Ezo Spruce Formal Upright Styling
One of my favorite species for bonsai is Ezo Spruce…
Although we don’t have the wonderful collected Ezo that the Japanese have, sometimes one can find cutting-grown Ezo that are often perfect for forests or formal uprights. It has a very small needle and ramifies rapidly. There are also a number of really eye-catching North American spruces that one can collect, like Engelmann, Colorado, Sitka, and Black. They are a little coarser in feeling, but all exhibit a similar ease of cultivation in a pot that Ezo has and some are legitimately stronger growers.
Spruce is one of the conifers that can backbud all the way back onto trunks, even into barked up areas. (This is called epicormic growth, for all you plant nerdies.) Certainly backbudding that deep into the tree really changes what you can do with it.
This formal upright Ezo spruce has been a Seasonal student project for a couple years now, and in the final photo you can see where the tree is now. At this stage it could be transferred to a bonsai container, so we’ll be looking at that this spring.
This was the beginning—the Ezo Spruce before we started working on it in 2014. As is, you could call it an ‘almost but not quite’ formal upright…so we decided to change that.
This photo gives an idea of the branch choices that needed to be made.
A few SeaStudents with those serious ‘wiring faces’ that can happen in the studio… There is some light movement to the trunk, and the solution to make this a true formal upright was to have an iron rebar tied to the backside, which would remain in place during the years we set the branching.
After the student’s initial styling. You will notice a lot of multiplicity and bar branching on this tree…I don’t agree with the guideline that calls for all bar branching to be cut off, as for a tree like this it often results in a very simple and thin tree. For the true long-view design, branch density is very important. Hence there are a lot more branches here than the basic guidelines would suggest. We also left some long stubs so that any sap that comes out won’t mar the bark. We’ll cut them flush in a year or so. The tree has a long way to go, no rush.
This and the next two photos are following some regrowth, and the student’s rewiring of the tree in the fall of 2016.
From this view the rebar that makes this tree very straight may be seen. Especially with a true long-view formal upright tree that would be seen at a great distance, the trunk not being authentically straight can be the thing that makes it lose scale and look like what it actually is, a small tree in a pot.
Ezo Spruce, 46″ / 117 cm high. I know this is far beyond the 3 ft / 1 m guideline, but here in the Pacific Northwest our tape measures are stretchier… Choosing appropriate branches on formal uprights is one of the most challenging decisions of any bonsai form. I tend to think that if we slavishly follow the triangular shape for a very tall formal upright, with each branch slotted exactly in length, we often make a young looking Christmas tree. The really tall forest trees I see around in the Pacific Northwest, like the true firs and Douglas Firs that can reach 300′ / 90 m tall, well, they just don’t do that. The branch length variation adds a lot of visual interest, and is also closer to what I see in the old forests, so that is what I tried to do with this tree. The crown will broaden, so please don’t send me messages saying I’ve made a pointy tree…yes, today it is, but it won’t be in about three years. The tree’s crown will round naturally…and for a very long-view tree like this one, those old trees look almost pointy from a quarter-mile away anyway. A very small rounded crown is all that is needed.