Certré pot. The soil is sifted akadama.

juniper

Back. Note that the new planting angle, with the apex tilted toward the front, has exposed part of the rear portion of the roots.

juniper

Front, with detail of the base and trunk.

juniper

The juniper in its final planting position. Please note the moss on the soil surface, used to protect the small surface roots from dehydration after repotting.

sanding the bark

Sanding the bark reveals the reddish color of the live veins. First you should use a brush with soft wet bristles, then fine-grained sandpaper. Finally, a soft pad soaked with a bit of olive oil brings out a deep, rich color.

applying lime sulfur

Mr. Liporace hides the copper wire with lime sulfur (usually used to preserve jin). This technique helps to add an aged patina to the copper wire so that it is somewhat camouflaged among the branches.

juniper

After treating the dead wood and the live veins. The striking beauty of this newly created bonsai is now revealed.

In the future, the large jin on the right will perhaps be shaped to better harmonize with the rest of the tree.

back

Even the back of this bonsai is given attention; the foliage carefully arranged and the deadwood detailed and treated.

detail

A bonsai’s appeal is due in great measure to the details. Here you can see the appropriate soil surface decoration with different varieties of moss and lichen. This preparation helps to bring the pot, soil surface and tree into harmony.

The final result

The completed bonsai; brand new and already quite impressive.