Design Exercise: Seeing into the Future

This odd maple earned the nickname ‘Snuffleupagus’ in our recent Seasonal session, in appreciation of the elephantine upper trunk. (Source: Snuffleupagus, from the TV show Sesame Street, a giant anteater-like mammoth, without tusks or visible ears.)

At the moment, this tree is rather awkward, but over time…maybe interesting. In this exercise we investigate the question of the future, trying to imagine different outcomes.


A quirky Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum, about 12 years old, after a summer of growth. First it needs a pruning. 


After pruning. Removed branches would have gotten too strong and thick next year, creating future scars.


One of my favorite tricks for trees that make you scratch your head is to grow them into the next size larger tree. This is a good example, a tree that could be improved by adding 1/3 to the height. Attaching red pipe cleaner to the new leader helps ask the question, ‘Where might the trunkline be in a few years’?


The super hard squiggly option. More movement is better? Not necessarily, but this could work. We’re also playing with different front options throughout this exercise.


Little bit less movement, but S-like.


Andy adjusts our pipe cleaner…


An interesting movement. 


Another option, though it feels like a ‘C’.


Different front.


And yet another one. Whichever option is chosen, if we grow the maple as tall as the pipe cleaner, it can outgrow its awkwardness. A thicker future trunk would also help mitigate some issues. This pipe cleaner exercise would be a fun puzzler for a club meeting.

Last week’s post was also about outgrowing awkwardness: Winter Hazel and Chojubai.






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  1. Melvin Zamis says:

    Great exercise. I liked

  2. Peter Brolese says:

    Great tip and a great idea for a group endeavour. Possibly a pipe cleaner was all I required at 15 to outgrow my awkwardness.

  3. David Wheeler says:

    …that is such a fascinating trick for seeing into the future growth thanh you David

  4. I like this idea. Can see quite a few uses for this little pipecleaner.

  5. John says:

    Life is too short….toss the tree for better material. I think that’s the goal of the exercise…know when to put something in the burn pile.

  6. Ryan says:

    I personally love this tree and all it’s character!

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