Posts tagged “Japanese Black Pine

Japanese Black Pine Seedlings Available

A limited quantity of Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii) seedlings are now available for online purchase in my For Sale section. They are available in bare root bundles of ten seedlings.

Canadians only, and shipping is free!


Repotting New Black Pine

This pine was the subject of a recent post. The main goal for the next few years is to encourage backbudding so I can reduce the length of the branches. Grafting may even be in the agenda. To achieve these things, I will need to make sure the tree is vigorous and comfortable in its pot.

My understanding is that pines are best repotted just before the buds start to move. How can you identify this time? My friend gave me a handy tip: break off the tip of a dormant bud and check back the next day. If there is sap flow, the tree is coming out of dormancy and it is a good time to repot. Another indicator is if the roots have started to grow, indicated by white tips.

This tree tested positive for both of these indicators, therefore repotting was a go. For those of you in my climate – keep in mind this tree was just flown out from the Vancouver area in Janurary, and spent the winter in my garage at about 4 degrees C, therefore it is weeks ahead of any pines that were wintered outside.

New Black Pine from Shikoku Bonsai

When I visited Aichi-en in Nagoya last winter I gained a new appreciation for the beauty and strength of Japanese Black Pines. I worked on a couple of them during my stay there and have been shopping around for one (or a few) every since I got back. However, good JBP are hard to come across around here. Bonsai nurseries don’t really exist in the Toronto area – the bonsai community is too small to support them so most of our good material comes from the Canadian Wilderness. If you can find a JBP worth buying in the USA, you have to deal with the hassle of importing it. Regardless, good ones are very rare and usually very expensive since they are usually Japanese imports. Field grown ones are often grown quickly and it shows in their bark characteristic, taper, and scars.

Probably one of the best sources for JBP in Canada (if not the best) is Shikoku Bonsai near Vancouver, BC on the beautiful Sunshine Coast. Gerald Rainville is the proprietor and had the foresight to begin growing a variety of species from seed something like thirty years ago. The tree I got from him is over 20 years from seed and shows the characteristics of a slow, container grown pine (no scars, nice fine bark, no monstrous roots).

Gerald was very helpful in providing information and extra pictures. His shipping methods are excellent and I feel that his prices are very reasonable considering the time that has already been invested in his plants. While this tree still has a long way to go in its bonsai-journey, I think that the development of the trunk thus far is excellent.

I really think we as Canadians are lucky to have someone who is patiently developing material like this. The best part is that the vast majority of his stock is not shown on his website. Gerald has told me that they are “not ready for sale” which really has me excited to see what else he has. A taste of it can be seen on his Facebook page. I definitely hope to visit his nursery one day.

Anyway, lets look at the tree I got.


Likely front.



Trunk detail. I want to make this tree a compact shohin that is about half the current height. This will require a new apex in the middle of the trunk which may have to be grafted.

Trunk detail. Good taper, movement, and placement of the primary branches. I want to make this tree a compact shohin that is about half the current height. This will require a new apex in the bare middle section of the trunk which may have to be grafted.

The focus of this growing season will be inspecting the roots, repotting if necessary, and encouraging backbudding on the branches which have gotten a bit lanky.

Passing Along a Japanese Black Pine at Aichi-en

During my short stay at Aichi-en last December one of the pines I worked on lead to a hierarchical styling session. First I gave the tree my best shot, then apprentice Peter Tea tweaked it, and finally the resident master Junichiro Tanaka offered his improvements. This was an incredible learning experience that started (for me) in the morning and went well into the night in the smoke-filled workshop.

Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii). Probably purchased as inexpensive material from an auction. Mr. Tanaka thought it was collected as a tree with a nice base but a scraggly and bare top that was compressed by a bonsai artist several years ago.

After needle plucking. The contorted nature of the upper trunk is much more clear now. Branch selection had already been completed a couple of years ago. The tree was planted at a good angle, and all it needed was some wire and branch placement. Easy, right? Well, the task became much more challenging when I knew my work would be critiqued by two bonsai professionals!

Wiring this tree was quite the experience. First of all, my wiring skill is still very amateur. Secondly, I was using #10 Japanese copper in very tight spots on this incredibly contorted tree. Thirdly, I often underestimated the required wire diameter for many of these branches. Young, vigorous branches are very hard to bend compared to old branches. As a result, I probably ended up rewiring many parts of this tree 2-3 times!

All wired and ready for further manipulations.

To make the tree more compact, a guy wire was used to further compress the contorted trunkline.

This is as far as I took the tree. There is a small branch under the paper towel that I wanted to remove, but would not unless I got permission. I knew that Mr. Tanaka likes to use every available branch to increase the fullness of the tree. This is important when you are a bonsai professional. (He ended up keeping the branch :P)

While this was the best I could do, I was still not happy. I thought the lowest branch was too lanky and needed to be brought forward. Also, the branch on the right needed to be embracing the trunk more. However, I was not confident enough to make these bends as I felt I had already brought those brittle young branches to their limit. In the process of shaping this tree, I had already cracked several branches. So, I called over Peter.

Enter Peter Tea. Here is is fixing some of my shoddy wiring :)

The result of Peter's adjustments. The improvement is quite remarkable. Two things really stand out. (1) For the first branch, he combined what I had separated into two pads into one pad. The resulting pad is much more full with a nice round top. (2) He managed to bring in that branch on the right for a much nicer and more compact image. Peter is MUCH more confident and capable at setting pine branches than I am! I was really blown away with Peter's improvements, and thought that the work was definitely done.

Enter Mr. Tanaka. "Hmmmmm...."

When he picked up the branch cutters, Peter and I were like "seriously?"

Here is the final result, after three people taking their shots at the tree. Mr. Tanaka cut off one of the main branches and opened up the 'window' to the interesting upper portion of the trunk. The resulting branch is not as full, but it has excellent basic structure. While the the branch may looks sparse now, the value of the tree will definitely increase down the road because it has good basic structure in the primary branch.


Working on this tree was one of the most challenging and fun bonsai experiences I have had. Reminiscing on this work session really got me thinking… I hope I get the chance to go back to Nagoya some day soon!

A Pricey Little Japanese Black Pine

One thing that I found very interesting on my trip to Japan was the prices of bonsai. Take this stunning little (about 20 cm) japanese black pine below for example: it set the owner back ¥1,000,000 (about $12,500).

A cool million yen in the palm of your hand.

Why is this tree so expensive? Probably a number of reasons… small trees seem to be desirable right now, the bark was very good, the nebari and taper were both almost “perfect”, and the branch placement and ramification were outstanding. It is small details like this that make the difference between a ¥10,000 tree and a ¥1,000,000 tree in Japan. Nevertheless, a ¥10,000 tree in Japan is still pretty damn nice 🙂

I wonder if this tree would sell for $12K in North America? Europe? Maybe that isn’t even a fair question to ask given the difference in the markets for bonsai.