What are some of the most unusual bonsais you've grown

stokesjl(5 IA)February 22, 2008

Hey all:

I'm semi-new to bonsai, and for the sake of discussion, was wondering what some of the most unusual bonsai's you've grown?

I'm mostly into tropical bonsai, as I live in an apartment, and outdoor storage space is at a minimum. I've always bee interested in the possibility of monocots as bonsais i.e. dracaenas, palms, bamboos. Though many have told me this can't/shouldn't be done. But what are some interesting things y'all have tried?

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Well, 'many' were right - those aren't bonsai subjects for various reasons. I would like to point out something that happens to a lot (most?) of people who are new to bonsai, and maybe to growing anything other than philodendron. They get really carried away with the whole thing, especially the exotic idea of bonsai (no thanks to Karate Kid, etc.), and lose sight of the fact what's most important starting out is to just concentrate on learning to keep stuff alive, starting with their best bet - trees which are most compatible with where they live, and not some rarity from an island in the far east or wherever. Because in the end, plants are plants (or trees) and if you REALLY want to do bonsai (and not just something different and cool), you need to just see any tree as just that (they don't speak foreign languages after all :-), and learn how to grow each of them properly for longer than ~6 mos., which in itself is plenty of challenge. If you can do that, then of course you can try different things, but growing indoors is hard at the best of times (humidity, expensive lights, bugs, watering, watering, watering), so feel free to try whatever you want (we all have), but if you don't succeed at first or even later, don't let it put you off bonsai, just back off and keep perspective on the whole thing... learning to grow any tree in a pot. Sorry for the lecture... it's one of those days. Answer to your question - there are infinite and weird things you can try, but unless you can do well with them, don't bother - better a great pine than a lousy whatever-it-is!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 10:31PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Stokes!
I'm so new to bonsai that I don't have much to add.
Lucy gives great advice.

I'm an outdoor enthusiast and the idea of 'yamadori' - wild bonsai - has really captivated me. Basically, I study plants in the wild, appreciate how and where they grow, evaluate how the environment has affected the growth and shape, and then consider a specimen for collection (when permission is granted). Local flora fascinate me as much as, if not more than, the exotics.

The plants that I've collected aren't anywhere close to bonsai yet, and they might never be. I have to wait and see what will adapt best to container life. Some will die, some will be given away, and others might go in the ground in the yard.

Right now I have:
an "incense cedar" (calocedrus decurrens);
several California buckeye just now sprouting;
three weeping willows, five Pacific willows;
a white oak that I'm trying to train over a rock;
three Osage Oranges (Maclura pomifera);
a dwarf japanese cedar (cryptomeria tansu) from my sister;
and a 'skylark' dwarf olive that I purchased from a nursery.

I'm trying to get a local alder cutting to root, but it's proving difficult.


    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 2:47PM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

I grow several monocots more as containerized experiments rather than "true" Bonsai.I'm experimenting with "dwarfing"
several species of palms.Water culturing dracenas. Bamboo, mostly because they would eat the house without a container lol.
One that I have particularly enjoyed is a strangler fig
growing on an Areca palm. It's actually more of a "dish garden on steroids" lol as it's planted in a 5 foot buried kiddie pool to support the palms. The fig has lived up to it's name several times and has suffocated the palm so over ten years has been restarted 5 times . At present I'm down to a 3 foot fig with all terrestrial roots removed and have substituted a fishtail palm as the host plant. Hoping the clumping habit will allow more aggresive growth of the fig.
It's start over time AGAIN lol. The interesting part is the fig shows the outline of where the palm used to be.
I live on a very small lot so got into "Bonsai" via the back door. lol Found it far more rewarding and a heck of a lot less work to put everything in containers.
Not for the "normal" Bonsai enthusiast though lol.
I have always been fascinated by how far you can controll a plants habit plus that fantastic"growth on growth" you see in tropical rainforests . Just how nuch stuff can you cram into one area!!! lol gary

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 7:04AM
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I've got some unusuals... at least I havn't seen them around much... Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea "nana", as well as Berberis thunbergii "golden ring". Jacacranda mimosifolia; adenium obesum (succulent/caudiciform) ; acer negundo "kellys' gold" ; phytolacco bellumbra ; Mundulea sericea (AMAZING bonsai) Cussonia paniculata as well as C.spicata ; rhus crenata; prunus laurocerasus "nigra"; sophora japonica; cephalotaxis; harpephyllum caffrum; diospyros whyteana / d.lycoides. Dombeya rotundifolia.
I suppose most of my trees would be somewhat different than yours, considering I am from SA, and most of my trees are indigenous. Also got cycas revoluta, which actually make good bonsai, but take forever. I have a few adansonia digitata as well... A recent addition which is proving to be a little difficult, polygala myrtifolia, oh, and brunsfelsia pauciflora and b.undulata. The prize of my unusuals is a succulent/caudiciform plant, i think, which I have failed to name as yet. Only ever seen two of them, one of which i own, the other lives with the person who gave me mine. I'll try post some pics. Platanus acerifolius is also unusual, at least where I live, it makes a nice tree, and gets thick quick.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 9:57AM
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TT, zone 5b MA

Hi -

Just found this thread and thought it worthy of bumping it up again in order to ask a question. I, too, dabble in some unorthodox plants and bonsai (mostly South African and Madagascan succulents) in addition to more standard fare (pines, elms, hornbeam, etc.).

Last weekend, I purchased a nice clump of Phoenix Roebelenii (Pygmy date palm) and was interested in going 'bonsai' with it. To do that, I would need to root prune about half the root ball (an estimate - I have not yet pulled it out of its stock pot to really tell). So, before I did this and killed a pretty nice palm, I was wondering if any folks here have had success treating this type of palm in this manner?

Thanks much!


    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 10:49AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Coleus, Antirrhinum (snapdragon), Impatiens (doubles), Santolina chamaecyparissus (lavender cotton), geranium (pelargonium) ......


    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 9:44AM
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Bumping up....

Oh so glad Al responded Geranium...cause me topic was going to be bonsai as geranium. My mom has this stunted old gnarled up a geranium. Last summer when my mother started to get a bit Alz I started to take care of her garden, and repotted this sad looking geranium due to the old plastic hanging pot was shot. So the other day I am looking at this geranium and it has lovely small foliage and an abundance of light purple flowers. I thought heck this is so gnarled it almost looks like a bonsai. So I set it on the picnic table and got some snippers and snipped off anything unsightly (old stems/dead growth) and cleaned it up. Then I set some nice fresh potting soil on top of the old encrusted root bound soil. I then ran down to dollar store and got river rock and a small rooster figurine. I set the rooster in the middle where there was a space between the two ends of the plant and then placed the rocks around it. It almost looks cottagey bonsai..lol. I think it looks great, a rebirth for it kinda.

I hope I now don't get banned from the Bonsai forum...wink wink '-)

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 3:58PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

No one is going to ban you - especially if you're just getting started. I would encourage you to do whatever makes you feel good. As you progress there will be plenty of time for YOU to sort out what and whose rules you might be breaking. In bonsai there are rules, but you really only need to learn them so you know when you're breaking them. That's not actually entirely true, but there are lots and lots of famous bonsai compositions that have broken more than one rule.

Here's a little geranium start

and a snapdragon before I pruned it

After pruning


    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 8:13PM
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Al - a snapdragon? Wow!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 9:51PM
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Al, thanks so much! Your wonderful..are you a botanist by trade?

Those examples where trully great to see and how other plants can be formed to Bonsai. Now I see by the wire and the clipping how you train. I will keep this in mind.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 4:14PM
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I have collected some that i have never seen as bonsai . and some that just are not in maine period.
Gumbo Limbo. collected
Native Maine River birch collected At the river. Its old fully white bark and peeling.
Native Red Maple collected from the yard. about three inches thick and about five in tall.
native Beech. collected. Lots of movement its about 8 inces tall. 5inches at the base.
A collected burning bush. this one is unique. The base is about four inches thick and it twists as you look up the trunk into where it forks out into two spots.
All these trees where dug up, and trunk chopped last fall. and as well as root pruned. I left them protected in my garage. Unheated. untill spring. All of them have showed sighns of new growth. I will wait and see what happens.

I have a compeche comming aka blood wood, aka log wood.
I have a rabbits foot acacia comming. Those are both rare around here.

And im setting out to find Native Black Locust tree. Im going to collect it.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 8:53PM
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thirdyearbonsai(Zone 4, VT, USA)

This thread is great. I am having a lot of fun just searching all the different species people are posting.

And also, Al the snapdragon is AMAZING! Can you tell us a little more about it? How long have you had it?

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 11:48AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's about 3-4 years old in the picture and had been chopped twice to induce the taper. Just about anything that's perennial and looks like it will make a trunk, I look at with the 'bonsai eye'. All my display containers with flowery stuff in them, as well as all the garden plantings .... even houseplants benefit immensely from the pinching/pruning techniques that thicken the plant or let air and light into the interior. The attention to form and the guidelines we use in building our trees readily apply to other plantings and make a big difference in their appearance. Most people realize even nonbonsai plantings are special in appearance because they don't appear to have the same growth habits that they are used to seeing in their own plants that have received little/no attention, and usually don't realize that there might have been a considerable amount of consideration given to improving the appearance.

Sorry - I got off track. ;o) I was clearing out the containers ion the garden one year and there was a snap that had grown kind of thick and woody. Instead of the compost pile, it went in a pot & I nursed it through the winter & started to build on it in the second year. I give away a lot of plants like the one in the pic after figuring them out, but I've had that one for about 7 years or so. I should have repotted it last year, but I didn't, so it wend downhill over the winter. I repotted it a few weeks ago, and it's just warming up here - showing new growth. I had to prune it back quite a bit & I'll have to rebuild it, but I'll see how it responds to the repot. I can't imagine they would be all that long-lived. I've had several that were 5 years old when I gave them away, but this is the oldest I've had yet. It's just your every day snap that you get 6 to a cell pack at the greenhouse - nothing to stop you from building one. ;o) I have some volunteers in a permanent planter that has several volunteers in it, so I'll probably be digging one or two up in Aug. ..... keeps me off the streets and out of the bars. ;o)


    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 3:19PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance

I have a Bay Laurel outside. I keep it pruned back because I don't want a big tree! I dry the leaves to use in cooking, and share with family and friends, but it's getting pretty gnarly and cool looking after being cut back so much, so I'm thinking of making it (along with some grapevine cuttings) into a Bonsai (of which I have zero experience), but it's just another fun project to do. I also have a 4 year old Jalapeno pepper that would be interesting too.

Has anyone done a Bay Laurel or a Jalapeno Pepper?

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 10:41AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

I just love the Snapdragon!

I am real tempted to go dig one up. :)


    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 12:08PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, everyone, thanks for resurrecting this Thread!
I'm happy to report that most of my unusual "bonsai" are still growing. Blackberry,
Incense Cedar, Olive, Ailanthus, Buckeye, and Osages. This spring, I planted two
of my native Willows in the backyard, so they're free now to do as they will...no more
containers. The Weeping Willows have been pruned back for the second time this season.

I've bonsai'd hot peppers for two winters now. I started growing peppers specifically
because of a link posted here on how to bonsai chilis (bonchi)...the rest is history. I will
include the link below.

I am slightly hesitant to post my pics after Al's, but I'll take the chance! ;)



Large old Grape:

Hungarian Wax Pepper (3 years old):

Thai Chili:

Incense "Cedar" (Calocedrus decurrens):

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima):


    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 1:18PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Whoops! forgot the link!


Here is a link that might be useful: Bonsai Chilis - Fatali's growing guide

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 1:23PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Good goin', Josh. Thanks, JJ. ;o)


    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 3:07PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Thanks, Al!
All of these plants - other than the Blackberry - are growing in a bark-based mix
very similar to your own!


    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 3:23PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi~ Josh~ Al~
Your full of surprises! Everything looks great! :)

I showed this to hubby, he was as surprised as me to see a flower like this made into a bonsai. He said it looked good. :)

Have a good evening!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 8:39PM
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I am completely new to bonsai. My first victim (I mean plant) is a hydrangea. I'm excited about it.

I made a bunch of cutting from various plants around my in-law's property with the hope of making bonsai's out of them eventually.

I've yet to successfully get a cutting to root (even with rooting hormone). So, we'll see what happens with these cuttings. I have an azalea, giant sequoia redwood, orange, oak, grape and I think that's it. I figure by the time they root and are ready to be trained I should know a little more and be able to do something with them.

I want to bonsai a mini rose. I've heard the mini roses aren't as good for bonsai as the big ones but I don't care. I'm going to try anyway and if it doesn't turn out I can plant it in my yard.

I've got some seeds (from a bonsai kit I got at Boarders the other day) for Jack Pines. I'll plant them with the hope of bonsaiing them some day. We will see. Maybe I'll be bonsaied out by the time they are ready.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 11:53PM
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