Bunjin #2: Lodgepole Pine

Second up in our tale of two bunjin is this Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta subsp. murrayana, which I collected in the fall of 2013.

It’s almost assumed that wire is used when styling a pine. But here’s one that didn’t need any. It was styled by simply removing what wasn’t already interesting…


This photo is from the fall of 2014. The box is tipped at this inclination so the shoots would grow in the right orientation without needing wire. This tree is a lot older than it looks. Notice the curious branch movements, all of which simply grew that way over many years. This is our intended front. The next three photos show the different sides of this tree as it is rotated.


2nd side…


3rd side…(or back)…


4th side.


Pruning back a large branch, which is nearly as thick as the trunk. If left it would ruin the scale and delicacy of the tree…


…it’s mostly removed now, but the base of the middle branch is still too thick.


Masking the big branch to see what it would look like without it.


Branch fully removed. But there is still one odd branch on this tree, one that doesn’t fit…


Can you tell which one we took off?


And this is after a year of growth, and a few more pruning nibbles…in early 2016.


Potting the tree.


Finishing touches in a Seasonal class. This is a pot I made, a wood-fired non-bon. It does have some glaze on it from the wood ashes floating through the kiln, and while any glaze on a conifer pot is a bit unusual we thought it worked OK with this tree. (The license plate up in the rafters to the right was on my parent’s car for years, but this pine has a while to go before earning it…)


The Lodgepole Pine in April, 2016. 45 ” / 114 cm. Now that all the extraneous branches are gone—the long ones, the thick ones, and the ones without harmonious movement—this is what remains. It needs a fair bit of growth here and there to balance density. I plan to continue maintaining this pine without wire, as the natural wildness of it is refreshing, and serves as a counterpoint to the more managed trees in the yard, such as the Shore Pine bunjin posted a couple weeks ago that had a lot of wire on it. It’s been a challenge to find a pine like this that would lend itself to no-wire styling, and I think it may be a long time before I find another one.

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  1. Reminds me of a passage from your book.

    “Bonsai is an art of reticence. We carefully enchance a tree, rather than risk obliterating it something special with too much technique. When only what must be done is done, we approach the highest level of the art.”

    Can’t wait to watch this tree over the years!

  2. Don Erickson says:

    Nice tree Michael. Love the no wire effect, even if it takes longer. Like what you have done. Would like to see I rage in in a year or two.

  3. carterbeall says:

    I have seen people sometimes maintain a tree without wire and had wondered why. You say that it is to create a natural, wild and less managed look, and I understand this, as trees that are wired thoroughly, though they don’t appear particularly un-natural or contrived, still most often lack the wild and free spirited qualities of the tree shown here. However my question is, since wire gives the artist direct control over each branch, is it not possible to place the branches in unusual positions mimicking closely the habit of natural trees, yet carefully planned to maximize the effect? Though it is not possible to be more natural than an untouched tree from nature, bonsai is about the artist’s interpretations of nature, so couldn’t a tree like this still be improved in it’s effect by wire, even if just a slight adjustment of a few branches?

    • crataegus says:

      Excellent comment/question…yes, yes and more yes.
      The maintenance and styling of conifers is usually quite distinct. Very old conifer bonsai, such as many that I worked on in Japan, need very few wires to adjust only those branches that are out of place. Much like what you suggest with this tree—and there’s nothing wrong with that approach. It’s a good one. And one could certainly attempt to mimic more natural growth habits than bonsai conventions tend to have. I have on occasion.

      For this tree I was exploring the sculptural idea of the ‘found object’, something I’ve done also with deciduous trees such as the Vine maple ‘Tower’ project, featured a few years ago on this blog and more recently, Bonsai Focus. Nothing on that tree was wired either. The found object idea is a hard one to utilize in bonsai because so few trees come with inherent interest that only needs light pruning to fall within the bounds of bonsai. But it is an idea where you find something, and then create a unique presentation to change the conversation. Picasso’s bull head with horns using parts of a bicycle is a prime example of the idea. Anyhow, I keep my eye out there for such trees, but they are rare, and 99% of what I do is more managed work with wire, either fully or partially. But it’s fun to throw a life vest in there now and then and see if you can swim…

  4. Katy says:

    I have a one of these and this pine is doing well on the Coastal plain of Virginia. It is a wild collected tree, by Randy Knight, as well. It is covered with buds this spring and the needles have really extended. It is vibrant with health and that means to me that leaving it in the original pot and pumice was the right thing to do. Maybe a little styling ths Fall and a repot for next Spring. Your post inspired me to style it very little. My trunk is not as wonderfully dancing as yours but the the branches have nice placement and movement and I have been reluctant to do much with it because I find it pleasing as it is. Thank you.

  5. Robert Gardner says:

    Don’t worry there is another pine out there for you and the amazing work you do. I have several trees without wire, just keep moving them in the sunlight. Mother nature does great in styling trees.

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