Old Historical Catlin Elm-

This is an antique tree created by one of our great California bonsai masters Mas Ishii. His son Gary Ishii is now proprietor of their family nursery Chikugo-en in Los Angeles. A client of mine found this unusual Catlin elm, which had been grown from a cutting by Mas about 50 years ago. It’s a modest sized tree, a chuhin, 15″ high, 24″ wide.

Old deciduous that are well done are very rare. The lion’s share of credit always goes to the creator of the tree, when grown for a long time since it was young. This is how it looked the day it was purchased:

ishii elm

Because the tree was so well maintained we only did a couple of things, and those were subtle. A branch in front was removed, the tree was raised a bit to display the nebari, the front shifted just slightly, and also we found an old Chinese pot for it. The olive colored Chinese pot is about 150 years old and has been used in the Kokufu show a couple times.


It is fun to play with changing the pot, and see how that changes the tree. Sometimes the tree actually changes a lot—it can feel differently—with a new pot.

We liked this pot not just because it’s a bit sexier and has some softer lines for our elm, but also because the pot’s age is reflected in the patina, and that supports the true age of the tree. (If you blow up this photo a bit you can see light whitish-cream scratches…that’s actually the true color of the glaze. The grayish brown cast over that is the patina from years of use…that’s what a pot that is 150 years old will offer).

ishii elm pot

In the sun the depth in the glaze and the patina of the pot are more easily seen. Gorgeous old pot, makes potters like myself grin stupidly in admiration.

On New Year’s day it’s nice to look back and savor the past. The work the Ishii’s put into this tree is worth a bow of gratitude, decades of careful cultivation and training that we can enjoy today.




  1. Ron Scarborough says:


  2. Jeffrey Robson says:


  3. Betty says:

    Is the name of this tree pronounce “cat” or “cait”? I have heard it both ways!

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