In the 1970s, digging buttonwood bonsai in the Florida Keys was often a club project. Today there are many more restrictions, and rightfully so.
I led only one such expedition and stayed very busy showing folks what to look for, what to leave behind and how to fill in the holes.
In the process, I found a wonderful Conocarpus e. begging to go home with me. Not wanting to distract the group, I left her there with the intent of finding her again on another day. I made a mental notation of the exact location.
Two months later, on a hot summer afternoon I headed south. With thoughts of a fantastic buttonwood bonsai tree in mind, I invited a friend along to help me dig and carry her out.
This was someone else's 'find'!
- photo by Bob Hulnick
We drove for almost an hour and then searched for another hour.
Still no spotting my bonsai-to-be. Everything looked so different. No luck that trip, but I would try again.
The next time, the water level was higher and the sun had moved higher in the sky. I couldn't find my mental markers. As we searched, I knew we couldn’t stay much longer. Summer sunsets come on in a sneak attack.
Suddenly I saw it, my buttonwood bonsai.
But there was also something else in the area ... a sound I had never heard.
It was almost a moo, just a little more abrupt and very gruff. Then we heard the same sound coming from the opposite direction. I wasn't sure what gators sounded like, but it seemed possible.
My friend assured me it was not cows and we dug faster.
The sounds continued back and forth. What was that noise?
We finally captured the tree and took it to its new home, leaving behind the strange resonance. (We decided it must have been alligators, what else?)
Many years later, the Miami Herald newspaper announced a new area of fenced preservation in the Key Largo area.
"The only salt-water crocodiles in the United States are now protected."
This "more aggressive than alligator species" lives in our old buttonwood collecting grounds ... and we had been there during mating season!
Another story ...
In the beginning, buttonwood were little more than plants in bonsai pots. They still showed their age. Through years of experimenting and sharing knowledge, tropical bonsai artists developed techniques for both design and culture.
This literati was one of Joe Samuels' trees.
Joe often told us ...
“if you listen to a buttonwood it will tell you a story.
It will tell you it is old, how many storms it has been through, and how many dry seasons.
If you listen carefully, it will also tell you which style is most appropriate.”
He called this bonsai his “lifeline”. What a story!
These are additional pages about buttonwood:
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