An Unusual Ficus Bonsai Style From Taiwan

Huge massive trees with umbrella-like canopies and neatly arranged pads are hallmarks of Taiwan’s ficus bonsai. They are created and modeled after an old majestic Ficus microcarpa in Tainan’s National Cheng Kung University campus.

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F. microcarpa at the National Cheng Kung University campus

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An Award Winning F. microcarpa modeled after the National Cheng Kung University ficus, height: 87 cm, by Hisu Yang

Over the last decade, there have been increasing criticisms among some Taiwanese artists that too many of their ficus bonsai look like each other, prompting comment likeif you have seen one, you have seen a hundred”. The artist of the above award winning “standard” ficus, Mr. Hsiu Yang, 杨修, did something unusual; he created two “non-traditional” ficus bonsai.

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Planted in stainless steel tray, size of tray is 6-8 foot long if I recall correctly.

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Another Mr. Yang’s creation. Note a cut wound filled with clear red resin. He had a spot light illuminating that red resin.

When I saw these two ficus at the Cheng Mei Cultural Park (成美文化園), I was shocked. I would not be surprised to see bonsai styled this way in China, but in Taiwan? However, these trees looked familiar and they appealed to me; I could appreciate them because I have seen oddly shaped ficus just like these two growing in suburban parks, street corners and village squares.

Taiwan is densely populated and is very crowded. Although ficus are widely grown as landscape trees in subdivisions and small community parks, as they grow their extended limbs eventually encroach nearby buildings, fences, etc., they compete for space with human dwellings.

When these encroaching limbs were cut off, since bonsai rules do not apply during tree trimming, new branches grow at odd angles and finally into a form which I could only ascribed to “a cohabitation between ficus and human competing for space”.

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A ficus I saw in Lukang, which has become too big and too close to a shop house. It ended up a mushroom shape.

To many bonsai eyes, they are ugly looking trees but are nonetheless alternative “natural” models for bonsai inspirations. There is a Chinese proverb which says “there is beauty when ugliness is at its extreme,” and it might apply in this case.

Here are some photos from Taiwan streets and squares I downloaded from the internet with their respective sources:

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An old ficus growing in the Qing dynasty military governor’s compound in Kinman. https://kinmen.travel/image/10494/1024×768

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Old ficus in Kinman Island. Source: http://papilio0204.pixnet.net/album/photo/138052177

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A plaque, not in this photo, said it was planted in 1886.

I thought these urban ficus inspired Mr. Yang’s creations but I was wrong! I later found out he got his Master degree from the Mingdao University using the ficus in the stainless steel container as a project, and his thesis was entitled “A Study of Bonsai Sculpture Creative Method and Ficus microcarpa Linn. f. Example.”

In his thesis, Mr. Yang discussed applying aesthetic principles to bonsai creations. This ficus was created based on his Buddhist believes of causality; aerial roots were used to create a more organic tree without an obvious massive trunk, and the whole creation process represented the three stages of past, present and future in Buddhism.

I do not understand the religious and philosophical meanings in this creation but I can relate to it because I have seen ficus growing in crowded urban areas. There are a lot of intentional “imperfections” from partly peeled irregular aerial roots, crisscross branches to unclosed large wounds, called “horse eyes,” throughout the bonsai. They are very different from the Japanese aesthetics of perfections.

Anyway, please enjoy detailed photos of these two unusual ficus bonsai.

Ficus in Stainless Steel Container:

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Multiple trunks created with aerial roots; they are not fused together into massive trunk we see in most Taiwan ficus bonsai.

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Fused irregular aerial roots as part of the “organic” trunks. Even the moss dressings were not neatly arranged like those in Japanese bonsai exhibits.

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Large unclosed wounds, “horse eyes,” accentuate imperfections.

Ficus with Filled Red Resin:

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A light inside a 5-gallon white plastic bucket was aimed directly at the resin to capture the “tree goblin”.

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No massive nebari for this tree.

The Cheng Mei Cultural Park is a beautiful garden worth a visit if you go to Taiwan.

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