Deciduous Early Development Part III: Styrax

Styrax is, like the magnolia featured in Part II of this series, a rarely seen deciduous bonsai. Mr. Takeyama in Japan has some remarkable styrax specimens, and seeing his was the reason I started trying them for bonsai.

This specimen is Styrax japonicus, also known as Japanese snowbell-

Continuing the theme of this series, you will notice some branches that seem overlong, or too thick, or out of place and yet left on the tree and not pruned off. In this early stage of development this ‘leaving what you don’t want’ helps build the tree faster, and also, counterintuitively, slows down some areas so that we get greater twiggyness. This is more fully explained in Part I.

Our young specimen, about eight years old. Styrax is a strikingly vigorous plant, almost stronger than trident maple. This photo is from the fall, in October, during our final pruning of the year.

David and Alan beginning on the branch shortening.

And where we ended the session of fall pruning, concentrating on the top of the tree so that taper would be retained. Many extensions were left on to keep growing into next growing season and to continue building caliper. Styrax are meaty trees, not delicate, and while not quite so heavy as trident or Chinese quince they are similar in build. The extensions left on the bottom half are to enhance that chunky quality that is natural to these trees. Also, the lower limbs are being considered for multiple trunk possibilities. Here we are not trying to over-style a tree when it’s young but let it help us decide its eventual structure. We’re leaving more possibilities than ultimately will be retained. Some will convince us and some will not, so not just to help build a tree do we leave more than we want, but also because with time some areas might become far more interesting than they are today, and may shift what we do with the design. Options are gold in bonsai early development.

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  1. Ray says:

    Looks like good progress in 8 yrs. how long have you had this tree?

  2. Ray says:

    Looks like good progress in 8 yrs. how long have you had this tree?

  3. Bryan Baillie says:

    was the top “Jinned”????

  4. Lani Black says:

    Michael, would you happen to have a picture of it in leaf/bloom?

  5. Stephen Liesen says:

    Comments from the original grower of this tree: This tree is actually about 14 years old. I grew it from a quarter of an inch caliper seedling. At one time I had let the top grow ten feet plus trying to build trunk volume. I have found Styrax trunk caliper growth to be moderate to slow in my hands. At least here in Illinois. I hooked Michael up with this tree to see what the full potential could be in his gifted hands. I need to apologize to Michael for poor communication on the trees true age. I’m looking forward to reading his new book Bonsai Heresy.

    • crataegus says:

      Thanks for the corrections Steve!

      • Philippe says:

        Hello Michael, Steven, I am curious to know how long do you leave those deciduous trees in nursery containers between repots. If this tree is 14 years old, how often was it repoted ? Also what kind of substrate do you use ? I grow many trees from seedlings and live in town, so I grow all my trees in containers on a flat roof. I use for early development trees a mix of sifted granite (really anti-skid 1/8″ gravel used in winter (I live in Canada)), perlite and some organic matter since this mix is really cheap. When trees become better I use my regular bonsai mix.

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