“Why in the world did you decide on ‘Crataegus’ Bonsai?”

I get this question a lot. And the answer comes with a story.

Well, a three-part story.

The first and easiest part of the story is that “Crataegus” is the genus name of the hawthorn tree, which is my last name in German. Years ago I was waffling about for a business name. This was way back when I made pots, and I wanted something that wasn’t Japanese, as my ceramic work wasn’t always traditional (over the years neither has been my bonsai work, for that matter). The tricky part is pronouncing it, as the spelling of it combines the “a” and the “e” into a squashed together “ae,” which comes from Latin. I’m told the pronunciation is a combination of the two sounds—and any linguist who can lead us to tongue it right is welcome to comment.



The second part of the story is that I didn’t think the world of hawthorn as bonsai and didn’t want people to think they littered my yard. I think there are two out back.

The third part is illuminating, and more adventurous, and what clinched the name for me. When I was in Japan I had a poet friend, a guy from New York City. One of my few English-speaking friends in the village where I apprenticed. We were sitting in the cafe where my girlfriend worked, talking about our families. I related one tale of my family who in 1980 were in Germany on the hunt for our family crest. We found it at long last in a church somewhere in the north. The crest was split into four quadrants. One was a typical coat of arms sort of thing, a shield and a few weapons, etc. Another quadrant made us laugh, as it was a beehive, and my father had paid his way through college with 25 hives and later became an entomologist—our laughs had a high, nervous ring to them. The fourth quadrant, I told my poet friend, was an image of a small tree, presumably a hawthorn. Of course he knew I was a bonsai apprentice, and he looked at me soberly and said, “There really is no free will, is there?”

This is why I chose Crataegus as my business name.

I’ve since been told that my memory of the crest is faulty. And that the story is as well. It is, at any rate, the story that led to the business name.

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  1. Michael says:

    I love the story… especially the honesty at the end about the frailty of memory!

  2. Ray says:

    Excellent history, seems fate reigns

  3. Love hearing the stories behind the names of businesses, gives such an insight into the person. Beautifully written.

  4. Tony says:

    As everything you do, very original and creative. Bravo!!

  5. Brian McGrath says:

    I have 4 Japanese black pines in the landscape that are at least 35 to 38 years old. I have worked them for all of their lives. One gave me 3 cones 3 years ago and that’s it. At what age do they develop cones as I what to grow from seed and I am running out of time myself.

  6. Philip Klar says:

    Great story and witty explanations, thank you Mr. Hagedorn for your inspiration as always on spot! Frees my mind to think out of the box what art is all about…! Es Kracht und Eurotrash aber alles Klar…

  7. Peter Simpson says:

    The story of Crataegus is a wonderful one. Thank you for sharing it.
    You asked for the correct pronunciation of Crataegus. My years of Latin study were that “ae” is pronounced “I”, the first person pronoun, sane sound is “eye”. The g is Crataegus is a hard g as in “good”.
    Personally, I have never heard anyone pronounce correctly, per the above.
    I have heard even more tortured pronunciations for Chamaecyparis.
    There is a long discussion of the pronunciation of “ae” athttps://www.reddit.com/r/latin/comments/8a2k2g/how_is_ae_pronounced_in_latin/

  8. Steve Hamari says:

    Thanks for clarifying. In my mind I always read it as Crustaceous, the geologic period that lasted from about 145 to 66 million years ago (Mya). It is the third and final period of the Mesozoic Era, as well as the period when crustaceans ruled the seas and claimed dominion upon dry land. You can only imagine my confusion when you gave a presentation on chojubai at BSOP, as I had been expecting to see some mammoth shrimpaku!

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