Friday, December 26, 2008

On the age of trees

In a comment upon my last post Zeit has asked me about the age of the two trees on the photos.
Well this is a pretty natural question - especially from someone called Zeit :) - but the age of any tree is in many cases not easy to know. First you usually don't know this unless you planted the tree from seed and this is not the case with these trees. Also, trees age very differently than other creatures. How old is a tree grown from a cutting of another tree? Or one grown from an air layer of another tree? Or one that grew from a sucker when the original tree was about to die? If you want, trees can be immortal by good care, similar to what is happening with bonsais.

Still to give an answer regarding these two trees, I estimate the biological age of the maple to be between 8 and 20 years but I may be wrong. I have purchased the maple in 2007 and I don't know about its history.

Now the hawthorn is an interesting question. This year it has flowered (a single flower) and as far as I know, hawthorns don't flower until they are about 15 years old so this can be an indicator of its age. But I have collected this tree 3 years ago from the wild and I don't know whether it has flowered before or not (they are finnicky to collecting so it may just have stopped flowering because of being disturbed). On the other hand, it looks like the current 5 trunks are younger than 15 years. But it's evident that there were older trunks growing from the same base that were already dead and gone (except for small stubs) when I collected the tree so it may have indeed started its life earlier. The current 5 trunks are probably suckers from the original base.

But more important in the case of a bonsai is not its actual age but the age of the tree that the bonsai embodies. That is, we should be talking about the protagonist in the story while the bonsai itself is just the actor.
With this in mind, for me the maple is a fully grown tree standing alone somewhere in an open field, and could be about 30 years. It is mature but not yet old, still in full vigour, with no sings of wear and dieback evident on older trees.
The five-trunk hawthorn conveys the image of a waterside tree for me, with branches stretching over the banks of a river in search of the light reflected from the water. With this bonsai I'm also trying to show a mature but not an old tree, so this one will not feature jins or sharis (deadwood). I still have to develop a denser branching and I'm also waiting for an aged bark (it has begun to show near the base) to get there. I think in about 3-5 years this tree can tell the story of a mature waterside tree. Bear in mind that most waterside trees don't get to be matusalems like a mountain pine so this can mean an age somewhere between 20 and 60 years.


Zeit said...

Thank you for that insight and statement on tree's ages, particularly bonsais, but actually you're right - they are practically immortal... will we count the broken off branch of an old willow, that sprouts new roots, old or new? Good question.

I myself never succeeded in starting with bonsais. It seems to be a field reserved more to men :D Thanks for making this interesting blog and thanks for your reply. And may you and your plants come well into the new year :)

András Nagy said...

Hi Zeit,
>I myself never succeeded in starting with bonsais.

What did you try with? Many people's first encounter with the little trees is thru mallsai, which are young, small and usually tropical trees sold at malls. They are mass-produced in the East and are very difficult to keep alive in our climate, let alone turn them into bonsais (I suppose you are in Europe - correct me if I'm wrong).
If you are interested, try local trees from a gardening center. If you tell me where you live (climate-wise), I can suggest trees to check out. I have about 90 trees and all of them are used to the climate here (most of them are native to Hungary and are collected locally).

>It seems to be a field reserved more to men :D

No way, we have many women in our club :) And also worldwide, there are many noted female artists (Deborah Koreshoff comes to mind first).


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