Postcards from Portland: Part 2

Posted by on May 4, 2015 | 8 Comments
Postcards from Portland: Part 2

As a beginner at bonsai I became interested in hiking in the mountains to feed my bonsai interests. Hiking around up in the high mountains of California gives you an entirely different experience with tree forms than the trees that grow in a typical residential neighborhood or in the coastal ranges.

Among other species, the first time I ever saw a mountain hemlock was on a hiking expedition in Lassen National Park. I was immediately enchanted by the beauty of the foliage and the grace of the down swept branches; the branching pattern is naturally short and elegant, making a tall slender tree that seemed designed to shed large amounts of snow and sway gracefully in the mountain winds. This seemed like the perfect tree for bonsai in my mind.

Muir wrote about hemlock, then called Hemlock Spruce:

“I wish I had space to write more of the surpassing beauty of this favorite spruce. … The deer love to lie down beneath its spreading branches; bright streams from the snow that is always near ripple through its groves, and bryanthus spreads precious carpets in its shade. But the best words only hint its charms. Come to the mountains and see.”

There really is nothing like experiencing a mountain hemlock in person, either in the wild or as a bonsai. The foliage is particularly beautiful in spring as the new tips elongate in a bright green with the contrasting mature foliage as the backdrop.

Michael Hagedorn's large Hemlock clump.   The tree is all one plant with multiple trunks.   Planted with Michael's own flare on a Corian board cut to fit the form that he created for he root ball.

Michael Hagedorn’s large Hemlock clump. The tree is all one plant with multiple trunks. Planted with Michael’s own flare on a Corian board cut to fit the form that he created for the root ball.

In Matt Reel's yard were two of the best collected Hemlock that I've ever seen.   Matt's branch placement work brought out the best in these trees.

In Matt Reel’s yard were two of the best collected Hemlock that I’ve ever seen. Matt’s branch placement work brought out the best in these trees.

A look at the back of Matt's hemlock also captures Matt and Jonas discussing the merits or Portland's climate and American conifer species.

A look at the back of Matt’s hemlock also captures Matt and Jonas discussing the merits or Portland’s climate and American conifer species.

Scott Elser's collection is both grand and detailed.  This Hemlock was certainly among my favorite trees in his yard.

Scott Elser’s collection is both grand and detailed. This Hemlock was certainly among my favorite trees in his yard.

A second planting by Mike Hagedorn; two beautiful trunks complimenting each other.

A second planting by Mike Hagedorn; two beautiful trunks complimenting each other.

Mountain Hemlock is in its infancy as a bonsai species. The trees are native to only the tops of mountains typically. In California this means that the largest populations are between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe with scattered smaller populations on many higher mountains to the north and south. Northward into Oregon and Washington favorable conditions prevail on lower mountains so the ranges are wider, but still confided to high elevations.

8 Comments

  1. Bernard
    May 5, 2015

    I love the idea of introducing rarely used native species for bonsai, especially ones as spectaularly beautiful as these. Do we know how well they grow in the Bay Area?

    • Eric Schrader
      May 5, 2015

      If you check out Jonas’ blog from a couple years ago you’ll see a mountain hemlock. He said it was doing fine until he went on vacation and his watering system missed it. I believe he lost the top of the tree but not the whole thing. http://bonsaitonight.com/2012/04/03/mountain-hemlock/

      San Francisco may be a good place to grow them since we have cool summers. It’s interesting to investigate the reasons that trees live where they do: is it the cold in the winter? Is it the cool summer? Is it just that they are better adapted to adverse conditions like wind and snow so they out-compete other species only in a particular environment? In the case of Mountain hemlock I think they are slow growing compared to others and better adapted to snow and wind, so they only manage to win out at high elevations. But, a few years of growing here in SF may tell us something different.

  2. TdC
    May 5, 2015

    Awesome trees. I’m planning to visit some of the bonsai gardens while in Portland for The Artisians Cup this September. Thanks for the preview!

  3. Base797
    May 8, 2015

    Matt Reel was just here in Colorado. Awesome, punctilious, talented and all around good guy. Please tell him thanks form the guys in Boulder.

  4. Base797
    May 8, 2015

    Oh. Love the mountain hemlock. I want one.

  5. Paul
    May 16, 2015

    I have been growing a Canadian Hemlock going on 3 years and it doesn’t look near as full as your mountain hemlocks. Is there a trick that I am missing or is there a big difference between the two trees ????????

    • Eric Schrader
      May 16, 2015

      Hey Paul,

      I’m not familiar with Canadian Hemlock so I couldn’t say what the problem is, but wish you the best of luck.

  6. zen works bonsai
    May 18, 2015

    Actually there is a difference in growth habits between the western hemlock (tsuga heteraphylla) and the Canadian hemlock (tsuga canadensis). The western hemlock is more suitable for bonsai with a denser growth habit and more proportionate needles. I also have been growing a few canadiAN hemlocks and have noticed that if given time and pruned cautiously can result in a stunning. Specimen. I will try and find a picture of mine to share