"Hand of Buddha" style Elephant Food  (Portulacaria afra)

Estimated age 55 years; in training since at least 1982.
Currently 17" tall, 10" diameter base, in a 13"W x 9"D x 3"H blue glazed oval pot.

        This tree was a gift to me from Bill Mooney of the Phoenix Bonsai Society in May 1987 near the end of my first club year there.  He had had it for about five years, but couldn't see a particular style in it.  When Bill saw the way I was gawking at this wild specimen which he'd brought to a workshop but had not trimmed (I'm not sure I'd ever seen a Portulacaria that size before), he simply gave it to me to deal with rather than having to lug it back to his yard.  (His generosity is only surpassed by his continued claims to a tree when it later starts to look good...)

        The apex at the time was actually an overgrown branch growing right below the point at which the original trunk had been severed.

        It took me a couple of years to start to see some particular style in the tree, and it wasn't one of the modern traditional styles, but an old one from China.

        This Elephant Food was first publically displayed in February 1994 at our club's largest annual show.  Overheard comments made by some visitors concerning the gnarly roots encouraged me that this tree was worth showing again.  It has been shown at every Matsuri since then up through 2002, plus a few times as part of our Arizona State Fair display and once or twice at the Arizona Buddhist Church's Obon.  When I did a book signing for Designing Dwarfs in the Desert at Borders Bookstore in Glendale, AZ in July 1998, this was the tree with which I explained the basics of our art.

August 1987
May 1993

Elephant Food, 1999
Elephant Food, 2005
October 1999
October 2005

September 2006.

        I finally saw how this "fit" with a nice oval pot in February 1999, long after a few other club members had.  The bluish gray rock at the bottom left is actually three times larger than what is visible here and is placed to keep the tree propped up at the desired angle.

        The tree at last was getting some long growth on the right side, which I had hoped to develop into a nicely ramified section to balance out the left side.  (In February 2001 the final dangling two inches or so were removed.)

        In early May 2002 and now outside of Kingman, AZ, I discovered that one particular new bud was developing as a trio of pads -- not the usual pair of opposing leaves.  This particular bud was so unique in its numeration that I had to study it for a few days in a row before I actually believed what I was seeing.  Slightly rounder than the usual leaves, there was no other distinguishing visible difference.  A month and a half later the triplets were still doing fine (each was 6 mm from base to apex and 6 to 7 mm wide, evenly spaced around the central base) and a new bud further down this small branchlet was just a usual pair of leaves.  I wanted the trio's bud to grow out into a decent sized branchlet of its own -- sacrificing "perfect" tree shape if necessary for a few seasons -- and possibly root it at some point.  The beginnings of a sport?
        Alas, no.  By early July another bud had appeared at the tip beyond the trio and it was just a twin.  Sometime over the summer I actually lost track of where the trio was -- never to see them again.  Lord knows I've looked carefully at all the branches...  I then gave the tree the season off and on Sept. 21 finally trimmed it back a little. 
        For at least seven years the tree was in the process of restyling itself by casting off a strip of wood perhaps one-quarter of the thickness of the trunk dead-center along its backside.  The top of the strip originally started separating from the trunk.  Apparently this is a natural, though infrequent, occurrence for an older specimen.  The drying strip was very easily removed during the Sept. 21 pruning.  Above the base of the trunk there is now a hole through the trunk, and another where the dried section of root was at the bottom left front of the trunk.  How I will have to further restyle this bonsai is unknown.
        This tree made its northern Arizona debut in March 2003 at the Mohave County Home and Garden Show.  The following spring it was seen there as well.  For most of the 2004-2005 winter and spring this was indoors near a southeast-facing window.  The lower light levels began taking their toll on its smaller branches.
        Its Colorado debut took place at the Fall 2005 Pikes Peak Bonsai Society show.  The tree had been severely tipping to the left, so a month before the Fall 2006 show this was repotted and propped up because it was top-heavy.  I didn't believe that running a wire through the bottom of the pot to tie the plant in place would work, and I wasn't ready to do extensive top-pruning.  The result is satisfactory for the moment.  The tree has spent most of its time in this state in or near a south-facing upper floor window

    - - - - -

        Two of the long branches in the picture on the top left were rooted about 1988.  They were allowed to grow to about 4 feet in length and then in 1998 were finally begun to be made into cascades in their own right.  One is in a standard cylindrical dark Japanese earthenware cascade pot with a slight flaring lip.  It BLOOMED in June 2003!   The other (below) is in a pumice block.  This one has been displayed a few times in Phoenix and twice in Kingman to date.

October 1999.
February 2001.
Recently initially wired by Ernest Hasan 
(For the record, wire was removed Nov. 2002)
June 2003.

June 2005 update:  This pumice rock cascade Portulacaria now resides on a file cabinet right next to a second-floor south-facing doctor's office window near the hospital in Kingman.  The doc has some experience with Elephant's food and the tree is resting comfortably.
       The other cascade which bloomed a couple of years back is now in the capable hands of Craig & Anita Cowing in New York state (it was a wedding present to them).
       Also, some club members might remember the unique "two guys fishing" double-arch cascade Portulacaria I had c.2000.  This is now in the possession of the chief of the Kingman Fire Department who has had some experience with plants.
       These cascades received new caretakers because I knew we would be hard-pressed for space during and after the move to Colorado.

       Stay tuned...

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