Arthur Joura On Red Maple (Acer Rubrum) Bonsai : (sorry no photos at the moment)
By Darlene Tyler
Jim Doyle introduced Arthur Joura who is Curator of the bonsai collection at the North Carolina Arboretum in Ashville, North Carolina. Arthur said that 500,000 people visit the Arboretum each year and the vast majority of visitors come through the bonsai garden and really like it. Since 1996 Arthur has been organizing and hosting the Bonsai Expo. This is the 21st Expo at the Arboretum, will feature Dan Robinson, and will be held on October 8 and 9. With Jim’s help, SBC has an exhibit in the Expo every year.
Arthur is committed to developing regional American style bonsai with nature and regional differences in specimens dictating the styles rather than traditional Japanese cultural practices. What changes when studying trees in nature is the role model of how you look at a tree: Instead of taking cues from other bonsai specimens you take your cues from nature.
Arthur’s slide show and lecture about American East Coast trees in their natural setting and their use in American Bonsai was beautiful and inspiring. The photos included a landscape he did while demonstrating for the club in 2005, South Appalachian Cove, an interpretation. The tokonoma display
was an American beech seedling grown by Arthur and a hemlock (styled by Yoshimura with its main trunk removed). This composition was also a demo at the club several years ago.
Red Maple, Acer rubrum, produces an extraordinary display in the fall. It is a canopy tree growing sixty feet to 100 feet tall and lives about one hundred twenty-five years. It is an Eastern North American tree extending from Canada to Mexico and is the most common canopy specimen in the Eastern United States forest. It is cultivated for landscape use and does well in cultivation, is adaptable to a wide variety of site conditions and will vary considerably with its location in the East. Chalk bark maple (Acer leucoderm), Arthur’s demo tree, is an understory tree which has all the attributes of a sugar maple and gets great autumn color. Chalk bark maples grow to thirty-five to forty feet high and develop a smaller trunk than a red maple.
As a bonsai specimen, red maple is readily available both commercially and from nature, transplants well, can be grown in full sun but does better in some shade, and can be used to create any form . It produces new growth on old wood and the leaves reduce well with persistent training but not as well as Trident maple. It is prone to insects and disease (frog eye fungus) and reducing inter-nodal distance can be challenging. Adversity develops character and red maple will develop twisting of the grain and burls.
The flower is showy in a subdued way and close up. From a distance in the landscape the mass of flowers creates an orange to red haze which envelopes the canopy of the tree. It is the color show of the Southern Appalachian forest in the spring. The fruit is a paired samara (an indehiscent winged fruit). The fruit display, which begins green and progresses to pinkish and then to orange when mature, is more eye-catching than the flowers.
There is variability in shape of leaves, size and color and when the leaves first appear the color is different. There is a yellow form of red maple as well as some with orange and bright red leaves. The leaves are translucent when backlit. Red maples do ramify utilizing leaf pruning, but not all the leaves at once. Every week take off the biggest leaves and those with spots from June through July and gradually strip-out the leaves, which is a much more sensible regiment for the plant.
Arthur directed his attention to styling the chalk bark maple specimen, which was cut back in the mid 2000’s and planted. Cut and grow techniques were used yearly to get an authentic movement and tapering in the branches. Look at the tree from all directions and angles to be sure the tree looks convincing from all directions. Frequently you will get good opportunities to redesign a tree when disasters show up and
with the right degree of flexibility, it is often possible to design a new tree.
The maple was bare rooted and a characteristic of chalk bark maples is that they hold their old leaves all winter (marcescent) until the spring when the new leaves push-off the old ones. Remove the old leaves and get a sense of the branches that are not useful and remove a little bit at a time and continue until it is where you want it to be. Have in mind what you want the canopy to be.
Most trees have an upward thrust and the composition will be different if the tree grows in a forest or in an open field. The tree is reaching for the sun. The lower branches have to reach out further. Along the way there is branch removal by insects, disease and competition. We mimic this competition when we prune and allow another branch room to grow. Upward and outward movement and our human ideas are needed to create an attractive bonsai. Try to think like a tree. Make sense out of random movement. What would the tree do with these parts it has? Arthur enjoys carving but sometimes it looks better tearing grab hunks of wood, split and grab and break creates a better finished appearance.
“Dead” deciduous wood will not last long whereas most evergreens have a capacity to resist rot. The exception is hornbeam which holds up well. After creating hollows or deadwood, use a small culinary or soldering torch to round off the edges and make the new work look like an old stump. An indoor/outdoor water-resistant wood glue helps to prevent the loss of moisture in the new work.
If there is competition between the branches, move them upward and outward. To develop trunks, grow the tree in the ground to develop strong root growth and the trunk will expand proportionately. What is bellow grown is vitally important. When you are growing trees in a bed, put a rock or tiles below the roots to keep them radiating out and prevent them from growing down.
After the wiring and pruning, the maple was potted in a box made of locust with hardware cloth on the bottom covered with landscape cloth. The soil mix was the Arboretum’s potting mix and aggregate. The potting mix is composted pine bark, peat moss and Micromax with added lime and micronutrients. The aggregate is expanded slate, a local product. Put a mound of soil mix into the box and push the tree into it and finish adding soil mix after the plant is in place. Attach the tree in the box with wires around the tree that are attached to staples in the top of the box. Design the tree entirely than look for the front at the end of the process.