Not all bonsai are old, but many of them may be older than you realize. Yamadori especially, can be very old for their size. The great age vs. size is something I mentioned in an earlier post; These trees are growing in a severely constricted environment. A crack in a rock only holds miniscule amounts of soil, moisture and nutrients for a tree. In a bonsai pot we are basically creating the same type of environment, except that we are regulating the amount of soil, nutrients and water to keep the tree thriving and happy all year.
Steve recently cut a slice from the base of a deceased common juniper he found in the mountains. This tree is barely over a foot tall and over 301 years old!
Junipers grow with veins, somewhat like hoses that go up and down carrying nutrients and water. (Pines and deciduous trees are slightly different.) If you look at old junipers you can see dead areas and the live veins are often spiraling or taking interesting paths up to the foliage. You can tell from the growth rings where the live vein was on the tree that Steve cut.
Below is my attempt at pointing this out..:
The red is where the live vein was growing at the end of this plants life. The green shows where the original plant started growing and how the live veins added years of wood to the tree. Certain sections died and growth stopped there while the veins continued in other directions. You can see where part of the earliest years of this tree aren’t even there any more; so this tree is over 301yrs but we don’t know exactly how much.
Here you can see the veins clearly on this Rocky Mountain juniper:
Narrow/thin rings represent hard or slower years of growth while thicker rings represent stronger years. Theoretically, once a bonsai is established the rings should grow at a consistent rate each year… not too strong not too weak. 🙂 If you are growing a young plant fast to gain a larger trunk or pump up it’s strength then you should be getting thick rings, or if your bonsai gets attacked by insects or disease you may have slower years. Of course you won’t really know any of this unless your bonsai dies and you can cut a slice.. Hopefully you don’t have that opportunity!
It is believed that bonsai, and trees growing in constricted spaces will far outlive their companions in regular conditions, because they will not reach their maximum height where trees exhaust their energy and start to die back. — Many Japanese bonsai are centuries old and have been passed down generation after generation. We simply don’t have that much bonsai history here in America. But we do have old trees to start with!
Andy Smith from Golden Arrow Bonsai (www.goldenarrowbonsai.com) and Walter Pall have both shared growth rings from junipers they’ve cut showing incredibly old plants. Walter claims to have cut some that were thousands of years old. Remember, these are all bonsai sized junipers only feet tall at the most.
Respect the age of your trees and keep those rings consistent. 🙂