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Casuarina equisetifolia - Shaukat Islam

Photographs and text By Shaukat Islam, Bangladesh
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The following progression article was a Non-professional - Pre-bonsai stock entry in the "2007 Knowledge of Bonsai Progressive Styling Contest" and was entered by Shaukat Islam of Bangladesh. This entry received a score of 12 out of a possible 30 points from the judges.

We feel that by featuring these progressions, which contain the thoughts behind the decisions made as well as a photo-journal of the various stages of design, a better understanding of not only the "how" but also the "why” of bonsai design can be shared.

Thank you Shaukat for deciding to enter the contest and for providing us with an article that will be read and learned from by many over the years to come.


The following article has been modified for clarity.


Shaukat Islam - Bangladesh
Categpry: Non-professional - Pre-bonsai stock
Casuarina (Casuarina equisetifolia)
Starting height of tree: 27 inches (68.6cm)
Pot: ordinary nursery pot

Before Image 1

Before Image 2

Before Image 3

The tree was given to me by a friend in Nov 2005, and after removal of the unwanted branches and some preliminary wiring of the branches in Dec 2005, the tree was left to grow freely till March 2007 without any further training.

I chose this tree for the styling contest because I had never worked on a Casuarina before. So I took it as a challenge as what best can be attained out of this pre-bonsai stock to make it a bit presentable, and selected this stock for this contest.

At first I looked for elements that I would highlight while styling the tree and made a rough sketch of the 'future' tree that I would like to attain. I ended up on styling this tree in a semi-literati style.

Let's see how the progress goes.

Quarter Progression Image 1

Quarter Progression Image 2

Quarter Progression Image 3

Based on my conceived style, I started to work on the tree. To bring out some grace and movement to the tree, I pruned by removing most of the branches and the dense foliage keeping only the ones which was required for my planned styling. The apex was also shortened to keep it in proportion to the overall composition vis-a-vis the trunk line.

The trunk has certain flaws and the branches were also not in the expected areas. The idea was to blend the branches' movement with the trunk line, and to cover up the defects as best as possible. The identified defects as per my assessment are:

The trunk goes straight up to the first branch and then takes a very dramatic movement up towards the apex.

There is an exposed surface (from earlier pruning) where the lower branch starts and the scar does not quite blend with the trunk and looks odd.

There are also other cut marks up the trunk line, and particularly the cut near the apex where it has bulged suddenly disturbing the taper.

The lower branch was forked and movement was not to my liking, and the upper branch on the left too (image 1) was not at the desired starting point. So I jinned the lower forked branch and guy wired the other part down to a desired angle. Instead of retaining the live branch at upper left, I shortened and jinned the upper left branch to fill up the negative space and to complement the stem behind it.

The thin trunk culminating at apex is also very distracting and conspicuous.

Having identified the 'problems' I decided to make the tree to appear as natural as possible and at the same time overcoming or minimizing the existing 'defects'. The ultimate objective is to make the tree look like a 'loner' having experienced good and bad times over the years.

With the hot and humid summer prevailing here, I would let the tree grow freely for about 3~4 weeks for it to develop more foliage and thicken the stems a bit. And with Mother Nature's blessings, I guess I would attain what I have in mind.........and then go to the next step.

Half Way Image 1

Half Way Image 2

Half Way Image 3

Half Way Image 4

After the tree had grown for a while, I went ahead to the next step. The tree by now had new pads of foliage, particularly on the lower branch which had thickened a little by this time. In the tropics the trees grow very fast in the summer and monsoon seasons. I pruned again few branches and thinned out the needles to attain the styling plan.

Now to take care of the identified defects during quarter progression:

  1. I selected the front (image 1 and 2) and will rotate the pot to suit/reduce the straightness of the lower trunkline later on.
  2. Then I worked on the trunk line. I carved or rather smoothed out with a knife the exposed 'stub' at the lower joint. There were other scars also left by earlier hard pruning and to minimize these, I decided to create a shari all along the trunk line to blend the scars and other marks, and at the same time to give the tree a weathered look.
  3. The uneven taper/bulge at the upper part near the apex will be covered by foliage pads, and I have retrained few thin branches to allow to grow further; eventually providing a good cover.
  4. The lower branch by now has given off new shoots, and was allowed to develop further by thinning out needles on the upper branches. I am not quite sure as yet whether I would retain this branch with foliage pads or would shorten it and creating a gin in future.
  5. The thinning taper at the apex now does not look bad after covering the lower 'bulge' with foliage pads.

I had purposely chosen this pre-bonsai stock as a case study for me to create something beautiful and aesthetic out of an otherwise defective tree. The demands were challenging and the efforts rewarding coupled with a worthwhile experience to share it with my friends.

The next step was to wire the branches. After some minor pruning and editing of the branches, I wired meticulously and shaped the branches to bring out the feeling of age and maturity. The results so far had given me some satisfaction, as the tree by now have started to look old and matured (compared to the quarter progression image where the branches/foliage looked very young and fresh) and the back image also looked quite pleasing.

I have started to call this tree 'The Loner' and watched it grow each morning. I will wait for some time till I am ready to work further on it. I will also try to assess how the nebari has developed. Meantime, the soil had become very compact and soggy, so I will repot in a shallow training pot to bring out some nebari and use a fresh soil mix to get a better growth.

Three Quarter Progression Image 1

Three Quarter Progression Image 2

Three Quarter Progression Image 3

Three Quarter Progression Image 4

Around end-July, I re-potted the tree in a low height training pot with a fresh soil mix to allow it to grow further healthily, and also to bring out the rooting and exposing part of the stem that was underground. I was happy to get 'additional' 1-1/2 inches of the stem that gave the tree a proportionate length at the lower stem base.......making the tree look taller. The planting angle was also adjusted suiting the style.

After about 10 days, the tree got adjusted to its new pot, and fresh new shoots started to appear much to my delight. Very thin branches had started to cover the area of the reverse taper taper near the apex ( Image 1) which in course of time will cover the taper with green foliage. The shari also looked quite natural and old instead of becoming too contrasting and conspicuous.

I selected the front (Image 2) which seemed to be most suitable from a 3-dimensional point of view although the back (Image 4) looks equally good and very proportionate to be chosen as a front too. But as I said, from a 3-dimensional view Image 2 was the best option. I also wanted to make the tree look full when viewed from the front and other sides, and hence created a branch/foliage 'frame' at the back to create depth ( Image 3).

The lower branch, of course, will be shortened later proportionately (or maybe ginned out). The branches would require more editing, pruning and some wiring but I will wait till end of Aug to do so. Meantime, 'The Loner' was allowed to have its own way and grow freely....... till it is ready for the next step.

Final Image 1

Final Image 2

Final Image 3

Final Image 4

Final Image 5

The tree by now had a firm footing in its new training pot with new new foliage growth and I could also see new root growth on the soil top.

The guy wires were removed and the lower branch was shortened and pruned. I also shortened the apex to some extent and removed the main tip to make a new leader instead. Next, I applied wiring to some upper branches as well as the lower branch. The needles were meticulously thinned out, and the branches were styled in position to give a newer look. The ordeal was very satisfying, and I enjoyed every bit of it. So much so, that I felt an emotional attachment to the tree.....

The tree depicts a person who is unconventional, has struggled out alone and overcome obstacles and bad times and has survived to stand out on his own with a new vision...........and I have named it 'The Loner'.

I will plant it in a bonsai container (most likely oval) early next year, and I foresee a potential bonsai created out of an otherwise 'defective' tree. The final height of the tree now is 23 inches (58.42 cm).

Finally, I would like to thank BF and KoB for organizing this styling contest, the sponsors, the participants and I wish them all the best.


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