"CHINESE METHOD OF DWARFING
TREES. -- On the termination of the late
Chinese war, our neighbors, the French,
who shared in the interest so generally excited by the event, sent a mission to China, to form, if possible, a
treaty of commerce with the Celestial
Government. Confident hopes were entertained of the success of this mission; the finest silks and choicest
wines formed part of the cargo of serious argument provided by these delegates of commerce. I believe
Messieurs les Chinois were inaccessible to the above mentioned reasonings. La mode Parisienne only
excited their merriment, and the wine their unequivocal dislike. However, it is not my present purpose to
speculate on the commercial possibilities of this mission. In a short history of the voyage, by one of the
party, I have found an amusing account of the method pursued in dwarfing trees, which perhaps may be more
interesting to horticultural readers.
"Immediately preceding the details of the dwarfing system, is an account of a féte day in Canton; that part which introduces and suggests the history of the dwarf trees, may, perhaps, without impropriety, be added here.
"The attachès of the mission were very much astonished one morning to find the appearance of the two principal streets of Canton completely changed. Before each house was set a kind of stand or altar, of considerable size; upon the different steps of these stands were placed figures in porcelain and cardboard; by the side of these they remarked vases planted with fruit trees, scarcely a foot in height, the branches of which, twisted and distorted, bent under the weight of their fruit, which was of their natural size.
"The figures of cardboard and porcelain, the most eccentric the brain of a Chinaman could invent, were in continual movement. Here a Mandarin, of the first class, rolled his haggard eyes, and gesticulated his arms; there a soldier sabred nothing right and left; further on a Chinese lady raised tenderly her languishing eyes, and fanned a large-headed man, who each moment hung out an immense tongue. Time after time the fantastic images stopped as if fatigued with their exercise, but then the proprietors of the stands gave them some strokes with a whip, and immediately the pantomime recommenced with renewed activity. There was enough in this to astonish the curious  spirit of the French travellers. What caused these images to march to the tune of the whip? And these little trees, so contemptible in appearance -- the height of a foot! -- carrying, each Orange-tree, 20 enormous Oranges? And each Apple-tree, 20 or 30 large Apples? For the images the explanation was not difficult to find. The Chinese had introduced into the interior of them one or two mice, which, on being stirred, struck some wires, and communicated thus the movement to the limbs expressly jointed to produce this effect. When the mice slept, a cut of the whip aroused and affrighted them, and so redoubled the vivacity of the gestures of the images. As for the dwarf trees, there was in that a mystery of horticulture, or rather of sylviculture, to divine. M. Rcnard had noticed on visiting the apartments of the Mandarins, similar little trees of the height of some few inches, pitiful to look at, unhealthy, distorted, and covered with excoriations without number, and a thing which astonished him, -- the little foliage which ornamented the extremity of the branches, belonged to kinds that ordinarily attain an enormous size, such as the Elm, the Bamboo, and the Cypress. M. R. arrived at the following solution of these eccentricities: -- That for the Chinese nothing is beautiful but that which is hideous; that a stunted shrub without leaves is a wonder that is worth all the forests in the universe; and so the principal occupation of the Chinese nurserymen is to combat Nature in everything that is beautiful and rich.
"The cultivation of the dwarf trees is divided into two parts -- that of the fruit and forest trees. That of the fruit trees rests upon a process already partly known in Europe; but of which the application is different. At the moment when a tree is in flower, the Chinese cultivator chooses a branch. It is well understood that he selects that which presents the most fantastic forms; he makes two circular notches, in a manner to raise a ring of bark of the length of about an inch; upon the part uncovered he applies fresh earth, that is held to it by means of a piece of cloth; each day he moistens the earth; soon the bark at the incision throws out roots, the branch becomes a tree, its fruit swells and ripens. Then the gardener cuts the branch at the end of the packet of earth, and plants it in a pot to send to the market. It is rare that this operation does not obtain a complete success. The fruit trees raised in this manner are in general the Litchi (Dimocarpus litchi,) the delicious fruit of China; the Carambol, with octagonal fruit; the Lon-gan, a kind of Plum; the Orange, the Apple, Pear, Ficus indica, and a tree sacred in the pagodas, of which the fruit, a kind of Citron (Citrus medica, var. ?) is called by the Chinese, Hand of Foo, because it has the form of hand that the bonzes give to this god. The dwarfed trees are destined in general to ornament the pagodas, and the shops of the merchants on holidays. The cultivation of the forest trees, dwarfed, demands more care. It is not only in this case to get ready a branch, but it is a struggle they undertake with Nature, which consists in making hideous that which Nature has created beautiful, to lame and deform that which she has made straight and well looking, to render mean and unhealthy that which she has produced vigorous and robust. The trees submitted to thjg system of stunting, are generally the Bamboo, the Cypress, and the Elm; the same as with the fruit trees, they choose a little branch as knotty and twisted as they possibly can find; they raise a ring of bark, and surround it with vegetable mould; at the same time they prune the tree of its handsomest branches, only preserving those which are zigzag; they then cauterise the wounds with hot iron. This first operation terminated, the gardener devotes all his care to his work, up to the day that he is satisfied of the presence of some roots. This success obtained, his kindness is changed to cruelty; from this day he refuses water to his charge, and it is only when he sees it nearly perishing, when its leaves fade, and turn yellow, that he consents to moisten a little the earth which keeps it alive; he cuts off the leaves, and only allows a few at the extremity of the branch to remain.
"The tree thus treated, rests between life and death; it shrivels and bows its head, until the return of the sap; at this moment its state appears likely to be ameliorated; it is watered each day, its health is about to return; but, alas! for the tree, these attentions are but preliminary to further cruelties. The sap flows in abundance, and then the Chinaman makes at various distances transverse incisions, some almost circular. These cuttings continued, stop the ascent of the sap, which coagulating upon the wounds, causes swellings of bark frightful to behold; but which rejoices the eye of the Chinaman. When the time of the sap is passed, they put the shrub in regime. They then make new notches upon it, but perpendicular this time. They raise with a knife the bark near these notches, and introduce in the one honey, in the other sugar, in some colors, and even acid. Attracted by the smell, thousands of ants and flies come and gnaw, and prick the bark of the tree, while on the other side the acid burns and destroys wherever it touches. At length, after this treatment, when the branch has become a veritable monstrosity, covered with lichens, lumps, and deformities, and is recognised as capable of supporting its pitiful existence, they detach it from the tree; they shake away the earth that surrounds it, to place in a vase having the form of a large square jam-pot; the earth is then replaced by little gravel stones, that are just in number sufficient to maintain the tree straight in its pot. All the care necessary for the future is to moisten lightly the stones, when the plant appears to suffer.
"The trees stunted in this manner, are very much prized by the mandarins, and are sold at a high price; but what is surprising is the extreme longevity they acquire. It is not rare that they attain 100 and 200 years. They are often transmitted by inheritance.
"On some dwarfed trees that were sent to Her Majesty from China, in addition to the inflictions described in the account, were found numerous ligatures of wire, and the branches twisted and bent by the agency of the same material. -- W. I. Windsor, Gardeners' Chronicle." 1
1 The Horticulturist, and Journal of Rural Art and
Rural Taste, Vol. I, No. 7, January 1847, pp.
cf. "Chinese Method of Dwarfing Trees," published by an author signing only with the initials “W.I.,” in the Gardener's Chronicle
of 21 November 1846. Alluding to "the late Chinese war," the
author states that his unpaginated account is based on one given by a
member of the French commercial expedition sent out to conclude a trade
agreement of the kind which the war was designed to make
possible. After a typical Francophobe jibe at the expedition's
relative lack of success, he goes on to describe the scene in the city
of Canton on a festival day, where miniature trees formed part of the
street decoration. These are characterized immediately as
"twisted and distorted . . . these little trees, so contemptible in
appearance . . . pitiful to look at, unhealthy, distorted, and covered
with excoriations without number." The conclusion is drawn: "That
for the Chinese nothing is beautiful but that which is hideous; that a
stunted shrub without leaves is a wonder that is worth all the forests
of the universe; and so the principal occupation of the Chinese
nurseryman is to combat Nature in everything that is beautiful or rich.
. . . It is not only in this case to get ready a branch, but it
is a struggle they undertake with Nature, which consists in making
hideous that which Nature has created beautiful, to lame and deform
that which she has made straight and well looking, to render mean and
unhealthy that which she has created vigorous and robust."