I want to devote a special chapter to ramification. I assure you, a whole book could be written about it! And nothing that might be written, or which you will read in this article, is irrefutable – indeed, there are almost as many theories and techniques as “masters.” That being so, I won’t get involved in defending one technique as the best since that is not my purpose. But I will explain some key concepts for deciding which technique to choose for each design we undertake.
I want to quote here a few words from J. Yoshio Naka, on ramification: “If the roots are the foundation and the trunk is the body of the construction, the branches define the silhouette or the form of the tree. The arrangement of the branches, or EDA-BURI, determines the beauty and the quality of a bonsai…., the branches are like a man’s clothing.”
Pruning, wiring, pinching and defoliation are the tools we use to that end.
Monopodial and Sympodial
To what do we refer with these terms? Can these technical botanical terms help us with our bonsai? In fact, they can. They are terms that every bonsaiist should keep well in mind. In botany two types of ramification are spoken of, according to the nature of each species1. Depending on the apical dominance, we can speak of monopodial ramification and sympodial ramification.
Growth that starts from old buds. It is a horizontal growth pattern. The lateral branches develop more than the primary leader. This can include the primary leader stopping its growth, if the apical bud goes dormant or transforms into a flower bud. The axillary buds continue growing.
In nature it is the typical ramification of the majority of trees, and especially of those with deciduous leaves; with the exception of, for example, some poplars which grow vertically. The form of the canopies is broad and rounded.
It is typical of conifers. Its growth is vertical, yielding forms that are pyramidal, triangular, or conical. The primary leader grows more strongly than the lateral leaders. It presents a primary leader (or monopodium) which grows indefinitely.
In bonsai it is a ramification style very often applied in the traditional Japanese schools, both to conifers and to non-conifers. It has many practitioners and many detractors.
I can only hope that you grasp and understand these two basic concepts for creating bonsai. There are bonsaiists whose bonsai are all styled in the same way. There are others, by contrast, who know how to choose the type of ramification (sympodial or monopodial) which should be used to create a given work, based on the design to be followed. The important thing is that in bonsai there should be no fixed rules. The beauty is in the interpretation and labor of the artist, not in the technique that is followed.
Pari or imparipinnate??
Another basic botanical concept that we should understand, when it comes time to ramify our trees, is to know the species well. Needless to say, the ramification of a mulberry is different from that of a juniper. We are not going to go into details by species, but rather discuss universal concepts. When it is time to work on a broadleaf tree (non-conifer) it is very useful to know if its budding is “pari” or “impari.” That is to say, if its buds sprout opposite each other, or alternately. We refer to these patterns as paripinnate and imparipinnate budding respectively.
It would be interesting to attend a debate between defenders of wiring for shaping the branches of our bonsai, and defenders of pruning. I assure you that there might be sparks flying, not to mention sharp objects! To each their own. There are those who use wiring for shaping all the branches, and those who use pruning exclusively. It is said that virtue is a mean between extremes. Depending on the design that we carry out, we must rely more on one technique or the other. Sometimes simple guy wires can be used to place a branch in a satisfactory position; this is a less aggressive technique than wiring. In general, wiring tends to be used primarily for “monopodial” ramification while pruning is used for “sympodial;” with certain exceptions, obviously.
Wiring or pruning?
How to wire correctly should be the primary theme of another article, so I will not go into it any further here. Suffice it to say that it is a technique that must be refined over years with hours of practice, since it is a key technique for achieving success in the majority of ramification projects. Wiring allows us to rapidly shape and position the branches.
Building branches by means of pruning, pinching and defoliation
Let us go on to look at some simple procedures for developing ramification with scissors – just with pruning, pinching, and defoliation. It is a very slow technique, but with the passage of time and with good work, the results are really spectacular and natural.
The tools we need for this work are the following:
Patience is required for success. Branches must be allowed to grow until they reach the desired thickness. Fine primary branches are not esthetically attractive.
Example 1: Paripinnate budding
One the branch is thickened we prune it at the second pair of leaflets.
Each bud produces a new branchlet2. We eliminate the upper shoot, and the buds that remain behind it, and again allow the branch to grow to the desired caliper.
We prune it again at the second pair of leaflets.
Now we opt for the upper branchlet and we prune at the first pair of leaflets. We remove the lower shoot. In this way we develop a certain movement in the branch.
We pinch both branchlets, and remove the rest of the leaves that remain further in toward the trunk. In this diagram, we are simplifying things as much as possible. What normally happens is that other, and badly positioned, sprouts appear during the process. We must continually eliminate them as they appear, until we are left with this structure.
Where once there was one bud, we now have new branches. We must continue to remove the poorly positioned ones and refine the structure. Compactness will continue to develop with more pruning, thinning and defoliation. Above all, patience, correct pruning, and good use of the scissors are the keys to success.
Example 2: Imparipinnate budding
Leaves appear in an alternating pattern. The initial procedure is the same. Allow to grow until the desired thickness is reached.
We should prune at the level of the bud that faces downward. Otherwise, a sprout will emerge that will be too vertical.
We follow the same process explained above, with stages of growth, pruning, selection, and defoliation.
Next, we will look at a pair of examples that together show the distinction a little more clearly. The first of them is a deciduous tree for which we will combine the use of wire and pruning; the second is an olive in “Bunjin” style.
Example 3: A sympodial deciduous tree
Let us imagine a piece of raw material with bushy appearance, which has to been allowed to grow freely but with a limited selection of branches.
The first step is to carry out a severe pruning. We can leave a few “stumps” as bases for future primary branches. This is not always successful, since the plant ends up sprouting where it will. But in many cases we can gain great benefit and have the beginnings of thicker branches.
Throughout the first year in training we remove the branches that are poorly positioned, and we wire and place in desired positions only those branches that need it. From here on we will work only with pruning. In this example we will not overuse wiring and attempt in that way to obtain a “natural” result.
Second year in training. The structure has been maintained by pruning and pinching without the need for more wire. Now it is time to refine the ramification.
We achieve success by pinching the new growth, always to the first bud to avoid undesirable lengthening. It is a very slow technique, but one that gives great results.
We have to combine pinching with removal of branches that are poorly positioned.
The results will be a while in coming, but the work accomplished will be worth the trouble. We will have a deciduous tree with a very natural look and without pronounced triangles.
Example 4: A monopodial olive
This raw material is a very lean olive from a nursery. From the length of the trunk and the location of the canopy, it is a clear candidate for the “bunjin” style.
In this style it works very well to wire thoroughly and then position the branches, defining the layers well and creating triangles. It will be an olive with monopodial ramification.
Selection of branches; they are allowed to grow for vigor and thickness.
We proceed with positioning the branches with wire, and for compactness we make use of pinching and defoliation, always as the health of the tree permits. In the end we will develop a very nice bonsai in Bunjin or Literati style.
As we see, there are many options and techniques that we can choose when it is time to shape the canopies of our trees. Most important is perseverance and knowledge of the techniques; and above all, to carry out the stages of the work at the right time and when the health of the tree permits it.
We must not lose sight, either, of a concept as basic as the location of a bonsai. Weekly rotation, so that it receives sun on all sides, is basic for good ramification. Lamentably, it is something that bonsai enthusiasts do not always do faithfully. It is a great mistake to want to have your bonsai with the front always facing you. Don’t forget that.
Published by Sergio Martínez at 21:43 [9:43 PM]