There and Back Again with a Cryptomeria-

Any visit to Japan where remote temples are on the menu will usually involve Cryptomeria. These stately forest trees remind one of miniature redwoods, standing bolt upright as if on review.

The Cryptomeria featured here is a home-grown bonsai from nursery stock, not an import. It was first styled by Harunobu Tokita in California. The first photo starts the legacy of this tree that lived for a long time in Boon Manakitivipart’s garden as a unique formal upright only rarely seen in the United States. I recall it well when I studied with Boon before moving to Japan.

Hope you enjoy the photo essay- (First three photos courtesy Morten Wellhaven.)

At the first Cryptomeria styling with Mr. Harunobu Tokita, behind the tree, and the original owner Morten Wellhaven to the left. Circa 1990.

Rough styling done, and in a bonsai container

Further along in the development of the tree, the ‘fingers’ beginning to show in the branch work. And in another pot too. The tree is still in Boon’s yard at this point.

July 2012. Here the tree has relocated to southern California, and is in its third pot. Eventually we’ll run out of pots but not quite yet.

First a reversal.

We had a setback. Fungus took over the tree and killed foliage and small branches before it was reined in.

July 2013. Browning foliage is from a fungal attack that took over and greatly limited any thoughts of aesthetics for few years.

Though we were able to control the disease with fungicides the tree still had trouble regaining a strong foothold. It was eventually shipped north from California to my garden in Oregon, which assisted in reinvigorating the plant by virtue of a more appropriate climate. (Spoiler alert: A chapter on the intricacies of climate and growth will be in my forthcoming book Bonsai Heresy.)

Decisions like this are hard. My client willingly and at his own suggestion asked me to take this tree north where we hoped the tree would be able to shake off its malaise. Though he would no longer see the tree daily and take pleasure in its presence, he couldn’t bear the thought that it was doing poorly and remained so far from its potential. And there was a very real chance it could die.

And finally back in business, July 2019. When I sent this photo to my client he texted back ‘The Return of the King!’

For some time we let the tree grow freely. The small brown spots show where larger than normal shoots were cut off to bring the tree back into silhouette following years of only piecemeal trimming. The pot has been changed (yet again) to an unusual Chinese antique. This year we repositioned the lower front branch to the right so it’s not squarely in the front of the trunk. Though it’s mostly recovered from the fungal attack, a few more details still need to develop, such as crown density.

*This large Cryptomeria is being shown at the Portland Japanese Garden through November 2019—please check it out in person in the more hidden upper bonsai terrace, not the lower one.

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  1. Vanaja suryakumar says:

    Well documented. Hoping to see it this year.

  2. Lani Black says:

    That was a good story. Now my question is, in the picture where the branches are wired down, I notice that there is screen encircling the rootbase and bringing the soil level up higher. Was that done in order to improve the nabari in some way?

    • crataegus says:

      Hi Lani, at that point it was still in Boon’s yard and I can’t comment on what was being done there. Your guess is definitely possible though-
      It may simply have been that the bottom thick roots on the tree were still being whittled down and that it had to be potted higher than desired. The screen would have helped the area around the root base keep below soil level. But that’s just another guess.

  3. Wow, that’s a nice safe and a huge step forward! It is really becoming a true specimen Bonsai and this pot is not bad either !!! The change in climate was a wise and brave decision of its owner and shows that his Bonsai hart is in the right place! We here in Holland are enjoying (NOT) the warmest day on record since 75 years 39.4 degrees !!! 👎Making the temperature rice in the back of my small city enclosed garden close to 49 degrees !!! 😱🥵 I do enjoy your articles and I am a big fan of your work!!!
    Hans van Meer.

  4. Robert West says:

    “control the disease with fungicides” Can you tell us what fungicide was used and if a definitive diagnosis of the fungus was done. Thank you for sharing this information.

    • crataegus says:

      Hello Robert, yes, we sent several samples off over several years and ended up identifying 3 funguses on the tree…the lab we used was Waypoint Analytical out of Los Angeles, who wrote up impressively detailed conclusions. I will go back and find some of the fungus names for you, the one I remember off the top of my head was Pestalosia. We were cycling fungicides like Heritage, Cleary’s, and Mancozeb to control.
      (Always a bit leery about offering what chemicals I use, but this is a specific case.)

  5. Ray says:

    Very nice comeback Michael😎
    A beautiful tree.

  6. Jonas says:

    Am happy to see the tree looking so good! It’s been one of my favorites for years. Thanks for the update!

  7. crataegus says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments!

  8. Bruce Williams says:

    This post and the pictures are an inspiration. Just today, I discovered I’ve had success in air layering a large cryptomeria I obtained a year ago as a nursery stock “sad plant”. I just walked in this evening and opened the computer to read your post.
    Boy, am I motivated!

  9. Ray says:

    I remember seeing it when you first got it to Milwaukie. What a stunning comeback. So beautiful.

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