Let There Be Light


Your tropical bonsai are now, of course, inside your house. But tropicals inside a Wisconsin home in the winter pose a range of problems – low light intensity, low humidity, low temperature, and pest infestation are the major ones. Tropical trees have evolved where the daytime temperatures are 80, 90, 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more. In our homes they are lucky to get 70-72 degrees. Just as bad, the relative humidity in most homes is very low (unless you have a whole house humidifier). Last year Matthew G. spoke about vaporizers and humidifiers and ways to raise the relative humidity in your growing area.

But, light levels are crucial to creating bonsai with short internodes and dense foliage. In my own situation, I have utilized all the windows in my house, and installed supplemental fluoresant lights in my basement growing area. But, I still have many plants that are light starved. Light intensity drops off very quickly away from a window. In diminished light plants get ‘leggy’. The plant produces hormones to elongate the growth. “I know there is light out there somewhere – if I just grow out a little more maybe I can reach it.” Of course, this is not what we are trying to achieve with our bonsai. If you can hook-up supplemental light, your trees will be much happier.

Exfoliating Bark


I have a Brazilian raintree that I acquired several years ago when an acquaintance no longer wanted it. It is a nice tree with thorns – which can be cut off – and small compound leaves. A few years ago I found a small section of bark – perhaps one by two inches – laying on the soil surface. My assumption was that some squirrel or chipmunk had torn it off. Aside from a big bare spot on the trunk, the tree seemed to be OK. Then, in the last six months large sections of bark have begun separating from the trunk, causing some distress – if not for the tree, then for the tree owner. This is the only Brazilian raintree that I have ever owned so I had no firsthand knowledge of its growth. Was some insect or pathogen causing the bark to split and separate from the trunk? Again, the tree seemed to be okay in all other respects. After searching the internet I discovered that this species has exfoliating bark. So, while this put my mind at ease a bit, I’m not sure I like the looks of it. It appears ‘untidy’. And because it is only (currently) on the lowest, oldest portion of the trunk it looks weird – shaggy bark on the bottom and smooth bark above.
The bonsaimary web site has more on this species, some of which is reproduced here:

“The words Brazilian rain tree bonsai and Jim Moody are frequently spoken in the same breath.

The first of these rain trees used as bonsai in the U.S. was grown from seed by the late Jim Moody of Jupiter, FL. The seeds were brought to him in 1978 by his sister-in-law.
She was a nurse at the American Embassy in Brazil. When Jim saw what a beautiful tree developed from his seeds, he began propagating it from cuttings.”

Read more: Brazilian Rain Tree Bonsai

Grapefruit Seeds


If your family eats grapefruit (or any other citrus with seeds), you can plant the seeds and grow bonsai citrus trees! Now citrus trees don’t make great bonsai (the leaves are a little on the large size), they do make reasonable bonsai. And they grow pretty fast. John, Molly and Annie E. have a citrus that they worked on at our repotting workshop two years ago – a very nice tree.

The seeds don’t require stratification. Just put them in some soil and keep them damp (not wet). If you have a heat mat, that will assist with the germination. Lots of seeds don’t like to germinate if the soil is too cold. But, I have germinated grapefruit without bottom heat.  – Karl

Outgoing Officers (of 2014)


A major ‘thank you’ to our outgoing officers: Mike P., treasurer; Tim O., vice-president; Greg G., librarian.  Their time and work on behalf of the Badger Bonsai Society is greatly appreciated! We could not operate without members willing to volunteer and serve. Thank you!

Happy New Year 2015


Our first meeting of the new year will be a dinner meeting, Thursday January 8, 2015 at the Imperial Garden West side location,

2039 Allen Boulevard, Middleton, WI 53562

This is on the corner of University Avenue and Allen boulevard – same location as in past years. Cocktails at 6 pm and dinner at 7 pm. There will be separate checks and you will be able to order from the menu.

Dues are also due with the start of the New Year.

Hope to see you on Thursday.


December 11, 2014 meeting


Karl B will speak on “What Makes a Good Bonsai?” What do judges look for when selecting trees for prestigious bonsai shows?  It is difficult to improve our own trees if we don’t have a clear vision of the perfection for which we are striving. With images of the best bonsai, we’ll discuss what the hallmarks of a really great bonsai are, and how to achieve them.

December is also our cookie-fest. Get an early start on your holiday calorie consumption. If you have a favorite recipe and time and inclination, bring some to share with the rest of the group. Not required of anyone, so please come whether you bring cookies or not.

Officers were to be elected in November (which we didn’t do) so we’ll hold elections for anyone wanting to hold office in the Society.

In addition, think about what activities you want the club to implement next year. What topics do you want to hear, or species you want to try, or, …

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November wrap-up:

If you missed the November meeting, you missed a great talk by Brian B discussing his collecting and experiences using hackberry – Celtic occidentalis. It is a common tree in the central US and its range extends north to about Wausau. It is common on flood plains, but is tolerant of a wide range of environments. Brian reports that the leaf size reduces dramatically when bonsai-ed. In addition, a gnarly, warty bark develops in a handful of years. This warty bark helps to identify the tree even when the tree has no foliage. Trees growing in wetter sites can often be collected with a minimal amount of digging.

When I mentioned to Barbara B what a wonderful presentation it was, she said, “Well, do you know where the Wisconsin State Record hackberry is located?” For someone who has trouble remembering the location of his car keys, I gave a succinct and unambiguous, “no – where?” It is located right here in Madison at 1815 Summit Avenue. It has a circumference of 164 inches and a height of 98 feet. She knew of it because the beautiful yard was on the Olbrich Garden tour this year. The tree was just a bonus.

Wisconsin’s Champion Trees

Speaking of champion trees, local arborist Bruce Allison is the author of Wisconsin’s Champion Trees published in 2005. It is available from the public library, or from Amazon – about $14.  While we bonsai hobbyists aren’t interested in big, old trees per se, we want our bonsai trees to look like big, old trees.

A champion tree is the largest recorded tree of its species. In this book, R. Bruce Allison takes us on a tour of Wisconsin’s champion trees. Champion trees have been officially recorded in the state since 1941. This book contains the location and measurements of 153 species of Wisconsin champion trees. Here is a guide and a challenge to all Wisconsin big-tree hunters to seek and nominate new record trees.”

This would be convenient to keep in your glove box, so when you are traveling around the state you could check if any champion trees were in the vicinity. I was surprised to learn that the state record European purple beech is only a few blocks from where I grew up in Milwaukee. You can also search for record trees on the DNR website


November 13, 2014 Meeting

The November meeting of the Badger Bonsai Society is this Thursday, November 13; usual place and time, 6:30 pm at Olbrich. Brian B will be doing a demonstration. BBS members who were at our May show already know the quality of Brian’s work – his schefflera won the best-of-show vote. Hope to see you at the meeting.Winter appears to be getting an early start. The next week will have temperatures substantially below average. Your tropicals should, of course, should be inside by now. I always spray with Safer soap before bringing them inside, and wash the outside of the pots. Interestingly, I found a tropical orchid that had gotten knocked off the bench and didn’t get moved inside until it had experienced a few nights of sub-freezing temperatures. It appears to be okay. The warm ground and a little leaf cover seems to have saved it from the compost pile. For my temperate trees, the trident maples are the least hardy. I don’t want the root temperature to go below about 23 F. So I’ll be putting those away tonight along with any zone 5 trees, like the japanese maples and japanese black pine.I came across this Chinese proverb recently:
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is now.”
(Not November necessarily, but ‘now’ in a broader sense.)’Loneliest tree on the planet’

 The Tree of Ténéré, was a solitary acacia that was once considered the most isolated tree on Earth— the closest neighboring tree was 250 miles away. It was in the Tenere section of the Sahara desert in northeastern Niger. It’s roots reached the water table 131 feet below the surface.  It was knocked down and destroyed by a drunk truck driver in 1973.