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 Post subject: Design validity - Tropicals in Full- cascade style.
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 6:32 am 
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Tropical full-cascade design validity.
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Dear Bonsai lovers:- I think this would be the right forum to clarify a bonsai design point that has been bothering me for some times. The point is" HOW FAR TROPICAL TREES ( not shrubs or creepers or succulents) ARE APPROPRIATE AS RIGHT MEDIUM OF FULL- CASCADE DESIGN ( not semi-cascade) .
If it is appropriate can we reference some natural "Full-cascade tropical trees "as inspirational image from real nature .
I have done search as far as i could but could not find any natural image to authenticate this widely prevalent design concept as realistic design concept for 'Tropical trees'.
The full cascade design concept was evolved ( as far as my limited research goes) from the naturally growing connifers on high altitude where recurrent snow-fall, landslide etc. forced the plant to cling to the cliff/ ridge of the mountain and escape the natural onslaught of cruel nature by succumbing to its force and bow down to survive. Do Tropical trees grow in such climatic condition and terrain!
Full-cascade design evokes in me the the survival instinct inspite of all odds and it is highly artistic and rythmic design concept very pleasing to look at .
All the great names in Bonsai world have a full measure of this design in their collection and books ( mostly with connifers). Still ,is the design technically appropriate and natural for tropicals ?
It is accepted that an artist is free to design his work as he desires and that is not my point .
Will some one please help me to clarify my understanding? Or should we accept that that Tropical in full-cascade design ( not half-cascade- that is natural ) design is just a stretch of imagination or utopian design concept without any root in real world? Thanks for reading so far.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 10:28 am 
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You do not find humans made out of stone or clay in nature but that is often the medium used by sculptors to portray them.
Trees and all plants grow in manners that best suits their survival. Trunks zig-zag through shadows to find light, hence the curved and twisted shapes. Trunks and branches are shaped by wind, light, weight of foliage, etc.
I agree that 99% of all tropical trees grow in a predictable manner but these are not the ones I wish to portray, I want to capture the essence of the other 1%. Take Junipers for example, there are many in nature that are really quite boring, I do not want to replicate these, I want to replicate the few that are twisted, scared, bent, and beaten by the elements. We could also think about Larches whose natural growth is straight and narrow, another reason they are called Lodge pole pines. Duplicating this natural growth pattern is boring, instead we bend the trunks, chop for taper, and otherwise shape our Larches to look like a very tiny fraction of those in nature.
Artistic license, if you will.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 18, 2005 12:45 pm 
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I agree with Will. The example that came to mind for me is the Satsuki. These are usually garden mound shrubs, but as bonsai they are typically styled with a zig zag pattern trunk and long branches coming off to best show off the flowers. I've also seen them styled in full cascade quite beautifully. Does one find cascade azalea in nature? Not to my knowledge, but I still enjoyed the satsuki cascade I saw.
We are inspired by nature, not copying nature. Bottom line, if a tropical cascade is well done, it is bonsai art.


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 Post subject: Re: Design validity - Tropicals in Full- cascade style.
PostPosted: Mon Sep 19, 2005 1:07 am 
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Soumya Mitra wrote:
It is accepted that an artist is free to design his work as he desires and that is not my point .

Obviously, we are on the same page on this one. As Will, Howard and Soumya all stated, an artist is free to use any species to express any design idea. But as Soumya said it, that's not the point.
The question still remains, can we find in nature tropicals that may grow into the shape of a full cascade? This is an important question for me as well, because I personally would design a tree into a certain shape only if it is credible to occur with such a shape in nature. I don't intend to copy nature to the letter, but it is much more attractive to me to respect the growth patterns that a certain species displays when grown in the wild. This of course is is just my personal taste, and has nothing to do with the artistic side of bonsai.
Back to the original question, at first I thought that the answer is NO, a tropical species would not grow as a cascade in nature...unless it is a vine of some sort, or a ground-covering shrub, that can hang in a draping manner. But that's not the real cascade shape we are talking about.
After giving much more thought, my conclusion is that theoretically there may be circumstances under which a tropical can grow as a full cascade.
Here is my reasoning.
A cascade form can occur when a species grows at the upper limits of its natural range. Beyond a certain altitude the conditions become increasingly hostile. The trees become stunted. There comes a point where the tree can oly survive if it hugs the ground and grows within a foot above it. I experienced that myself during my hiking trips: at high altitudes when you lay down on the ground, it is much warmer and less windy. So, on steep slopes, hugging the ground may lead to the cascade shape. And snow is not always a factor: some of these trees have very sparse foliage, with little surface to hold much snow, which will be blown off by the winds anyway. Therefore, snow in most cases will not be sufficiently heavy and long-lasting enough to bend a branch downward. It's rather the tree's ability to seek out the optimal growing conditions that guides it to grow downhill.
In the tropics, we can often find tall mountains where, as we move uphill, the tree population gradually changes from a certain mix to another, finally reaching the tree line where the trees stop growing. Every tropical species has an upper zone, where it becomes too cold and this will inevitably stunt the tree. At the very limit of its 'survival zone", this tropical species may become just a shrub, looking for the warmer crevices on the surface of the ground. When growing on a steep rocky terrain in these conditions, a cascade shape may well be an option for a certain individual to survive the cold. It doesn't have to be very cold in absolute terms, but just too cold for that particular species. And it doesn't have to be at the tree-line, in the sub-alpine and alpine zones, but can be at much lower elevations, where it is not very high in absolute terms but just too high for a certain tropical species.
This is just pure theoretical speculation. The only real answer has to come from an individual who actually travelled in those tropical mountains and saw it for himself. The literature available for us rarely deals with unusual growth forms of a certain species, so it is not likely that we will have an answer from books and articles.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 19, 2005 12:58 pm 
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This whole "as it grows in nature" thing is interesting to me.
A white pine in nature is an easy tree to recognize by it's silhouette because of the whorls of branches and the resulting unique pads of foliage. Yet, these whorls are removed in bonsai because of the swelling they will cause on the trunk and because of aesthetic reasons.
Many Junipers are low growing plants, creeping along the ground in nature, yet in bonsai we tilt and train them in upright forms against their nature.
Most tropicals have a spreading rounded canopy but many artists force them into pine tree shapes.
Plants will grow in the direction easiest for survival, up, down, sideways, what or wherever, those that can not die. This is not species specific nor location specific. The majority of pines do not grow in a cascading style, just a few. I would not bet my life savings that there are not a few tropical that also grow in this manner.

Will Heath


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 Post subject: Re: Design validity - Tropicals in Full- cascade style.
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2005 4:07 am 
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Location: Basel, Switzerland
Attila Soos wrote:
The question still remains, can we find in nature tropicals that may grow into the shape of a full cascade? This is an important question for me as well, because I personally would design a tree into a certain shape only if it is credible to occur with such a shape in nature. I don't intend to copy nature to the letter, but it is much more attractive to me to respect the growth patterns that a certain species displays when grown in the wild. This of course is is just my personal taste, and has nothing to do with the artistic side of bonsai.

There obviously are two approaches. One is the 'botanist'. He wants to copy spruce as a spruce, an oak as an oak, a tropical tree as a tropical tree.
One is the 'artist' and he knows that 'ceci n'est pas une pipe' (this is not a pipe). You remember this Magritte painting of a tobacco pipe and this same strange text besides? Sure it is not a pipe ? it is the picture of a pipe.
For some time now I have been concentrating on landscapes rather. This also means to scale down trees. Down to 2 ? 3 " sometimes. On that 'sideway' of the bonsai thing it is necessary to 'paint pipes'. I will hardly find a 2" spruce looking like a big one. So I take some juniper instead. Myrta communis makes fine apple trees. Hebe, a veronicacea, might give a nice dense bush. This weekend I accidentally discovered that a little spirea bush looks like a little copy of a hazelnut.
And now the tropical cascade. I only mention that I can well fancy circumstances, where cascades evolve in a tropical forest: A slope, a falling tree that recovers? I mean to have seen such things in a rainforest on Papua Newguinea even. But I do not really care. This ficus is not a ficus anymore, it is what it can ALSO be, when I see this potential and 'dig it out'.
Note: All this does not mean at all that I disagree with the 'botanist's' point of view. I am just a little bit more on the 'viewer's side' of the game, that's all.


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 Post subject: Re: Design validity - Tropicals in Full- cascade style.
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2005 11:15 am 
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Andrew Loosli wrote:
One is the 'botanist'. He wants to copy spruce as a spruce, an oak as an oak, a tropical tree as a tropical tree.

I was long looking for a word that would reflect what I am trying to do, but your 'botanist' definition fits it the best. The botanist viewpoint is a little game that I am playing within myself, it's just a personal challenge. I like it because it forces me to really look at the different ways the various tree species grow in nature, and differentiate between them. For most people these subtle differences may be invisible, but for me it's an intellectual and educational excercise, beside practicing art.
The exceptions are the shrubs of course (certain junipers, azaleas, etc), those I call "free form" bonsai. When it comes to trees, however, the 'botanist' viepoint is my favorite. The real benefit from this approach for me is that by scrutinizing in detail a particular species, I learn new things about it every day. To me this is really fascinating, but hasn't much to do with the 'generic' practice of bonsai. But bonsai, and art in general means different things for different people.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2005 2:53 am 
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Attila
Botanist and artist meet. At least they both share the same curiosity to find out what 'spruce' is, means and how this 'story' can be told. Sure it is important for an artist to seek personal, individual experience. But art is more than therapy, it is communication. Therefore the final conclusion so often heard that art is something individual one cannot argue about does not count. The different people looking at art have a common language, be it verbal, visual or emotional. This is the base of art, not the difference.
To me botanist and artist are black and white. I prefer to concentrate on the line that can be drawn from one to the other ? this curiosity e.g. for 'the spruce' and the will to tell about.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2005 5:53 am 
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Attila Soos wrote:
But bonsai, and art in general means different things for different people.

I agree with this.
Remember the first time in your life that you came face to face with a bonsai ? Probably you, like me, asked yourself the same question: ?So, this is Bonsai ?? Than came the second question ?What the hell this beautiful thing really is ?? or ?How is it possible that a tree becomes so small, beautiful and alive ??.
After some years playing around with these things, I still ask myself the same question ?What is Bonsai ??. The more I digg in, the more I notice that it is difficult for me to use the word ?Bonsai? to communicate with others.
Surely, the confrontation of the ?botanist? versus ?artist? approaches is something tempting to talk about. In discussions about bonsai I notice so far that most people use the botanic roles to ?explain? the logic. They talk frequently about sunlight directions in relation to foliage pads forms, falling snows and wind etc to show the logic of their shari?s and jin?s. Very few talk about bonsai as art in terms of communications and a mean of self-expression. Bonsai catch me up in a second, or not. I presume this this the art phase of judging a bonsai. Afterwards, these botanists come along (so to speak) and tell me why the don?t like the bonsai. In some cases, I deal with their analysis. Perhaps we end up with something between the two. And end up with a remark that no bonsai could be perfect.
Back to the original question, I must say that it's up to you how you approach bonsai. No authority can tell you what to do. If you want to win a medal with your bonsai, you have to listen to what the judges like.
And yes, I've seen full cascade bonsai of tropical species. Not (yet) in the nature.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 5:23 pm 
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Location: Brisbane, Australia
Figs, particularly, adopt cascade styles if they grow on cliff faces (This includes the sides of buildings, as often occurs in the city where I live).
Certainly valid, even common, in the right climate.


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