"Dwarfed Plants" from Edwards's Botanical Register

       "58.  DWARFED PLANTS" in Edwards's Botanical Register (1845):

        There is the following interesting account (somewhat abridged) of these singular productions by Professor Morren, in the 3rd number of the Ghent Annals, p. 109.
        "Nowhere has the mania for dwarfing plants been carried further than in Japan.  Thunberg, in his flora of that country, had spoken of an apricot-tree, which he called Amygdalus nana, although the tree, which he thought to be very like our common apricot, was from fifteen to twenty feet high.  Messrs. Siebold and Zuccarini have determined Thunberg's plant to be the Mume Plum, (Prunus Mume) which the Chinese call Bai.  This tree is really a marvel in the history of dwarfed plants, and is thus spoken of by Dr. Siebold.
        The Mume is common in Japan, and thrives in the most northern part of the country, where it grows fifteen or twenty feet high, and is very like an apricot-tree.  It is, however, in its wild state, or when made into hedges, only a thick bush, very much branched, and eight or twelve feet high.  It is commonly cultivated for its beautiful flowers, as well as for its fruit.
        The Mume is much spoken of in the Chinese and Japanese legends of their saints, and in the history of great men and celebrated poets; it is even looked upon as something holy.
        Pilgrims are shewn ancient trunks of this tree, under which deified princes have rested, and celebrated priests or inspired poets composed their psalms and sublime canticles.  For this reason young plants struck from cuttings of such holy trees have a great value throughout the empire of Japan.
        The fruit ripens in June.  When ripe it is insipid, and therefore it is salted in a green state like cucumbers, and then is eaten, as a vegetable, with rice and fish.  Europeans, [46] however, do not admire the sharp and bitter taste. When salted the plums are often mixed with the leaves of Ocymum crispum [a type of basil], which gives them a red tint.  The juice of the green fruit is used as a refreshing drink in fevers, and is also indispensable in preparing a beautiful light pink colour with Carthamus or Safflower.
        In good seasons the tree is in full flower in February, when the altars of [Buddhist] idols, and dwelling-houses are every where decorated with its branches, which the Japanese regard as a symbol of the return of spring.  The blossom of the wild plant is white, but there are cultivated varieties, with various shades of colour between white and red, and some are even green or slightly yellow.  Double varieties are in most request, and dwarfed trees of that description are planted every where near dwellings and round the temples.  The largest collection of these varieties, said to amount to several hundreds, is in the possession of the Prince of Tsikusen [now in Fukuoka Prefecture, situated on the northern shore of the large southernmost island of Kyūshū], to whose kindness we are indebted for drawings of some of the rarest kinds [but those drawings are not reproduced here].  The passion of the Japanese for dwarfed trees is inconceivable, and it is principally on that account that the cultivation of the Mume is one of the most [sic] common and profitable occupations of the country.  They graft it by approach, and in this way obtain trees whose branches hang to the ground like those of a weeping willow.  A dealer offered us in 1836 a bush in full flower, and scarcely three inches high.  This prodigy of gardening was growing in a little varnished box with three steps, like the boxes of medicine which the Japanese carry at their girdle.  In the upper step was the Mume, the next step was occupied by a Fir tree of similar smallness, and on the lower step was a Bamboo not above an inch and half high. ? Flora Japonica, pp. 29, 31.
        These details, adds Dr. Morren, were confirmed to me by Dr. v. Siebold himself, when he was at Ghent in 1844; he did not however confirm all the tales that are current as to the manner by which the Japanese succeed in dwarfing everything.  It is said that they select the very smallest seeds, taken from the very smallest plants, two circumstances which are certainly quite rational and conformable to all the facts known to us in connection with varieties of race.  No doubt indeed exists about the operation thus far; but the following assertions are much more apocryphal.  It is said, that as soon as the plants have germinated, the Japanese [47] cover them with fluid honey, or with dissolved sugar; that they afterwards paint them with a camel's hair pencil, using the same material, and that they afterwards introduce into the little box, which serves as a greenhouse for these marvellous pygmies, a nest of little ants, whose eggs soon hatch and produce an active colony greedy of sugar, and incessantly running over the plants, which, although alive, have really been converted into a cold preserve.  Gardeners know very well that aphides, scale-insects, the cocci and other vegetable leprosies do in fact torture and distort plants till they are quite disfigured.  The everlasting play of these insects, which are always running over every part of the plant, keeps up a peculiar excitement which ends in producing the state of dwarfness in question.  At least that is what the Japanese say.
        The Fir of which Dr. Siebold spoke, in the paragraph above quoted, as being only three inches high, and growing on the second stage of the box, was the Pinus Massoniana, the Wo matza of the Japanese, or the Kok sjo of the Chinese.  Thunberg mistook it for the Scotch Fir. Its history is very Curious, and is also given in the Flora Japonica (p. 25, vol. 2.).
        Of all the Conifers we generally found this the commonest through the whole empire of Japan.  In places where it does not grow wild, it has been universally cultivated.  It has a great reputation on account of the fables, miraculous stories, and idle tales of all sorts, mixed up with its history, and is a religious symbol in the ceremonies and festivals of the people.  A true Japanese cannot possibly dispense with it, and takes care to have it wherever he lives.  A Wo Matza and a Mume are planted before the residence of Mikado [the old term for the emperor of Japan].  It forms groves round the temple of the Sun-god, of saints, and of holy men; and it overshadows all the little chapels and gardens adjoining the dwelling-houses, &c. &c. -- On the high road it forms alleys a hundred leagues long; and the course of every highway is marked by hillocks planted with this Pine and species of Nettle trees.
        The art of the Japanese gardener is exhausted in the cultivation of these Pines.  They are clipped and cut into all sorts of shapes; their branches are spread into fans, or horizontal trellisses, and are thus fashioned into a sort of flat dish.  In this kind of gardening extremes are made to touch, [48] and the traveller is astonished to find specimens of an immense size placed by the side of others of the most tiny dimensions.  While staying at Ohosaka I went to see the celebrated Pine tree before the Naviwaja Tea-house, the branches of which are artificially spread out into a circumference of 136 feet.  On the other hand, they showed me at Jeddo [Edo = Tokyo] a dwarf tree in a lacquered box, with branches not occupying more than two square inches.  They even know how to graft Conifers in Japan; and we saw dwarfed specimens on which almost every variety of Pines known in Japan was fixed by grafting."


1      Edwards's Botanical Register, (London, ed. by John Lindley, Ph.D. F.R.S. and L.S.), Vol. VIII, July 1845, pp. 45-48.  This somewhat lengthy excerpt is given to also provide some background information about the Mume.

The use of "white ants" or termites, which has been mentioned by others, is here detailed so that we know the duration of their employ -- and at a very early stage to start.  We are endeavoring to clarify the situation: termites eat lignin in wood and that is digested for them by symbiotic gut microbes.  Some ants eat sugar/honey, but they don't generally eat wood.

Dr. Charles François Antoine Morren (1807-1858) was one of the most distinguished botanists and vegetable anatomists of his day.  He was Professor of Physics at Ghent, and then Professor of Botany in the University of Liège and a Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Brussels, per this listing.  His paper, "On the Production of Vanilla in Europe," was read before the British Association, at Newcastle, in 1838, two years after his experiments which proved that the plant Vanilla planifolia was the source of the true vanilla of commerce, per here.  That year, the strangler vine (Morrenia odorata) was named in honor of him, per here.  Morren was editor of the Annates de la Societie Royale d'Agriculture et de Botanique de Gand (1845-49), per here, among other publications.  In 1858 he would be succeeded as Professor of Botany by his son, Charles James Edouard Morren (1833-1886), per this listing, with corrected dating here.  See also here, pp. 239-240, and this listing.

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