Five Great Species For Shohin   4 comments

I love this time of year. All the trees are showing their new leaves and it is a joyous time. As I move further into bonsai and shohin I feel this need to move into some flowering shohin bonsai. I guess that will give me something to do for the next ten years.



I would like to choose five from this group and talk a little about each one as bonsai. From left to right: Trident Maple, Japanese Maple, Shishigashira Maple, Korean Hornbeam, Shimpaku Juniper.

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Trident Maple


Acer buergerianum (Trident Maple; Chinese: 三角枫 san jiao feng) is a species of maple native to eastern China (from Shandong west to southeastern Gansu, south to Guangdong and southwest to Sichuan) and Taiwan.

It is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree reaching a height of 5–20 m with a trunk up to 50 cm diameter. The leaves are in opposite pairs, 2.5–8 cm long (excluding the 2–5 cm petiole) and 3.5–6.5 cm broad, hard, glossy dark green above, paler below, usually with three lobes; on mature trees the lobes forward-pointing and with smooth margins, on young trees with more spreading lobes and serrated margins. The flowers are produced in spring, yellow-green, in pendulous corymbs; they are small, with five greenish sepals and five yellow-white petals about 2 mm long, and eight stamens. The fruit is a samara with two winged seeds, each seed 4–7 mm diameter, with a 15 mm wing; the wings are forward-pointing and often overlapping each other.

It is widely grown in temperate regions as an ornamental tree. It was introduced very early to Japan, where its name translates as “China maple”. More recently, it was introduced to Europe and North America in 1896, and is now occasionally grown in parks and large gardens there.Mature examples may be seen at Westonbirt Arboretum in England, the Esveld Aceretum in Boskoop, Netherlands, Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts and many other locations.

Bonsai[edit]Trident Maple is a popular choice for the art of bonsai and responds well to techniques that create leaf reduction and ramification, is suitable for many style and sizes of bonsai. Several interesting cultivars have been developed, many of these bear Japanese names. Notable cultivars include ‘Goshiki Kaede’ (striking pink and green variegation), ‘Kifu Nishiki’ (roundish, almost un-lobed leaves), ‘Mino Yatsubusa’ (dwarf with long, narrow leaves) ‘Mitsubato Kaede’ (distinctive cork-like trunk) and ‘Naruto’ (strongly incurved leaf surface).[

Japanese Maple


Acer palmatum, called Japanese Maple or Smooth Japanese Maple (Japanese: irohamomiji, イロハモミジ, or momiji, 紅葉) is a species of woody plant native to Japan, North Korea, South Korea, China, eastern Mongolia, and southeast Russia.Many different cultivars of this maple have been selected and they are grown worldwide for their attractive leaf shapes and colours.

Acer palmatum is a deciduous shrub or small tree reaching heights of 6 to 10 m (20 to 33 ft), rarely 16 metres (52 ft), often growing as an understory plant in shady woodlands. It may have multiple trunks joining close to the ground. In habit, it is often shaped like a hemisphere (especially when younger) or takes on a dome-like form, especially when mature. The leaves are 4–12 cm long and wide, palmately lobed with five, seven, or nine acutely pointed lobes. The flowers are produced in small cymes, the individual flowers with five red or purple sepals and five whitish petals. The fruit is a pair of winged samaras, each samara 2–3 cm long with a 6–8 mm seed. The seeds of Japanese maple and similar species require stratification in order to germinate.

Even in nature, Acer palmatum displays considerable genetic variation, with seedlings from the same parent tree typically showing differences in such traits as leaf size, shape, and colour.

Acer palmatum includes hundreds of named cultivars with countless forms, colours, leaf types, sizes, and preferred growing conditions. Heights of mature specimens can range from 0.5 m to 25 m, depending on type. Some tolerate sun, and others like shade. Almost all are adaptable and blend well with companion plants. The trees are particularly suitable for borders and ornamental paths because the root systems are compact and not invasive. Well drained soil is preferred, and the trees grow strongest when they are not over-fertilized. Many varieties of Acer palmatum are successfully grown in containers.

Japanese Maple  “Kotohime”


Koto Hime Japanese maple has a strong vertical growth habit. Horizontal branches must be wired into place, but fortunately, they have a good memory and will quickly hold their new shapes. Be sure to check on wire as maples, like many deciduous species tend t grow rapidly in spring and wire may cut into the bark in only a couple of weeks. Continued pinching is necessary to develop fine twigs like the two bonsai below exhibit. I have never defoliated this cultivar, no need to as the foliage is quite tiny.

As far as repotting goes, there is nothing particularly special about Koto Hime Japanese maple. I have learned it’s best to transplant AS the new leaves are opening, or even when the leaves are open and small. Like other established bonsai, they can be transplanted when in full leaf if you are careful and provide sufficient aftercare. There is no problem in drastically root pruning in spring. There is nothing special about the soil mixture, but a finer textured soil is preferred when fine twigs are being developed.

There is a variant of Koto Hime Japanese maple, Goshiki Koto Hime, which is supposed to have multi colored spring new growth. I have found this cultivar is not as vigorous as the common Koto Hime Japanese maple.

William Valavanis

Korean Hornbeam


‘Korean Hornbeam’ is a plant in the Carpinus genus with a scientific name of Carpinus turczaninowii. Hornbeams (Carpinus betulus L.) are relatively small hardwood trees in the genus Carpinus. Though some botanists grouped them with the hazels (Corylus) and hop-hornbeams (Ostrya) in a segregate family, Corylaceae, modern botanists place the hornbeams in the birch subfamily Coryloideae. The 30–40 species occur across much of the north temperate regions, with the greatest number of species in east Asia, particularly China. Only two species occur in Europe, and only one in eastern North America.

The leaves are deciduous, alternate, and simple with a serrated margin, and typically vary from 3–10 cm in length. The flowers are wind-pollinated pendulous catkins, produced in spring. The male and female flowers are on separate catkins, but on the same tree (monoecious). The fruit is a small nut about 3–6 mm long, held in a leafy bract; the bract may be either trilobed or simple oval, and is slightly asymmetrical. The asymmetry of the seedwing makes it spin as it falls, improving wind dispersal. The shape of the wing is important in the identification of different hornbeam species. There are typically 10–30 seeds on each seed catkin.

Shimpaku Juniper


Juniperus chinensis ‘Shimpaku’ (the shimpaku juniper) is a dwarf, irregular vase-shaped form of the Chinese juniper, Juniperus chinensis. Originally native to Japan, they were first collected in the 1850s in Japan. It is a slow-growing evergreen shrub that typically grows to 3 ft (0.9 m) tall and 5 ft (1.5 m) wide over a period of 10 years.Gray-green to dull dark green clusters of soft needles cover them. They are primarily grown and used as decoration, and at one point were a symbol of status in Japan. The Japanese botanical name of the shimpaku juniper is miyama-byakushin. The shimpaku juniper is used as bonsai material and in various gardens, such as rock gardens.

Shimpaku Juniper are one of the most popular species for bonsai within the bonsai community. Its attractive foliage and beautiful bark make this one of the top candidates for bonsai. Many wild trees have been collected in Japan, making it extremely rare to find growing wild. In fact, today the Shimpaku junipers growing in the wild in Japan face extinction due to over collecting.Shimpaku was and is very dangerous to collect. Many of the best Shimpaku live only in remote cliff areas. It is said that the first Shimpaku to be collected in the wild came from the Ishizuchi mountain range on Shikoku Island. Collected Shimpakus are known for their deadwood, called jin and shari in the bonsai community. Many bonsai masterpieces are Shimpaku Junipers. Masahiko Kimura is known for having many outstanding shimpaku.

4 responses to “Five Great Species For Shohin

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  1. Hi Al, I like reading your blog! Are you certain that the photo of your Shishigashira maple is correct? It looks very much like Koto Hime which I have been growing and propagating for over 40 years. Bill

    • What should I be looking for to verify the difference. I was told by Scott Chad at Lotus that this is just a green maple. I was told by a local that this is a shishigashira. It is easy to tell that it is not a Japanes maple. The bark is very rough down low and the leaves are deeply serrated and jagged down the margin. It sems to grow much like Shishi in the way the foliage grows in tufts. An accurate name would be preferable.

      • Your tree is a Koto Hime Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Koto Hime.’ Shishigashira has larger, darker green leaves which are rather thick. The stems and trunks of Shishigashira are also much thicker and heavier than Koto Hime which is a delicate cultivar.

  2. Thanks Bill, for the clarification. I have updated the text to reflect this cultivar.

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