As promised, I’m back again with a turquoise-blue beauty that has a completely different history. It’s the story of an Alligator Juniper, Juniperus deppeana, I collected near Oracle, Arizona back in 2000. It was growing on a solid granite bolder that was propping up another bolder that caused the tree to grow at a forty five degree slant away from the second vertical bolder. It had a dense clump of chilanthes, a fern common to the area, surrounding the base of the trunk. I thought the fern was really cool, so I left it there and continued my dig. I was able to obtain the complete root ball with very little effort and only had my fleece jacket with me, no burlap or plastic bags. If you’re ever without, fleece jackets are very handy for tying up a root ball πŸ˜‰ I took photos of the tree early on but these were prints that need to be scanned and I don’t have a good digital scanner. Just imagine the tree being six feet tall and surrounded by ferns and you get the picture. The tree spent three years planted at its original slant with the trunk surrounded by ferns. Somewhere around 2003, I made the decision to orient the tree more vertically, removed the fern from around the base of the trunk and chopped the top three feet off the trunk. One aspect of Alligator Junipers I have to disclose is their tendency to form burls, and this one had a large one around the base of the trunk where the ferns were…it was a round ball with a stick coming out of it. It made me wish I had done a more thorough job of checking the trunk before I dug the tree. Instead, I was seduced by the fern growing around the base. Live and learn, as they say! I’m not one to give in easily, and saw this as another challenge to an already challenging tree to work with. This species also has the habit of budding out of the trunk from the base to the apex. And the buds emerge from between the plates of bark that give the tree its name. Great care must be taken removing them or you’ll also damage the unique aspect of this tree–its regular plated of bark that has an uncanny resemblance to alligator skin.

Thanks for bearing with me, but I feel it’s important to lay the ground work for a tree story before you present an image; this first one is from 2008. After eight years it was in its third plastic training pot and still aimlessly searching for a recognizable style (weeping slant?):

J. deppeana

The above photo uses what is now the back of the tree for the front, which shows you how flummoxed I was by this challenging tree. You can also see the ‘burl’ at the base of the trunk, which I always allowed moss to partly conceal. The trunk itself has a long, slow curve which we are also taught to avoid in all the bonsai books and manuals. Lots of challenges, this tree, but it still held my interest; vigorous grower, beautiful glaucous foliage had me seduced like a beguiling woman πŸ˜‰

Fast forward to November, 2013, the tree is now 13 years in my care and has finally found a pot, a new front and the Bonsai Society of Portland invited Ted Matson in for our program. The topic for the evening was a tree discussion and we were invited to bring in a tree or two for possible inclusion, if Ted chose it to talk about. And I had the perfect tree πŸ˜‰ Let’s take a look at what Ted had to work with:

J. deppeana


Look at that burl on the left side of the trunk base and you can see what I’m talking about. That didn’t bother Ted though and I told him the story of what did and can’t be seen well in this photo–the area near the apex of the tree. Concealed inside of that bushy mass of foliage are some branches that were starting to thicken and had the beginnings of little burls themselves. I was entertaining a chop one-third the way down the trunk from the apex that Ted thought was an option but wasn’t inclined to agree with. He advised simply wiring the branches and placing them in ways to conceal or detract from defected areas. I brought the tree home with something more to think about–someone else’s perspective and acceptance of a flawed tree. In other words, don’ throw the baby out with the bath water! The next image shows the branches I thinned from the apex area before wiring with the idea in mind, ‘I can always resort to ‘plan B’ and cut the whole bloody thing off!’

J. deppeana


I tossed my camera lens cap in for scale, the largest branch at top is the diameter of my pinkie, which is too big to be at the top of this tree. Thinning out the apex gave me renewed faith I could keep the top third of the tree for now. So, the wiring commenced and all I’ve got is this shot of the tree nearly finished…sorry, it’s something I’m going to have to do better! Those ‘in-between’ shots really help us understand the process of transformation.

J. deppeana


And here’s the tree finished for now; the front:

J. deppeana


A view from the left side, or the tree’s right:

J. deppeana, left


The burl doesn’t look too bad from this side…now, the back of the tree, which was the old front from the first image:

J. deppeana, back


And finally, the right side, or the tree’s left:

J. deppeana, right


That’s all folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed my ‘tree story’ and that you’ll seek out another’s opinion before making those drastic cuts πŸ˜‰