Trident Maples   26 comments

OK….I admitt, I am very partial to Trident Maples. Without a doubt, in my opinion the Trident is probably the best plant known in the Bonsai world. It is grown all over the world, works extremely well for bonsai and is darn near bullet proof.

Hundreds of cultivars of Acer exist world wide and they are mostly divided between palmatum and trident varieties. In Japan, two words account for these two cultivars. Momiji and Kaede. Here we can explore the Kaede more closely.

In Japanese, “Momiji” can be translated to “baby’s hands” while ” Kaede” may have been taken from the ancient language term Kaerude (kaeru = frog…de = hand) or froghand. Centuries later it has shortened to Kaede. However it has been written, the Japanese consider all palmatums Momiji and all other maples Kaede, especially those not indigenous to Japan such as tridents being from China.

Acers are small trees and grow rather fast building trunk mass quickly. One of the unique properties of the trident is its ability to mold around objects. When grown over stones it can cover them in a few years with an almost lava like tissue that fuses when it touches its own tissue. This ability is very good for fusing many trees together to build trunk mass or to build clump styles.

BIB, Exhibit of Fine Bonsai
Photo by the Author

Tridents can be grown easily from seed, cuttings, layers and grafts. Layers can root in as few as 65 days and allow one to remove it from the parent plant in 120 days. Cuttings will root firm in about 90 days. All types of grafts readily take with approach grafts being the most easy and reliable. Thread grafts are also easy and can look better since the branch will emerge from the center of the trunk rather than the edge. Root grafts take fast and large nebari can be built with seedlings grafted on the trunk base.

The base of trunks can be enlarged easily by growing thru holes drilled in tiles. As the trees grow the trees will self layer and grow two sets of roots. One above the tile and one below the tile. before the roots above start to grow the base of the trunk swells very large above the tile. As it issue roots there the tree will have a large flaring base and the part below the tile can be cut away leaving a nice compact rooted trident for styling.


During the last ten years I have had all these cultivars in my collection. I still have five of the seven with only integrifolium and mino in limbo currently.

Acer Buergerianum formosanum ‘Miyasama kaede’

This cultivar is the most popular and one of the oldest cultivar known in America. The leaves are dark green with distictly smooth leaf margins.

formosanum miyasama kaede

Acer Buergerianum ‘Goshiki Kaede’

Toyo nishiki

A very nice verigated form. In mild climates it will keep its verigation all year. Defoliation risks losing more of the white and bringing forth green leaves. Following years spring growth will be verigated.

goshiki kaede toyo nishiki

Acer Buergerianum integrifolium ‘Maruba tokaede’

Maruba means round, or round leaf. Light green in color with a thick rather leathery leaf. A dwarf form seldom reaching more than eight feet in height.

integrifolium maruba tokaede

Acer Buergerianum ‘Naruto kaede’

This cultivar is very unsusal. Its two toned leaf is lighter underneath than the darker green color on top. The leaf is accentuated by the rolled margins and sharp points. While the curled leaves are a natural condition it gives this otherwise healthy plant the look that it needs water. I have one but it has terrible growth habits as the branches do not seem to ramify in normal trident fashion.

naruto kaede

Acer Buergerianum ‘Mitsuba kaede’

This leaf is very beautiful. Vibrant green color and the center lobe is easily twice as long as the outside lobes. This long thin center lobe is suseptable to leaf burn even under shade cloth. Leaf cover is dense and internodes are fairly short. In bonsai it forms rather irregular foliage pads and makes a unusual bonsai.

mitsuba kaede

Acer Buergerianum ‘Mino Yatsubusa’

Another elongated center lobe form. Like above suseptable to leafburn . This cultivar has a much more pronounced serrated leaf margin. The outside lobes are sharply pointed and rather thin making this leaf very beautiful. Again hard to make bonsai from its unusual leaves.

mino yatsubusa

Acer Buergerianum ‘Trifidium’

‘Tokaede’, ‘Sankaku kaede’, ‘Kakumino’, ‘Hanakazura’, ‘Toyama kaede’.

The standard in the nursery industry. One of the older cultivars from Eastern China. It has been in cultivation since the 1800’s. Leaves reduce very easily and the leaves are bright green. The leaf margins are highly serrated. Highly used as a street tree and make nice yard trees staying rather small and compact. It can grow as tall as 30 feet in the right conditions.


Al Keppler Trident Maples 2003

The Process.

In 2003 I purchased five trident maple yard trees. They were growing in five gallon nursery containers and had grown into the ground. The root mass was very compact and most of the wood was contained outside of the container. The trunks were about 1.25 inch across and the trees were about 12 feet tall, not many branches and basicly broom sticks. Ripsgreentree helped me dig them out that day and saw them down shorter to get them into my pickup.

The next weekend I began the journey of chopping them back to small stumps. Each tree was taken from the nursery can and cut in half with an axe across the root mass to shorten it. This did the trees no harm since the root ball was very bad and roots issued all over the trunks. The root ball was nearly two feet long beneath the crown of the trunk due to growing into the ground and out of the can. Each trunk was shortened down to the lowest bud on the trunk.

The process works like this. The tree is now fertilized watered heavily allowing full unrestricted growth in full sun. The canes that shoot up from the base of the trunk will reach 9 to 10 feet in one season here. I have a 9 month growing season with fairly mild winters so growth is almost year round. These canes are left on thru the winter.

In spring, just before bud break, the canes are cut back to with in 1/4 inch of the trunk. This is crucial. DO NOT CUT FLUSH WITH TRUNK. What we want here is massive trunk growth due to scarring of the prune cuts. Tridents build callous tissue very thick and it is the thick tissue that adds girth to the trunk base. Continue this process by allowing rank growth thru the year and prune back in each spring. For these tree I did this for three separate years.

In the fourth year select an appropriate leader to become the basis for trunk extension. This will become the tapered part for the new tree. Keep all canes from growing now and focus all energy into building the leader of the tree. This is the most difficult and time consuming part of the process. A little talent and experience is needed here to keep the tree from growing too long before chopping back, sometimes two times in a season. Take a three week vacation and you may have to chop it back and start over. Buds will have to be selected for pushing the trees new leader in the correct direction. This can be a crap shoot sometimes and is not always the direction you hope for as the tissue stretches and moves like molten lava as it grows. Interesting to note on this tree, the terrible base is pretty much intact, keeping in mind that this much or more was growing outside the five gallon container. This giant chunk of wood was what was in the can. How will I ever get this into a shohin container?

The front, one year, may be the back the next year. Hopefully the tree will possess enough good attributes and look good from all angles when it comes time to put on branches.

At the beginning of the fourth year it is ready for it’s first repot since starting. The tree was allowed to grow for those three years and repotting too soon will stall progress when growing tissue. At this time the beginning of two ground layers would take place. If this project was to mean anything I would need to have a root mass that would work in a suitable shohin pot. That would mean having a very compact small root pad around the tree. Not many large roots but a good fibrous root system that would allow for bending and working the roots around in a small pot. During the whole process the tree were grown in pure construction grade sand. They were also grown thru the whole process in the five gallon nursery type containers they were brought home in. Not the same ones, but new ones that were not destroyed by my axe. As the project moved on they were cut down to about 4 inches tall by the end of the project. The trees never saw the ground nor were they grown in colanders. I feel there is absolutely no need for all these gimmick type items and while some may have good luck with them I have done fine with black plastic pots. Humic acid…now that’s a different matter!

Two more years would be spent on developing taper and roots. In the fifth year it was layered again. This time in the spot I would choose based on trunk development and taper. This is a very tricky thing to do since roots do not always issue close to the layer area. Sometimes tridents will issue roots a full inch above the top cut making the tree useless because it makes it too short. I have found that by making my first cuts and then dressing them with a razor sharp grafting knife and using hormone on tissue paper I can control where the hormone goes. This allows for roots to issue at the cut area since I am dealing with a tree only 6 inches tall. One inch too high and the tree is useless.

During the fourth and fifth year special attention is paid to choosing any branch buds that pop out in useful areas. Keep all the buds and develop them carefully. The key is to stay on them and cut back to two leaves every other week. Allowing the internodes to grow too long and harden off will require removal of that branch and starting over. Thread grafts are appropriate now as well as approach grafts. Allowing shoots to lengthen will allow a person to use stock from the same tree insuring the same size leaf. Just bend them around to key spots and thread graft or approach. Tridents vary greatly in leaf size and the wrong stock grafted on looks funky…trust me! I have some tridents that get leaves no bigger than my little finger nail.

As I came into the sixth year I was amazed at how well the little trees responded. I have just stayed on them for branch ramification and will continue to do that thru the years. This year, the sixth, I decided to carve out the original pruning scar from the original chop. They never popped buds there and I thought that a hollow would look better than the dead wood that was flat and boring. A little work with the die grinder and the wood was chewed away revealing a small hollow. I did not want to over do this and will allow the tissue to roll over and semi heal. If it looks good I may allow it to heal completely over if it wants to.

Both trees have between 3 and 4 inch trunks at the base and are only 6 inches tall. What happened to the other three? Well in this project I chopped three for the future. I still have the third one but did not get to repotting it. It will be added here next weekend. That tree is the subject of a split/double type trunk. It is still undergoing radical techniques and looks funny now but will look good in about two more years. The other two? I chopped them and started the root development phase first. Now they are ready to undergo a new process I am working on for building the trunk. They will undergo phase two for the future. I call these three “The Three Little Pigs

The fourth maple sat alone for some time buried in back of more favorable trunk lines and so less work was done to this thing. It has a rather fat base and the trunk is good, its just the original chop was done too high. I took all these back to a leader low on the base and of all of the five this had the least amount of lower foliage with which to play with. I think I can get a pretty good tree out of it even if it requires a layer sometime down the road.





Some carving was done today to help with the large scar. This hollowed out trunk will be refined now with a dremel tool and smaller carving tools.



The fifth trident spent a few years in the back corner of the backyard. I used it for a mother tree taking cuttings and using it to make thread grafts and approach grafts. The tree worked good for this since it was allowed to grow without fuss and since has grown out of the pot and rooted into the ground. Two year ago I started to think differently about the tree and its future since I have enough tridents for cuttings and grafts and this tree can start to work towards a future.  The trunk is pretty large by now. Still rather short due to its first chop down low, but growth has stretched it out to about 10 inches tall. The other three above were only allowed to grow around 6 to 7 inches tall.

The original chop began growing two shoots. Each worked at being dominate with neither realy growing larger or taller than the other. They both grew to a height of about 9 feet before chopping off the trunk on the left.  After I took off the left leader I sealed the cut with green goo. Rubber cement from the stationary store will do the same. The right trunk was allowed to grow another season.

It gained about another half inch in girth and the time was right to remove this trunk back to a suitable bud to continue the taper.

So the tree has grown all seaon. The canopy on the tree is pretty large and I have no idea what it looks like under all the leaves. Tomorrow I strip off all the leaves to see what I have in there and make what will probably be the last chop. Then I will start developing branches. 2013 will also see the tree lifetd and a ground layer done to remove what has happened under the nursery can while the tree escaped into the ground. I can take that time to reduce the roots to a managable size to allow it into a bonsai training pot to ramify these branches.

Today I lifted the tree from the ground. The roots had escaped into the earth and were growing pretty hard. This is just a taste of what can happen when a plant is grown in the ground. The roots will get very large very fast. One of the roots was a full two inches across. Now I can cut the roots back and pry the plant out of the can and wash them off. I suspect a full ground layer will be needed to get this stump back into shape. I think with the shape it has now and the profusion of rings on the trunk that this spring should see an explosion of buds to grow branches from. Refining from here on out.









Benny Kim Trident Maple 2001

In 1999 I found my way to the California Bonsai Society Exhibit. This was the club of John Naka. This is would be the last photo of John I was to take. This was his last attempt of reproducing his famous Goshin.

john naka

During that convention I purchased a large Korean Hornbeam from Kim’s Bonsai Nursery. I kept the tree through the year and it went down hill on a slow decline. I kept it until the following spring when it did not bud. I pulled the tree from the pot and found it had absolutely no roots. I had in essence a 5 inch based cutting, thrust into a bonsai pot. I called the nursery and was told I could bring the tree back. I made my first trip to Kim’s that spring of 2000.  When I got there I was amazed at the amount of material. Ten acres of stuff, some as large as two feet across. I showed Benny the tree and he told me that the load of hornbeams were shipped and that they had shipped the wrong lot. These tree were not rooted and should have spent a couple years in the greenhouse before sale. He told me to pick out a suitable replacement and he would make sure it was a tree well rooted. I went with a trident instead. I picked out this tree from the avialble group in that price range.


Trident assortment in 2000


This is the tree I picked 2000

Just to make sure I was happy he threw in all kinds of stuff, wire, soil and pots. I was totally satisfied with my trade and left the nursery thinking how long it would be before I could make my way back for more stuff. Working on the branches was my first order of business. I began a period of grow out and chop back which lasted about three years. In 2004 I felt it was time to put it into a bonsai pot. This pot was made by my son in high school in 1994.


Spring 2004


Fall 2004


Spring 2006


Fall 2006


Fall 2007 Last picture with original roots.

I started the winter of 2007 by removing all the large roots that were exiting the trunk at the soil line. While the flare seemed good anf the base was pleasing, I had a large root on the right side that went straight down and showed light thru if viewed the right way. If I am going to continue with this tree, this fault will have to be corrected. I started by cutting all the roots ioff at the trunk. I really had no idea if I was going to kill the tree or not. I just cut them off. No pain no gain. The tree was starting to look better but it would take many years to heal these cuts since the largest root was a full inch and quarter across.





I sawed the roots, and then cleaned them up with a grafing knife. kept it smooth as possible so that the callus would form right away and not be hindered by any snags. this is what will stall the healing process and make bulges in the trunk. 013

The tree was repotted in a custom made Jim Barrett pot for the tree. Larger and a tad deeper. I was able to lift the tree almost two inches out of the soil now reavealing much more trunk.


Winter 2008


Fall 2009


Winter 2009

In the second Kazari I entered this maple. It was a rather religious scene of an early morning meditation of a monk under the shade of the maple tree. The scroll depicts the early emergence of the April cherry blossoms and its rising sun. The ‘Monk’ suiseki is from China. The tree earned $1000.00 for the first time.



In the winter of 2011 I would exhibit tghis maple for a second time. This time the tree was prepared for a winter storm with only a few oprange leaves clinging on and scattered on the tatami and a winter storm scroll with cloud obscured moon. The small hut stone alone in the countryside completes the image. The tree earned $1000.00 a second time. Finally, bonsai is making me money!


Winter 2011 Second Place Toko Kazari


Spring 2012


Fall 2012


Winter 2012



Ed Clark Trident Maple No. 1 2011

Sometimes a person comes across a deal that is really unbelievable. My father told me once that if its too good to be true, it probably is. I had the good fortune to come across one of those such deals last year. Here in Fresno CA. we have an annual bonsai swapmeet. In fact the next one is in a couple weeks on Dec. first, and I will be on the look out.

Anyway…..a guy from Lindsey Ca. comes in with a truckload of maples. He used to have a commercial maple nursery where he grew maples for the retail nursery trade. His fields are still full of maples and he digs them up each year to bring to the swapmeet. Last year I pulled up behind him at the curb while he was unloading. I asked if he had any tridents like last year. He said he thought he may have brought only two, but they were near the cab. I waited. Load after load came out….no tridents. Finally the last load and there was this tree. A trident. Had a trunk about two and a half inchesacross and the tree was about 20 inches tall. The shoots on it made it another 12 inches taller. The tree came up and broke out into several secondary trunks. they were rather large but not overly large. The trunk had been chopped at one point but had healed over leaving a very goiterous lump of tissue on the trunk. I liked that!

The rest of the branching was nothing really to shout at, except that I knew I could make something really great out of the base structure. I bought it…..gave him more than he asked and as he fumbled for change..I told him to keep it…take your wife to dinner…he looked at me funny. No one had ever given him more than he wanted with a smile.

In the spring, the tree was to be planted out in a shallow bonsai tray. I had one that was too small for my other trident and since my son had made this one back in 1994 I am a little partial to it. I felt that the tray had enough textural elements to work well with this rough around the edges tree. The tree was removed from the nuresery container and it had a profusion of roots around the edges. This is an indication that the soil was not good for growing and the tree preferred to look elsewhere for either oxygen or water or both. I decided to cut the soil mass in half to wash out the roots. When I did I found out why the tree was growing around the edges. The tree was planted in pure clay mud. Mud so dense that not even air could permiate the soil mass.  I started washing out the clay as I worked with a chop stick and  pruners taking off long and thick roots as I went.

In some places knob cutters were used to shorten the larger roots back that began sticking out as the soil was washed away. Finally I got down to the bole of the trunk. I used a saw to cut off the bottom part of the trunk flat so it would sit well in the dish. The roots that were left were substatial enough to support the tree as long as I pruned it back equally. The tree was planted out in the tray with porous fresh soil and the tree was tied in. The tree was kept in the sun for a few months to gain strength and then to the shade for the hot summer.

One year later, the tree has started to ramify. The grower had told me that the tree would never push buds on the old wood. After seeing the mud it was planted in I can see why. This year I had numerous buds all over the old branches and places I did not expect to see bud. Most of the shoots were kept short to keep the internode length close next to the trunk, so when I prune back the larger limbs I am assured I will get a bud and twig closer to the trunk.


Ed Clark Trident Maple No. 2 2012

This year at the fourth annual bonsai swapmeet I was on the lookout for my buddy from Lindsey. Ed Clark grows the tridents in the field and always digs up a few for the annual swapmeet. I had the good fortune to be there early to snag a good deal again. This tree was sitting there and was screaming out to me. I set aside and looked saome more and found the third trident I would buy that day. That story will follow. This is the beginning of the story and it will be a few years before much can be really seen in its developent beyond what I can do as far as intial cuts to set in on its path.

Those I can share right away. This is an animated gif of the tree as bought. Again as do many tridents when there is not enough time to do pruning early enough, this trident suffers with wasp waisting due to branch intersections that are not pruned out or thinned earkly enough. The trunk will stretch and then a cluster of branches are allowed to thicken too much and a large bulge will develop. This continues up the trunk which can make it distracting. It looks much the same way the abdomen on a wasp looks with bulges inteconnected by thinner parts of the trunk.




So now I am able to remone superfluous branches that are doing nothing but making the bulges larger and thus ruining the taper. I removed all the larger branches to the trunk while retaining a few larger ones in spots where they may work later. If they are too large or are in bad angles they can always be taken off later.


Once I had all the pruning done I was going to do, I noticed a large bulge of wood that had formed at an intersection of what appeared to be about 5 branches. This area needs to be removed to help convey a better and smoother taper heading towards the top.

branch redded

I was pleased after removal of the area, and I think it improved the transition much better.


Here is the main reason I wanted this tree. This base is magnificent and has a really nice flare. The roots enter the soil, while large, at a very shallow angle which will allow me to nick them all the way around the bottom and shorten them later.






Ed Clark Trident Maple No. 3 2012

This maple I bought with a two fold idea in mind. Since I want to chop another trident to build a super fat sumo styled shohin trident again using some ideas I have gained from the other five, I bought this because of the great base. The top though has some pretty good taper and since it is just waste anyway, this tree will be a good candidate for ait layering out a smaller tree.


Sorry about the price…..


These two views show about where I will layer this plant off.



The base continues under the soil and I think there is a really nice flare there. When I get the root ball washed off later next month I will be able to inspect it more closely and plant it out in a basket.







DSC_00260005 DSC_00270006





Mid summer work proved that the gap had bridged across the layer wound and stopped the production of any roots.




The wire tourniquet I had applied did nothing and the trident just grew right over it. The wound was redressed and covered with fresh akadama.




Within 45 days I had a crop of roots. The tree currently is still on the parent tree and will stay until spring when I update again.



 Ed Clark Trident Maple No. 4 2010

This is another Ed Clark trident. It was purchased at the second annual Fresno Swap Meet in 2010. It was pretty bushy and the tree was chopped back hard down to a few branches.



In 2011 it was planted out in a pond basket type container. Root growth good and branches thickened.


The tree became part of a discussion last year in 2012 about living in “Realville” and making the hard decisions on just how much work someone wants to put into material that will probably never be anything or will take so long that one may never see it through. The tree on the left was stump I grew out. The stump on the right was the stump in this story and it is easy to see that the tree on the right has many more attributes to becoming a better bonsai in a shorter amount of time.


A virtual was done to show my thoughts on where I might be able to take this piece of material.



The tree had a bad underhang. A place where there were no roots and the tree had grown sideways under the soil making the trunk look as if it had reverse taper. This would have to be corrected.





In the spring of 2012 I decided to do what was necessary to move this tree forward. The pond basket had given me a very powerful root system in which to carry out my work.



The strong leader that I left would now need to be pruned back.


It was taken back to the secondary on the right.


Now the secondary would have to be pruned back to maintain taper. Even pruning back at this stage is important because it freezes the taper into the top. Eventhough all this area will continue to grow, it will grow at the same rate and stay in proportion.


Small branches are reduced to one branch through out the tree. In some cases I keep small branches near the bottom of the tree to help heal larger wounds. These “helpers” can be cut off later.








Now on to the bottom of the tree. I had made about 40 cuttings the year before and I would be using some of these for the new roots I would add to the tree in the undercut area.




The proper size holes were drilled through the trunk for the thread grafts I would use to add rootage to the area.



The cambuim is exposed and the grafts are wedged into place and sealed.




Next I needed to add some more branches to the tree to help fill in the areas without. To make approach grafts I use a tool called a “scorp” made by flex cut. A small groove is scooped out of the trunk area in preperation for the new branch.



A doner tree is used to make the grafts. In all I would add three branches to the tree. A no 1 branch as well as two more in the upper part.






All of the grafts would take and the tree grew well the rest of the year.


In the fall of this year all the work is inspected. The root grafts have grown a lot and the grafts have been cut away from the doner tree.


The grafted no. 1 branch is ready to be cut back to the first buds. This is the timet o start intruducing taper for this branch. Just allowing it to grow free will certainly add girth, but without cutting back there will be no buds to make secondaries from. The branch will have too much of a pom pom effect. Cut early and often.





The wire is started on the upper portion of the tree and it it also get pruned back hard again.


In this last view, one can see that much of the undercut area of the lower trunk has dimenished and the rootage looks better. The branches are now in place and the tree will begin looking closer to the virtual with each passing year.



Ian Price Trident Maple 2009

I bought this tree at the 2009 GSBF convention on the last day, Sunday. Ian Price from Lone Pine was getting ready to put it on a flatbed to haul out to the van. I made him an offer and he accepted.  As can be seen by the look of the tree, it had been pruned alot but never really shaped. The branches were thick and short like it had been used for a cutting stock mother tree. While I liked the tree and thought there was a usefull purpose in the trunk, it would have to be severly cut back and the branching started over. This is not always the best way to go about a new tree, but the height was good for a kifu size tree and the base was good and large and it seemed to have some good tapering, though to bring out the best would need more chops. This always means more time to heal them out. The trunk had some chops that had never healed and that would require more time as well as the insults I intended to do.  This tree would require some grafts to get any size in lower branches to keep up with what is already at the top of the tree.

All of this is easy to do, just takes lots of time. I think the tree will be a nice tree when all is said and done, but oh how much time will it take.

This is the tree as purchased. It takes lots of guts to cut off ramified branches as good and twiggy as these. These branches have to come off to improve the tree, and I waste no time in dispatching as many as I could.

The tree didn’t have much rooting on one side of the trunk. I repotted it and cut a long window into the base of the trunk and filled it with cut paste. here I would let it issue roots.

At this point the tree was back filled and soil mounded along the cut and moss placed over the layer area. All of the branches I wanted to remove are taken off.

With all the limbs removed it was easy to tell where I would need branches to fill in the blank spots. The tree was to recieve some approach grafts and I did these in the same year as the branch removal. Since no root work was done this time around I would concentrate on building the top. The appraoch grafts were taken from Trident number five above building a transfusion board on an upturend trash can to get the plant up to where the branches were. They were bent in place and pinned in place with simple push pins into freshly cut grooves in the trunk.

The tree was allowed to grow unchecked for the entire season. All I did was make sure that branches didn’t get overly large on those that I was keeping at the top and allowed those on the bottom to fatten to look proportionate.

During the season I kept up with peeking in once and a while for roots to emerge in the layer zone. The roots pushed right thru the cut paste and some emerged right from the callus layer. Plenty of fertilizer and water helps speed this along. The pellets are a formulation of humic acid with all the micro and macro nutrients.

More recently, Today to be exact, the tree was defoliated and pruning work done. When growing out a trunk I do the pruning work in spring before bud break, but when branches are set and they are of substantial size and all that is needed is ramifying, with my mild winters I can prune now and seal and the tree will respond as if I pruned in spring.

Summer growth for 2013 was very good. Many new branchest o prune back and trim for the 2014 season. Hedge pruning sets the tree up for good ramification throughout the year.


The new branches cut back and wired for shape. Below represents a couple different views off of what I consider a front. There is some waisting in the bottom third and views just off center can mask some of that. This season a couple sacrifice branches will be grafted into that area in an attempt to correct this area and keep my original front as styled.






Mike Saul Trident Maple 2010

I bought this trident from a friend in the Fresno Club, Mike Saul, who was having a terrible time deciding on what to do with this tree. It had a rather phallic looking trunk that jutted in a curving fashion off of a turtle shell base. A couple things struck me…..

first, he was willing to give it to me pretty cheap

second, I was really taken with the large base

and third, this stump has character.

That was enough for me and I was sold. I took it home and gave it a first prune job. My interest lied in the unsual base and what I might try to get out of that. I wasn’t so much thrilled with the phallic stump and thought that could be cut off later down the road after I made better use of the base of the tree. I decided to make a couple experimental grafts on the base. I say experimental now, thats because they both failed. When I did them they were a sure thing.  Curses! BTW, either way you look at this thing its bad. Front or back.  We have an ugly tree contest at the Fresno club, I brought this tree. I didn’t win, the guy I bought it from won, can you believe this guy had another tree actually uglier than this one?

The grafts, three in all were performed more or less to see which one would take the fastest, which one would have the least bump and which one would look the most natural. The twig scraped to the cambium was fitted into a tight hole which I drilled into the turtle back base. All of them failed. Mostly I think it was too hot too soon and they dried up, and if I had put the tree in a plastic bag for a week or two I might have had better success. then again maybe I wouldn’t have the tree in the place its going now.

After the grafts failed I had to regroup and see what direction I could go. A friend on a discussion page had drawn a picture of a possible semi cascade type tree. Due to the curve in the phallis and the branching already moving in that direction it seemed the appropriate thing to do. I cut it back and wired it for its intended purpose. The leader on top was wired and bent back on itself to give me an apex turning in the correct direction.

All thru the season I let the maple grow trying to get some girth in what would be a continuation of the trunk on out towards what would become the cascade part. Intermittent pruning was done thruout the season.

In fall  this year the tree was unwired and the leaves taken off for winter. The tree was lightly pruned for internode length and will be allowed to grow a couple more seasons. I may plant it out in the pot I have for it this spring if it respods well.



Howard Latimer Trident Maple 2010 DECEASED

I purchased this tree from Howard about 2 years ago. Howard is a retired Botanical Professor from Fresno State University and has quite a collection. Howard offered this tree to me for a good price and I reall loved the trunk. It was smooth and very reminiscent of the work Don Herzog from now defunct Miniature Plant Kingdon used to do. This tree may have come from Don several years ago. I will have to ask Howard about that.  Since the tree had very few branches on it anyway, there was pretty much nothing to do but let it grow.

After the first year I decided to see what is underneath. Oh boy, I should have left it right where it was cause it was mighty ugly under the soil. before any additional work could be invested in this tree , it would need a better base in which to put my time. I decided to to a ground layer to remove the long and deep “claw” tangle of roots under there. This was to be a fairly radical layer and though this would be the second time I would do this, it is always risky as the whole thing could fold up.

Every root was going to be cut for the layer. It is a time consuming process as all the cambium must be removed or the layer will fail. Any bridging of the live tissue will allow the roots to continue to work and the layer will just stall and never issue any additional roots. During this time in Fresno when temps. can reach 112 degrees for 10 or 11 hours a day will be certain death for a plant having its entire root sytem girdled.

A suitable collar was fitted to the pot and it was backfilled with suitable soil. Fast draining with additional sand. The next spring, 2012 the plant was repotted cutting away the old root base.

The tree was planted into a suitable container, rectangle with a double band, and green clay. The tree was left to grow wll this year with infrequent pinching and pruning.

This fall the tree was defoliated and the branches pruned back to one pair of buds.

On review of the photo I could see the internode length of the apex was much too tall. Since there is a bud just to the left of the top shoot, I took out the tall shoot and will keep the internode length shorter in the top opf the tree this year. Keeping on top of 75 tridents and their pruning needs throughout the year is daunting. But I do like working with this species.

So this is the tree ready for its winter nap. Then I get to do it all over again this spring.



Steve DaSilva Trident  Maple No. 1 2011















018 (2)


018a (2)




019 (2)



Steve DaSilva Trident Maple No. 2 2013

This is the tree as it was dug from the field. Steve prepared this feild five years ago by planting out pencil size cutting to grow. yearly pruning and work has produced some highly tapered little tridents to work with.


Here we see Steve walking thru makings ure I don’t dig up the ones he wants. Not very cool to dig up the growers trees!



With the pig on my tailgate I can inspect it for rootage.


When I get them home I can get them ready for planting for the season. I purchased some ten gallon nursery containers and sawed them down with a circular saw. Only needed the sides about 4 inches tall for my needs. If I could find 5 gallon bulb pans I would be in luck.








Planted in a mix of sand, pumice and lava and a little bark.





All the cuts need to be cleaned after grinding with a grafting knife. The smoother the better. sealant is a must with tridents. Any drying will stall the healing and the wound will have to be opened each year to keep it going. If its good and clean it will heal in half the time and not need to be addresssed each year.










First branches are wired and allowed to grow. Hedging is done periodically thru the year.


Fall of 2013 and the tree is now defoliated and pruned. All last years wire is taken off and the tree rewired for the 2014 season.





Some might askw hy I cut off all the stuff that was growing so well on the trunk. It looks good but is on the tips of branches that are still too small. The primary branches have to be built first and this is done thru cutting back for at least three seasons to build a branch large enough for the size of the tree. This branch must have some movement and some taper and then the secondaries and tertiaries can be built.



Steve DaSilva Trident Maple No. 3 2013























Steve DaSilva Trident Maple No. 4 2013













Steve DaSilva Trident Maple No. 5 2013












George Muranaka Trident Maple 2013 “Frokensteen”

Working with trident maples has been a lot of fun. I wasnever  much of a maple guy until I found this versatile species. In 2001 I bought my first and have bought every one I can since then. As far as deciduous trees go, I feel the meadow shaped trees look best. The look of a spreading oak is also a good look for a trident maple and very much like they look in nature when the reach maturity. Finding material that looks like that is very hard to find. Most maple stock seems to be grown with a long tapering trunk with subtle curves. While the shape evokes a soild Japanese image of a classical bonsai, itis  not reall a traditional maple tree image.

Below represents a better image for a maple.


This is often the shape most maples are grown in. While it represents a great bonsai shape, it is easier to grow this kind of material rather than the more traditional spreading oak shape above.


These three trees representsom e purchases I had made thru theye ars from George Muranaka. I pick them up inexpensively and have them around for working on to improve them or to grow out long branches for doner trees for grafting. While arranging the trees for a group shot one night, it dawned on me how these three might be put together and grafted together as one tree. A sort of Frokensteen tree from parts put together like a Gene Wilder movie.

DSC_00040001 (2)

All the trees were prepared for grafting by combing the roots and removing rootage on the adjoining sides. It is remarkable how the shape of the trees worked perfectly for putting together into onet tree.








I started fitting the trees together and got all three where I wanted them. I wrapped the trunks with electricians tape since it has good stretch and holds tight well.





Once the trees were tapped together I was able to use my pruning saw between the trees and really make a good connection. This made a solid union as well as exposing cambium for the graft. This area was sealed and then that area was tapped with black tape and the previous area exposed and sawed like the previous areas.




I used the bottom of a clay pot saucer to affix the tree to. I drilled some wire holes in it and wired the tree to the saucer so that I might achieve a better flatter root spread.


Now that all the sawing was done I could wrap the entire tree with black tape and plant it out in my standard sand, pumice lava bark blend for maximum growth.







The tree wired to the clay saucer.




Old dryed up pruning scars were ground and smoothedd own to fresh green cambium. Then the wounds were sealed with green goo.







In the summer the tree grew hard and I placed some wires wround the trunk so that they could dot grow away from each other.



Some of the grafting going on during the summer.




This grafted area split the sealant. It is going well Igor.

DSC_00380005 DSC_00390001







The tree was defoliated in the fall and is pruned back and re sealed ready for the 2014 season. I expect much more growth this year.i  will not repot this tree this next year and will let it grow wild this next year.






George Muranaka Trident Maple 2013


This trident once again come from George Muranaka and was purchased at ther EBS annual exhibit in August. The tree was bought for the flare at the base and the good trunk girth. The leaves were shot and worse for wear. I took allth e leaves off and gave some TLC for a month or two.


Within 45 days I had a good crop opf new leaves really making the tree look good.







By falls end the tree was covered with a good canopy of leaves and now it was time to take them all off.


Now it was bare and I needed to start andfi nd some good bones in there from which to build a tree. Once again we have a tree hear that was grown well, but wasc hopped when it was about 2.5 inches across and a leader was chosen and it was grown out. This makes for a tapering trunk, but keeps the tree looking more like a pine tree rather than a spreading maple with stretching arms.







Time to take the top out.


That big branch at the bottom right has to go.



Nowthe  top has two competeing apexi. The one on the left will loset he  battle.


Wire and bending and this one is ready for 2014. No repotting for this next year either.


Posted November 12, 2012 by California Bonsai Art

26 responses to “Trident Maples

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  1. Thanks so much for doing this. it’s just incredibly helpful.

  2. Cool site Al, love this maple section!

    Dave (monza BNUT)

  3. Thanks Dave and Brad. Much more to go here before I can even post any current stuff. Just want to get the archive over to this place first. I have already begun to do a lot of winter work which I have photographed and will be posting soon. repotting starting in a few eeks with many new plants seeing a bonsai pot for the first time. I can’t wait either.

  4. I need to try a trident. Santa Clarita has similar weather to Fresno as far as heat goes. Thanks for all the detailed examples Al.

  5. Al, great site,especially the maples. Like you i have an affinity(obsession) with tridents though i am in Ontario, Canada and will need to figure out winter protection. My collection is currently just 1/2″ whips and some seedlings in the ground under a foot of snow. We are 5b so this winter is a test to see if they survive in the ground. What is humic acid all about? Looking forward to future trident posts, only 5 months till spring! 🙂

  6. Thanks Tona, they do like some heat. You would do well in your area.

  7. Hi Jim, Thanks for taking a look and I hope my trees have been inspireing. Much more to come as many of them I have just started work on and I have seeds coming for more!
    I almost spewed all my tequila threw my nose when I read 5 months till spring! My maples will start pushing buds in two weeks and pop open the first week in February! maples like my long growing season with hot summers and cool winters. The 40’s is perfect for overwintering a maple. Colder will need protection. You shoud be Ok though, its a tough tree.

  8. Al, Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, techniques, and sense of humor. I really enjoy your blog. I have a question about your maple containers that I hope you can answer. Most books recommend planting developing maples in wide, flat containers, giving them lots of horizontal root run. And I’ve seen lots of nice maples developed in Anderson flats and such. However, I’ve noticed that you use deep(ish) containers. I know you’re not one to do something just because everyone else is doing it, but have you ever tried flatter containers? Is this a climate issue, since yours is hot and dry?

    • If you take a look at most of the material I am working with, it is easy to see that most of them are well over three inches in girth. At that size I’m more into developing canopies rather than growing trunks. I can keep the roots under control and keep the ball more compact for planting out in the show pot later. Having the root ball run into a large mass would just defeat my purpose.

  9. Thanks for all the useful info. You mention “green goo.” I’ve been using rubber cement but can’t find it in anything but small quantities. So what is gteen goo?

    • The green goo comes in a tooth paste style tube and is from Japan. I buy it when I am at conventions. I have had mine for abiout twenty years and am finally in need of a new tube which I will buy at this years convention. The rubber cement will do just as well since they have similer properties.

  10. I am going to read this at least 10 times to digest all the info, and look at the pictures better. Now it was a brief read only. First of all I found it to be a valuable resource on trident maples, that is well documented. I have some questions for you, about things I did not understand. Would it be OK to ask them here or I open a thread on the forum. I was in Japan for a month only, and decided to concentrate on two things only: Pines and junipers instead learning bits and pieces of every thing, and coming out not good at anything. Will probably go next year for a month on trident. I love trident and have several. Most of them shohin. That is what I have questions about. Second, I like this post a lot and would like to put a link to it so more people see it. I think it can be of great help to many people. I shall just put a link with a note that it is good info. Can I do that please. I have not started writing my articles yet, but plan to do it soon.

  11. Thank you for looking Neli. Yes you can link the site if you wish. I have about 10 more trident projects to add here. Many grafting projects as well as updating the Frokenstein tree. I too love shohin tridents and have many of them in my collection. Currently I have over 200 hundred tridents in all stages of growth. Check out the thread and see how I am growing tridents from seed for a very special look. They are doing great and will be updated this weekend since they are ready to be chopped soon.

    If you have questions you can ask them here or on a thread at bonsainut, either way I am eager to answer a question.

  12. Thank You Al. I think I can do both. I dont need links from you to any of your posts…He he he! I have seen them all already, and I like them. The only reason I would like to ask somethings on the forum is because I want to put some pictures for you, and I dont know how to do that here. Before I ask my first question, this is a comment for you: In Japan trident grown in a small pot and trident grown in the ground are priced differently. The ones grown in pots are very expensive, since they grow very slowly. But my-o- my…they are beautiful, and you can distinguish them when you see them. The ones grown in pots have their trunk and branches like made from wax…flowing…I dont know how to explain it, but they are beautiful. They have this shine like on the trunk…smoothness,…like patina on old pots…they are truly beautiful. Hi end nurseries prize and work mostly with this kind of trees. I think you should try that. Just remember to use a small pot for growing them on. Just a bit bigger than the bonsai pot. I want you to see the difference. I think you have one trident that was grown in a bit smaller pot than the rest. It is the one with the bump. The pot is not small enough to achieve the perfect effect, but I think it has some of the qualities of trident grown in a small pot. I dont know if you noticed the difference.
    So far I have one trident grown from seed. It is few mm thick, and I wired it and bend it crazy…that is before I saw your article, and because that is how junipers are grown in Japan. Lets see what will happen to it.
    My question No1 for you is this:
    Do you thing trident will grow here. Looking at the zones in USA, I am zone 11. My PH of the water is 8.5+. I know acer likes acid conditions. For this reason I add hydrochloric acid to my water.(0.6ml /liter) I put a tank, very high where acid is added. I did a lots of tests in order to calibrate how much acid to add to achieve PH of 6. I water them only with that. Now I have tried to do also some research on the subject, and some sources state that salts can accumulate in the soil if KH and GH are high. My GH is 180 and KH 120, which is very high. Someone mentioned that they flush with acid water twice a month only, and that is OK. Any advise on that?

  13. I forgot to tell you,I saw some people growing trident by the bending of the branches method, in the ground. I think you should try to grow some like that, even if just to see if there are any advantages.

  14. I watched a video a while back featuring Walter Pall doing a critique in Europe somewhere…. he was talking about a massive “Sumo” style Japanese Maple, saying this was grown in the 90’s probably, when this “Sumo” thing was fashionable…. it’s really not anymore!
    Well Al, you and me both must been way out of fashion, ‘cos I still love the style, especially when it comes to shohin maples, and that “Steve DaSilva Trident Maple No. 2 2013”, pig on your tailgate, is sure lookin’ good mate.
    Bring ’em on I say!

  15. This blog is great alot of good reading tips and pics! I look forward to all of your updates in the future. I like what you do with these maples and will have a go myself. Thanks for taking the time to show us all your experiments Al.

  16. I came across this blog doing a search for some different Trident cultivars. I see you have had a couple of these at one point in time. Was wondering if you could turn me in the direction of where to look for specimens of my own. Acer buergeriaium
    1) ‘Mitsuba Kaede’
    2)’Maruba Tokaede’
    Any help is greatly appreciated.

    • Currently I have only the Goshiki Kaede, which is verigated. Most of the other like trifidium and miyasama I have in the collection as trees. The thread leaf extended tridents were from Murayama Bonsai in Sacramento.

  17. You are so cool! I do not think I’ve read a single thing like that before. So great to discover someone with a few genuine thoughts on this topic. Really.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is one thing that’s needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!

  18. Amazing blog!! Thanks so much for sharing your information. I’m learning a lot! Ta – Hugh Wheeler, Australia

    • very cool pics and info, thanks. do you use any types of tile in pots for radial roots? and also recommend pond baskets? i use some but think i have them too high in soil and was wondering if worth put a tile/cd in to push roots out horizontally?

  19. The best trident maple blog on the web. Thank you!

    Jerry Santiago

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