Vine Maple… Tower… Experiment?

I had no idea how to title this one. Just as I had no idea, really, what exactly I was doing with my March Seasonal students the day we put this thing together. Which must instill a lot of confidence in my students. Seasonal veterans are familiar with me taking a left turn sometimes. But this time I was more than a bit uncertain about their reaction when I started our morning with, ‘I’ve this idea, but not the faintest clue how we’re going to do it.’ So with that, we did… it. Whatever ‘it’ is, I hope the photos will describe better than I-

The vine maple for our experiment. Vine maple, Acer circinatum, is a Northwest native which typically grows as a multiple-trunk understory tree. They are similar to Japanese maple. I collected this one in the Cascades.


Preparing the roots-


Tom and Ed are monkeying around with a plastic cutting board…


More monkeying around… Thanks to my students this thing was really well built. They were superb engineers.


Now the cat’s out of the bag. This plastic internal support was intended to loft a cascading deciduous tree.


Our bronze mascot crab makes another sneaky appearance.


I had to include this photo, as you’d never guess bonsai had anything to do with what these four are engaged with-


It did rather look like a guitar…








John and Florentina scoping out the positioning.


After some revision, our final support structure-


Tying the maple to the support- which in itself took some weird engineering.


We used sphagnum moss (‘orchid moss’) as our substrate. No muck this time.


Wrapping the sphagnum with cheesecloth, just to clarify the form a bit.


32″ H. After adding a few projections and licorice ferns with moss… there is some moss sprinkled on the sphagnum, too, so I hope the whole thing will be green in several months. In any event, (hopefully) it will shortly look less like a mangy dog that’s been mummified, but this is where it is now. Little leaves are now popping all over the branches. It’s in a greenhouse under a misting system and I’ll give you some updates on it in the future! For now, I’m thinking this is an ‘Ode to the Northwest’—full of spindly deciduous plants growing near rotting logs and more moss and ferns than you can shake a moldy stick at.

And an updated photo of the tower, after a few years’ growth.

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  1. Eileen says:

    Now it makes sense. I wondered what the story was behind that unusual ‘thing’ in your yard. Awesome!

  2. Andy says:

    Really interesting Michael! Looks like something from a horror movie set piece at the moment but will be interesting to see it styled. Neat!

  3. Diane Lund says:


  4. tmmason10 says:

    Very creative, and very cool! What an interesting vision.

  5. Being a sculptor I really like it, but it is April Fool’s Day??

  6. Peter Keane says:

    “April Fool’s”, right?

  7. What a great idea I didn’t see that coming in a million years, it looks really good.

  8. Ross Munro says:

    Vine Maples are a wonderful tree, full of character, and I think your planting expresses this perfectly

  9. Deborah says:

    I Like It! thinking outside the pot

  10. adamaskwhy says:

    Very nice. I like the form. I’m very interested to see if the moss holds up.

  11. adamaskwhy says:

    That’s not a bad price either. Congratulations

  12. Graham says:

    Creative indeed, will be interesting to see this develop over time….no soil just moss hhmmm. When will you style it?

    • crataegus says:

      This is about as much styling as I do on a freeform tree. That is, wiring. I have done a little pruning, but the loose and wild nature of the tree will be lost if I wire it.

  13. saruyama says:

    Mike! What did they teach you in Japan? What textbook is that in? What would Mr. Suzuki say?

    I would bet my house on “Damn, I wish I had thought of that” with a big smile on his face. That is absolutely awesome stuff. Completely impractical, almost guaranteed to be commercial unviable, but 100% right up my street. Keep dreaming the dream!

    • crataegus says:

      I think it was on page 1,871 of the Galactic Bonsai Book. Out of print, I think…

      Thanks Sir Warren—I’m considering printing out your message and tacking it in the studio so I’ll have the courage to do something as ridiculous as this again.

      And I think you hit it on the head, totally unviable. Which is why I love such things.

      Nice stuffed monkey by the way-

      • saruyama says:

        Less of the Sir please…
        What I find most pleasing is not just your creativity, but the fact that you have found and cultivated students and an environment that will enable you to express that. Howard, John et al., those who support Mike should take a bow. I hope some of us across the pond take note.

  14. Hi Michael
    I have a few vine maples, and I am sure they are the same type that you grow in portland. They are a beautiful tree a specially in early spring. My question to you is by August my leaves become ugly. Brownish unhealthy like so you defoliate and it is hard to set that second flush of leaves. Should I defoliate sooner or is there some method of keeping the first flush greener longer.
    Can someone help
    Qualicum Brian

  15. valavanis says:

    Looks GREAT! Michael.
    Now, please show us what it looks like now, even if it is not “photo ready” I think it would be well received at the next US National Bonsai Exhibition, completely American and well done too.

    • crataegus says:

      Thanks Bill, glad you like it– yes, it seems to change by the minute… those Vine maples are funny guys. Thanks for the interest in the tree, too!

  16. Conner says:

    How long do you expect it to last after the wood rots out? Will it still stand up?

  1. […] strange and wonderful experiment is something that Michael Hagedorn and his Seasonal students created more or less out of thin air. I guess you could say the ‘less’ part is that […]

  2. […] For those curious about the original post, and the weird nylon contraption that is underneath the moss, here it is: […]

  3. […] featured this distinctively playful bonsai before, so thought we might as well bring you up to date. While I’m thinking of it, you might […]

  4. […] year we had some fun here making a Vine Maple Tower, using an internal nylon board […]

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