"Dwarf Trees" from Scientific American Supplement

      "Japanese Dwarf Trees" (1900):

      MR. D. G. MITCHELL, once writing of these, well said: "Japanese trees seem under the wings of Japanese buildings, quaint pygmies not 3 feet high, are yet over seventy years old.  They are gnarled and twisted, as if they had fought the the [sic] winds and caught their picturesqueness of form -- as old Oaks catch theirs -- by battling with tempests and wintry storms upon the hills.  By examining closely the specimens in Japanese grounds one may see traces of the dwarfing process.  The leading shoots have been clipped or bent downward; the lateral branches turned in and tied back; lusty limbs twisted and wrenched into quaint postures; marks of the torturing pins [sic], and bands and cuts are still observable; it is a crippled dwarf of a tree made quaint and picturesque by years of struggle.  Is there a compensating beauty in them?  Not surely as we reckon the beauty of plant growth.  But consider that the Japanese, in their horticultural system, have offices for such dwarf trees.  With them no homestead is complete without its garden; a few square rods may be all at command, but this area must have its garden treatment, and the gardens are modeled after nature.  'San sui' (mountain and water) is the term which in Japanese describes the cultivator's work.  The aim is -- within however a limited an area -- top present a complete landscape, with rock, valley, plain, water, and mountain.  Under such miniature presentment trees and plants must be dwarfed to bear proper relations to the dwarfed valleys and rocks.  To such an extent is this copying of nature in miniature carried out that a rocky landscape, with its heights and level spaces and trees, is wrought out, with close attention to proportions within the limits of a great bronze basin.  We doubt if cultivators of the West will emulate them in their mimicry of Nature; but they may well emulate the painstaking skill which makes such small successes possible, and the assiduous care and the close study of plant life which are enforced by such arts."
      The daimios of Yokohama and Nagasaki are not content with the countless beautiful gems of the plant world with which their favored islands are studded, but they must also have dwarfs and monsters of the vegetable kingdom.  They must have pine trees with the best part of their roots leaping up into the air several feet higher than their topmost twigs, or Kakis with their branches so contorted as to resemble tangled masses of cordage instead of the graceful trees which we know them to be.  By training their shoots and branches with the utmost patience they are able to produce the most monstrous forms, while by limiting the amount of nourishment which the plants receive within the narrowest possible mark they become dwarfs.  Hence, by adopting the latter method of checking their growth, they succeed in producing plants which, although they may be over a century old, are still small enough to live and thrive in a medium-sized flower pot.  We must also remember that the climate of Japan is peculiarly favorable to this description of horticulture, and it is doubtful whether this kind of culture could be carried out in hot, dry, sunshiny countries [sic].  Of all hardy subjects the Conifers seem to have produced the most successful specimens of dwarf and monsters, either because they are more fitted for this mode of treatment, or because they are more in favor in Japanese gardens.  Among the Conifers, again, pines seem to produce the happiest results, and the stem, which is reduced to its very simplest expression, grows at a distance from the surface of the soil, and is supported by a number of simple or branched roots supported by sticks, which float about in the air as if they belonged to it.  This system of culture seems to be very widespread throughout Japan, and must be practised by a large number of persons, for such specimens are exhibited by hundreds.  Worried literally half out of their lives by ill treatment and starvation, it is not to be wondered as if the size of some of these unhappy victims is wholly out of proportion to their age.  It is evident that some means are taken to draw the roots out of the soil gradually, without in any way damaging the rootlets, so as to expose all their rammifications [sic] to the air, leaving only a small portion of their extremities in the soil. -- C. W. Q.
      The illustration shows a particularly fine specimen of the double-flowered weeping plum (Shidare-ume), evidently an old and well grown tree.  I saw some of them in Japan, but none so evenly flowered as this one.  It is not a common plant; the weeping cherry, which I never saw in England, is much commoner.  The plums seem to take very kindly to this kind of cultivation.  I dined at a house in Kobe where the only table decoration was an old tree in a square pot, with one long branch covered with flowers. -- Alfred Parsons.



      These grow well in pots.  Repotting, if necessary, should be done when the leaves fall off, being careful not to disturb the roots.  If the soil is poor, use a little oil cake and loam, well mixed together.  In any case it is as well to apply this mixture when the leaves drop off at the end of October or beginning of November, so that the mixture is, well decayed by the spring, when the tree starts into growth.  In spring or summer it can be manured again, but the manure must be well decayed by being watered and put in the sun, so as to be well rotted.  In January or February, when the trees are coming into bloom, soak some lentils in water for about a week.  When thoroughly soaked, crush them well up, place in a linen bag, together with the liquid drained from them, then squeeze the bag, when there should be a milky substance from same.  Remove the earth all round the edge of the pot, and pour a little of this liquid all round.  When the tree starts into growth in the spring, if small branches grow out from the other branches, these should be nipped off.  Only those which grow from the main stem should remain.  These trees are best kept outdoors. -- S. Eida, in Gardening Illustrated.


1    Scientific American Supplement, No. 1275.  Vol. 49,  June 9, 1900, pg. 20442.

Compare the above illustration with what was apparently the original found in Piggott's 1892 book.

Scientific American 1913
Scientific American 1921

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