Kifu Elm

Posted by on Feb 3, 2015 | 5 Comments
Kifu Elm

I’ve had this little elm for about 8 years now. I bought it from the estate sale of a Bay Island Bonsai member. I’ve never discovered the history before that point but I know that former owner had been a serious enthusiast and his collection was quite good. He very well may have started the tree himself.

I can’t say that elms are my favorite trees to grow, but the winter silhouettes are very rewarding after a while. I had an easier time growing them while I was in SoCal than I do here in San Francisco because they seem to like the heat of the summer. I think that the East Bay or South Bay would likely be a really good place to grow these. Jim Gremel at one point had quite a few of them; I recall one of the first BIB shows that I attended had a couple elms that were finely ramified and looked delightfully like a mature tree.

When I bought the tree it was in a large terra cotta container that was wide and about 6″ deep. It had two-foot long runners on it such that you could barely see anything. My first task back in 2007 was to cut the tree back and eliminate all the strong branching that was too large or stiff to use.

The tree in 2007, after the initial cutback.

The tree in 2007, after the initial cutback.

After cutting it back I repotted the tree into an intermediate container, and started over with the ramification process. You can see in the photo above that the secondary trunk on the left side is much taller than it is currently. At some point I decided that I needed to shorten it to almost nothing and regrow the low branching on that side. The issue wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the existing branches as much as that they were in the wrong place. The straight secondary trunk also didn’t visually compliment the curve of the primary trunk.

There’s a funny interlude with this tree. I had decided back in 2008 or 2009 that I wanted to buy a large and rotten apple tree from Jim Gremel. Jim’s place was started on an old apple orchard and instead of immediately uprooting all the old apples he chainsawed them off about a foot above the ground started turning them into bonsai. I had seen one that I wanted but I didn’t have the money to buy it so I decided it was time to sell a few trees to get the money together. This little elm ended up on the sale table with a $500 price tag on it. I knew it was a good tree and that I didn’t really want to sell it so I put a really high price on it to discourage casual interest. A fellow club member and friend ended up buying it anyway, so I lost the tree for a couple years. Without following through on the apple tree plan (can’t recall what I spent the money on actually) I was definitely down a quality tree. I’ve sold a lot of trees over the years but this is one of the few that I had sincerely regretted parting with. Luckily for me, my friend decided to get out of bonsai a couple years later and sold it back to me.

Spring of 2012, the tree was healthy again and growing in a box.

Spring of 2012, the tree was healthy again and growing in a box.

By 2012 the tree had a pretty good canopy of fine branching on it, but there were still holes and the secondary trunk that makes up the low branching on the left side was lagging behind the apex in ramification.

January 2014, the silhouette is really looking good but the lower left branch is still a bit thin.

January 2014, the silhouette is really looking good but the lower left branch is still a bit thin.

When I cleaned up the old leaves in the fall of 2013 I knew that the tree was nearing what I considered to be an ideal crown shape. The only thing left was a bit more density on the secondary trunk. I had repotted the tree into a very shallow container that was the best that I had at the time but I was still searching for a good show pot for it.

Summer 2014, it seems the price of a nice winter silhouette is that the tree must look like a big green mop for most of the year.

Summer 2014, it seems the price of a nice winter silhouette is that the tree must look like a big green mop for most of the year.

During the summer of 2014 the tree grew okay, but the tiny pot that it was in definitely limited the branch and root growth to a slower pace than what it was before in the box. When Boon returned from his summer trip to Japan he brought a bunch of pots back to sell to club members, among them was a pot that I thought would be perfect for this tree.

An old, but not antique pot.   The pot has a good patina on it and the glaze is a really nice color.   Daisaku Nomoto mentioned that the maker is not famous and the pot is normal quality but for the exceptional color.   I felt it would be a perfect match for the tree.

An old, but not antique pot. The pot has a good patina on it and the glaze is a really nice color. Daisaku Nomoto mentioned that the maker is not famous and the pot is normal quality but for the exceptional color. I felt it would be a perfect match for the tree.

At the 2015 Bay Island Bonsai show.

At the 2015 Bay Island Bonsai show.

As it turns out, this was not only my favorite little deciduous tree in the display, but it was everyone else’s as well. The tree won the members’ choice award for best small (aka Kifu) deciduous tree.

5 Comments

  1. CD Willis
    February 6, 2015

    Fantastic tree. I love elms. I think they’re very underused. I have a couple I’m putting into the ground to thicken up for a few years. I’d love to find a rough barked specimen like yours.

    • Eric Schrader
      February 17, 2015

      I guess I forgot to mention that this is a Corkbark Chinese elm. The variety was quite popular around here ten years ago but is not as common now. It has leaves that reduce very well and as you can see it makes tiny little branches.

      I like the smooth bark ones too, particularly the ones that are wild from China and imported. (I think there was one in the San Francisco show two years ago.) If you want a corkbark you could probably mail order one from Brent at Evergreen Gardenworks. Lone Pine used to sell ground grown ones but they don’t seem to have any now.

  2. Max
    February 11, 2015

    wow! awesome tree!!

  3. Jeremiah Lee
    February 20, 2015

    Very nice I like the tree, pot, ramification. Looking fantastic!

  4. Maurizio
    April 22, 2015

    Just love this elm, what a nice tree. Chinese elm grows rampant out here in New Mexico, it’s like a weed to most people. I’m going to head out digging here later this month and hope to get some nice material (and do some trunk chops).

    Awesome post!