Entry: Callitropsis lusitanica – Mexican Cypress – Costa Rica
At the present I am ready to start work on a series of potential bonsai using the species Callitropsis lusitanica. These are trees that I have grown from seed with the idea of using them for bonsai starting material. (I never felt good about collecting trees from nature) Last week when I saw the announcement of this contest, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to share what I am doing with this species with many people who otherwise would probably never see my work. Callitropsis lusitanica is a species which most people don´t see as good bonsai material. I have been working with this species since 1998, and although it does have some disadvantages like diffuse and unruly foliage, it does have some good points too like for instance I can go from a seed to a 10 cm – 15 cm trunk diameter in 3 – 4 years. For an older fellow like me that is a great advantage, especially when there is no way I can get my hands on Juniper trunks that size in my country. Besides, the foliage can be changed by grafting in Juniper species. I have the proof! Another great characteristic of this species is the long fibers that pull well – great for Si Diao manual technique. I hope that seeing these trees in the contest will motivate people to experiment with this species.
For this series, I will be focusing on deadwood carving and since I want this to be the emphasis, my styling will be designed to showcase the deadwood rather than the foliage. I am late getting started (just found out about the contest), so I will attempt to style the tree using it´s normal foliage, however eventually the foliage will be changed to Kishu Shimpaku, Itoigawa, Procumbens or another Juniper species by means of grafts.
I have selected this tree because of the interesting movement of the trunk line and sufficient trunk girth to allow for good carving. Also the tree has enough young limbs that I hope I will be able to do a quick styling and make it presentable before the contest deadline.
One Quarter Progression
In the first phase, I have eliminated some of the limbs that are not needed for my design plan and also I have determined the path of the live vein and marked it in blue. It is imperative that all the remaining foliage be connected to the roots by the live vein, but it should be placed so that the route that it takes corresponds to the route of the grain of the wood as closely as possible. In this case, I have created 2 live veins starting from the base which fuse into one about 2/3 of the way up the tree and then splits again into two veins for the highest section. This allows me to feed more branches than if I had placed only one live vein. Because of the locations of the branches on this tree, it is not possible to have a perfect correspondence of the live vein and to the grain of the wood. In areas where the live vein crosses the grain of the wood I will be limited in the amount of texture which I can carve into the deadwood.
Half Way Progression
In the second phase, I removed the bark from the areas which will become deadwood. This is a critical operation and requires caution so as not to damage the bark of the live vein or dislodge it from the wood underneath while removing the bark from the area which will become deadwood. Notice that in this process I am creating deadwood from live wood and in the process, I am severely reducing the amount of live wood which can maintain the foliage and limbs alive. Therefore since I am basically killing a lot of the live wood there is a limit to the amount of foliage I can leave. Nevertheless, I need to maintain a sufficient quantity of foliage to be able to produce a decent final design in a relatively short period of time. So I am doing a delicate balancing act. Normally I would reduce the foliage to the minimum amount necessary to maintain good health of the live vein and then grow back the foliage which I need to style the tree over a period of a year or more.
In the next phase I will be carving the deadwood, which for me is the part that is the most fun!
Three Quarter Progression
In phase three, I have preformed the sculpture of the deadwood areas using SiDiao manual carving techniques. The use of Die Grinder mechanical carving has been keep to the absolute minimum. Almost all of the carving is accomplished by separating and pulling fiber bundles to remove them. This method of carving produces the most natural appearance possible. Even so, there are other benefits with this type of carving over mechanical carving, which are probably more important than the natural appearance, when considering the long term durability of the deadwood. First of all, the lines of the carving coincide perfectly with the natural grain of the wood. This is very important when the deadwood begins to shrink due to initial curing of the freshly exposed “deadwood” as well as the subsequent shrinkage and expansion due to periods of dryness and periods of rain. As these changes in dimension occur, cracks inevitably form in the deadwood. If the carving was done by machine or chisels it may look great at first from a distance, but as the cracks form, they will cross the lines of the carving exposing the carving as unnatural and many times parts of the carving design will even pop off. Even more important than this esthetic problem is the fact that when the carving is done with machine or chisels the sap tubes in the wood are cut across exposing them to the environment so that water and micro organisms can enter and also drying effects are exaggerated. This vastly reduces the life expectancy of the deadwood areas. However when the carving is accomplished by pulling out fibers, not only does it look better, but the sap tubes remain closed which is of great advantage in wood preservation.
As can be seen from the photos, when the carving by fiber pulling is first completed, the deadwood looks like there was an explosion in the vicinity about 5 minutes before. That is not what we want. Instead, we want something the looks like it happened many, many years ago and that the wind carrying sand, debris and snow over the ages has somewhat sandblasted and polished the deadwood. So the next step is the polishing. It is important that the polishing procedure doesn´t remove the detail in the grain of the wood carving that was painstakingly produced by pulling small groups of fibers. The last of this series of photos shows the tree from three angles and some close-ups of the deadwood after the polishing has been completed. The last photo shows how I have placed a white, fungicide containing sealant which will dry to transparent on the cut border surface of the live vein. This is important for rapid healing of the live vein borders.
The wild curves and turns of this trunk and the lack of taper cried to me literati. In order to produce visual unity, I have designed the upper foliage area to echo the angle of the two sections of the trunk which slant to the right. The curving line of the upper section of trunk is echoed by the curving line defined by the foliage tips on the right side of the tree. This same area of the foliage reinforces the left slanting lower trunk section.
I am happy with the deadwood which turned out to be quite interesting. I do not normally use lime sulfur on my deadwood. Instead, I use a solution of Zinc Napthalate to preserve the deadwood. This product is completely colorless and does not produce a coating but rather penetrates the wood and is very effective. Over a few months to a year, the sun does the bleaching of the wood in a natural manner. The result is a completely natural appearance. This treatment combined with the way in which I polish the deadwood, results in a very ancient look.
As I mentioned earlier, the foliage of Callitropsis lusitanica is diffuse, unruly and grows too rapidly for easy maintenance. Fortunately, this species is very graft compatible with all the Juniper species that I have tried to graft to it. So I will probably be doing a lot of grafting to give the tree better and more controllable foliage.
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Final Outcome: 5
More contirved than the others, the upper part of living crown can be removed totally and thus the tree would be much more compact.
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Final Outcome: 7
Nice tree, needs better photo.
[tab title=”Judge #3″]
Final Outcome: 7