"Hugo Mulertt's Dwarf Trees" from Brooklyn Daily Eagle

     Hugo Mulertt (b.1848) was born in Leipzig, Germany and his boyhood was passed in an old castle in the moat of which he was wont to amuse himself catching all sorts of swimming and creeping things, and thus he conceived a strong love for the study of natural history.  This love of nature resulted in later years in his making a systematic study of fish culture with special reference to the keeping of fish in aquaries [sic].  He came to America around 1869 with the second big wave of German immigrants.  He was the author of the 1883 book The goldfish and its systematic culture with a view to profit while living in Cincinnati, OH.  Other directions for becoming an accomplished aquarist were found in Mr. Mulertt's various writings in the quarterly magazine the Aquarium (est. 1890), for which he was the editor and proprietor.  He would ultimately be hugely responsible for the increase in private hobby aquariums in the United States.  Beside his accomplishments as a fish culturist Mr. Mulertt was a horticulturist and part of his work at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn consists in procuring botanical specimens for the use of the students and particularly the growing of plants in windows and in sunny places of the buildings. 1
Hugo Mulertt

      "Japanese Outdone in Dwarfing Trees, Hugo Mulertt Grows Pigmy Maples as Japs Raise Little Pines and Cedars: Secret is in 'Starvation'." (1899) :

Pine, 23 years old; 12 inches from bottom of pot to topmost bough.
Cedar, 100 years old; 12 inches high from bottom of pot to topmost bough.
Maple, 16 inches from bottom of pot to topmost bough; 15 years old; six varieties grafted on one trunk. Grown by H. Mulertt.
Red lace maple, 10 years old; 18 inches from bottom of pot to topmost bough. Grown by H. Mulertt.

       Hugo Mulertt, curator of Packer Collegiate Institute, has mastered the Japanese art of dwarfing trees so thoroughly that he could grow a whole forest in a hall bedroom and yet not crowd the furniture.
       With the Japanese the art of dwarfing trees is very old -- so old that quantities of trees three and four centuries old are now in existence, living testimonials to the skill of many generations of gardeners.  For in the land of the mikado [sic] tree training is a hereditary occupation.  Cedars and pines are grown from the seed to any size desired and then stopped.  Thenceforward the tree exists, healthy and vigorous enough, but never getting any larger.  These miniature trees are trained into any shape desired.  Sometimes fantastic shapes are cultivated; again, the dwarfs are trained into close copies of famous trees in the empire.  The trees are grown in pots of different sizes and shapes, no two alike.  The shape of the pot is always chosen with a view to harmonizing with the shape into which the tree is to be trained.
       Often the Japs [sic, and also below] form miniature landscapes with these dwarf trees.  Some famous mountain is copied in a mound a few feet high.  The surface is carefully sodded and the trees are placed in position, the pots in which they are grown being carefully sunk out of sight in the sod.  Then with a tiny rill to represent a river and a china house or two the living picture is complete.
       These dwarf Japanese trees have recently become the rage in New York and Brooklyn.  Some enterprising Japs imported a quantity of them.  They made an immediate hit.  Some very fine specimens have been sold on this market at fancy prices.  One fine tree with an authenticated age of 350 years was sold for $350, or a dollar for each year of its age.  A Brooklyn dealer recently secured a lot of dwarf trees.  Included in the lot was a cedar 100 years old and 12 inches high.  A pine 25 years old was of the same height.
       The secret of Japanese tree training is said to lie in the skillful pruning of roots and branches.  The roots of the dwarf trees are cramped in small pots, on the same principle that the feet of Chinese women are stunted.  In addition the trees are periodically taken out of the pots to have their roots trimmed.  The gardener's skill is displayed in trimming just enough to prevent growth, yet not enough to impair the health of the tree.  It is said that in the course of a hundred years or so these pigmy trees become so accustomed to having their roots trimmed that they really enjoy it, and when the time approaches for the periodical pruning they wave their little limbs in eager appeals to the gardener to take them out and clip their roots. [sic!!]  This part of the story, however, is not vouched for; it is merely given for what it is worth.
       While the Japanese confine their efforts largely to evergreens [sic], Mr. Mulertt has made a specialty of dwarfing deciduous trees.  He has some fifty specimens, principally maples, but also including larches and bamboos, all twelve years old and from 6 inches to 2 feet high.  Mr. Mulertt is an enthusiastic botanist.  Twelve years ago he learned of the skill of the Japanese in dwarfing trees and at once resolved to try it.  Since then he has made it a hobby.  Mr. Mulertt also grows dwarf fish.  The method pursued in the cases of both trees and fish are the same and extremely simple.   It is nothing more nor less than starvation [sic].  At least, that is the way Mr. Mulertt expresses it.  In other words he gives both trees and fish just enough nourishment to keep them alive, but not enough to permit any growth.  There is this difference between the treatment given the fish and that for the trees: the trees need pruning, the fish get along without it.
       Dwarf trees can only be grown in pots, for success depends upon confining the roots.  The roots must not be permitted to grow too large, for large roots mean a large tree.  Occasionally the maples start a shoot out of proportion to the desired size of the tree.  These shoots must be trimmed off.  After the leaves drop in the autumn the maples must be carefully laid down and covered first with leaves and then with earth, but not deep enough to prevent freezing.  In fact, the freezing is necessary.  The trees are buried to prevent snow and ice from breaking the delicate limbs and destroying the tree.  Dwarf bamboos, on the other hand, must not be allowed to freeze.
       These dwarf maples are beautiful in the extreme.  The tiny leaves are delicately translucent and very rich in color.  Some of Mr. Mulertt's dwarf maples have blood red leaves in spring.  In summer they become a rich green and in autumn they change to fiery red.  Others have light green and pink leaves.
       One of Mr. Mulertt's rarest curiosities is a maple 12 years old and 16 inches high on which five varieties of maples have been grafted on one trunk.
       The forms of the leaves of these five varieties differ widely and the difference in coloring is still greater.  When in full foliage this tree looks like a bunch of autumn leaves.  The effect of these highly colored leaves in a miniature landscape is beautiful in the extreme.
       Dwarf trees can be trained into any shape.  It is only necessary to tie the limbs rigidly in the position desired and keep them there until they have assumed permanent form.  This may require anywhere from three months to three years.
       According to Mr. Mulertt no special skill is required to grow dwarf trees.  All that is required is a knowledge of plant growth and patience. 2


1      Biography of Mulertt in the article "Making Pets of Fish," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1894, pg. 10.      The 1880 U.S. census lists him as having been born in 1848.  Additional biographical info per Brunner, Bernd The Ocean at Home (Princeton Architectural Press; 2005), pg. 73, which precludes Mulertt's alleged Civil War experience stated in 1894 article.  (RJB's research did find one cross reference for Mulertt in the Civil War, though that was probably just the same name and two years older.)

Per The National Union Catalog, Vol. 400, pp. 689, in 1886 he translated a German fish cookbook; and in 1887 he penned the multi-purpose House plants and their care; also hints for the care of goldfish and canary birds.  All these works were done while he apparently was in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He then moved to Brooklyn.  The sixth edition (fourth in English) of his original goldfish book was published in 1910 with a portrait of the author. 

2      Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 19, 1899, pg. 18.

See also an abbreviated verson of this article published the following year.

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