BONSAI: Collecting Trees from the Wild Part One

Page 2 of 2

The new Bonsai Book for 2019 by Harry Harrington
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PART ONE Page 2 of 2:

Tools for collecting trees

Collecting Trees from the Wild

The serious enthusiast has the proper tools. A strong, sharp-edged shovel, long-handled pruning shears, pruning scissors, a strong pickaxe and a collapsible saw are needed.
Sometimes heavier equipment is needed such as a block and tackle or a chainsaw.

For trees that are found on large rocks or on walls of rock, climbing equipment is necessary. A rope at least 75 feet (25m) long can also be very useful. Trees can be lowered with it and it can also assure one's safety while working on dangerous terrain. In addition, a large quantity of wet cloths will be needed for wrapping the rootball as well as large plastic bags.

A backpack with an aluminium frame in which larger trees can be placed will often be indispensable for long trips. There are special devices designed for hunters enabling them to transport a large amount of game over difficult terrain. Obviously, these can also be used for large trees. A large knapsack will serve for carrying most of the tools, but will usually be too small for a tree.

Several bottles or a large container of water are important for the one undertaking this task and also, perhaps, for the tree. Bringing along a camera is a good idea.

Collectors often travel through areas little frequented by other people. A small accident that generally is not very serious may become a tragedy.
For that reason, a first aid kit should always be carried. Carry a mobile phone with emergency telephone numbers. If you are accompanied, it is always advisable for the others to also carry a mobile phone or walkie-talkies.

In view of the list of tools, it is understandable that some people look first for a road for their cars and then a suitable tree. But do not be discouraged yet.

The expertise is in finding, not in looking

Collecting Trees from the Wild

Whoever goes into the mountains in search of 'ready made' trees to be used right away as bonsai is going to be very disappointed. With very few exceptions, there are no trees out of doors that can be transplanted directly to a pot and classified as bonsai. At most, good raw material can be found, that is, material with more or less interesting shapes that provide starting points for the experienced enthusiast. In truth, the most worrisome and complicated trees are very often the best ones. For that reason, only an enthusiast with sufficient years of experience will be capable of finding truly great material, because he will be able to see on the site itself the basic shape and will know how to decide if the tree can be used or not.

The expertise is in finding, not in looking. This means that there is not much likelihood of success if one goes searching with the firm expectation of finding a pine pre-bonsai that would be ideal for the 'formal upright' form passing by all the deciduous trees and even pine trees that might lend themselves perfectly to being shaped in other forms.

There are some people who go into the forest to look for mushrooms and always find more than the rest of the group. There are fishermen who always catch more fish than all their companions. There are bonsai enthusiasts who find many more good trees than an entire group.
What do these people have in common? They know secret or even several that the others possess, but the likelihood of having such persons as instructors is slight.

Then how can you discover one of these secrets? Clearly, everyone will think that the secret is in knowing the right location. Well no, the secret lies in recognising guidelines which works as follows:

The bonsai enthusiast goes walking through the field and at some point in time finds a tree that meets all the requirements for being good bonsai. A suitable location has been found; where there is one, there will be another close by.

It is not a question of knowing an especially good place, but of finding each time a location that, even in areas where you have never been before. If you go looking in another location and by chance find another pre-bonsai….well, you can start to draw conclusions.

What do both locations have in common? What is the reason for the trees being so small in both places?
If, for example, in both cases it is a location that is close to an area of wild pasturage, where in winter deer come to nibble the shoots of small beeches, you have found a clue. It follows that you will have greater possibilities of success if you go to places where there is pasturage for livestock.

Whoever repeatedly enjoys this type of success will recognise that there is a whole series of clues like this that narrows the search. Acquire more knowledge about trees, open a dialogue with them, understand them better and you will find more and more suitable specimens to be worked on and to be converted to bonsai.

Where can you look quickly?

Start in a place for which you have a permit for collecting trees or a least, where the possibility of obtaining it exists. There is no sense in looking for the best pre-bonsai in nature reserves if collecting there is not permitted.

Where are the best possibilities?

Collecting Trees from the Wild

Generally in areas that are considered extreme. That is , places that offer places that offer a species minimum necessary for sustaining life, the limit. If a tree is found in a location where there is little available to keep it alive, but too much to cause it to die, it will remain small, grow compactly and will develop an interesting shape. A location that can be called extreme will often depend on the species. A pine tree continues growing strongly in practically pure sand, while the same soil causes great difficulties for a beech tree.
Consequently, a beech that by accident is growing in a soil of pure sand can be very good beginning material. For the pine tree, more conditions need to be lacking, as for example, a greatly exposed location on a very inclined slope in the crack of a rock.

High areas generally offer more possibilities for success. But there are a large number of slag heaps, quarries, embankments, quagmires, declivities with steep slopes, banks of streams that become torrents in the Spring, rocky terrain, large stones covered with plants and coastal regions, that is, almost any places that the farmer calls 'uncultivated'.

The main problem is that trees collected from these areas have the very great disadvantage of being very weak. Consequently, the likelihood of their survival is very slight right from the beginning.

For the survival of a collected tree, locations that are much more favourable, that are actually good for the growth of the species, but where, due to environment causes that occurred a single time or over many years, trees cannot develop naturally. This may be the case along the edges of roads where vegetation is regularly cut down, pastures where animals nibble the shoots and branches or where even the trunks of small trees are broken or the farmer cuts back the vegetation, edges of forests where deer nibble the new shoots in Spring and the renewed growth in Winter, slopes left after avalanches where damages is repeatedly done, but without the trees finally dying, military training areas where trees are constantly broken, but not killed.
All these places, with the exception of avalanche slopes, have various advantages. In most cases it is possible to obtain permit for collecting, since it is ethically sustainable to collect a tree which if not collected would not only suffer, but also would be unlikely to survive. Since the trees are growing in good soil and are relatively young, they will have a healthy, ample rootball that is very helpful to their survival after being collected.

Inexperienced enthusiasts usually think that most good trees are found in very hidden away and untouched areas. They are completely mistaken.
Man, with his machines and animals is the best generator of raw material for bonsai. The best trees are found especially along roadways or even in towns. Fantastic specimens can be found in places where for decades a hedge has been pruned, where someone has pruned away the trees in the garden, where many years ago livestock passed through the thicket, nibbling on it, where someone for several decades has kept small trees in pots or in a cemetery where a shrub was kept small. Logically, a permit cannot always be obtained for removing the tree, but nothing is lost by asking.

The best time to look for trees is when it is not possible to collect them due to the season, since you will not be tempted to carry them off and you will not take the first one you will find. Since, for the tree to be collected with any likelihood of success, you only have a little time in Autumn and a few weeks in the Spring, there is a great deal of time to make a selection.

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