When people first see a driftwood bonsai (sharimiki in Japanese), they often ask "How did they do that?" Sometimes the answer is nature created the deadwood, other times it's man made.
In nature, the look of driftwood is created by harsh weather conditions.
On a shoreline, it may be windblown sand. In a desert it may be both
drought and sand. In the mountains it could be freezes or snow storms,
or again blowing sand.
Collecting trees from the wild is known as yamadori. California bonsai artist Harry Hirao is known for his collected bonsai.
This tree is a perfect example of one of nature's amazing creations. Although the driftwood on this California juniper has been refined, the overall shape was a natural occurrence.
One of Harry's most famous, it is now located in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, Washington, D.C.
Although junipers are often seen as deadwood bonsai, there are many other types of trees with potential for this bonsai style.
Many tropicals have soft wood and do not lend themselves to driftwood in nature or even through carving.
There are some amazing exceptions. This is a Pemphis from the South Pacific. Collected and refined by Gede Merta, Bali.
Taiwan artist Min Hsuan Lo is know for his use of this Premna japonica. The normal leaf size is much larger, so we appreciate the work it takes to create such a beautiful bonsai.
Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia all value this sub-tropical as bonsai.
is another good example of tropical yamadori that usually has driftwood.
Bonsai artists in South Florida and the Caribbean favor these specimens - large and small - for their great shapes and very hard wood.
They often refine the original wood with a little carving.
This buttonwood bonsai was created by Luis Rayon in Miami, Florida. It began as a scraggly, unattractive plant with no dead wood. Luis' creativity turned it into a uniquely styled bonsai tree (all of the live wood is in the back.)
Although many collected trees with dead wood are found growing in nature that way, refinement is almost always necessary.
Sometimes the branches are too long. Other times the dead bark is still attached and unattractive. A coarse metal brush (such as a barbeque grill brush) may work.
Brush the dead wood in the direction of the crevices. The brushing alone may be adequate. Or you may need to do a little carving to emphasize the character of the bonsai.
Rotary tools (both large and small) become part of a serious bonsai artists tool kit. A newer tool - the "bonsai pressure washer" has recently been added to many tool collections.
In this case the dead wood is not actually a part of the tree.
The live part has been attached to make it appear as if it is all one. This technique is called tanuki or phoenix graft.
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