Old Diary

Appreciating a massive, and ancient, Sierra juniper


I was only about 14 or 15 when I first discovered the world of bonsai.  You know, those “little” Japanese trees that look (and sometimes are) quite ancient!  You can even buy them for a paltry sum and pretend that you’re really a bonsai master without realizing that the sprout you are tending is really quite young, and will probably die long before it achieves any majesty or form.  It hurts to realize realize how many “bonsai” last a few months or a year and then get abandoned like a too-quickly-bought-Christmas-puppy.  Sigh.

I follow a few bonsai blogs and we visit bonsai gardens whenever we happen to travel into areas where we know about them.  Visits on the West Coast where there is a stronger oriental population have seen us visiting wonderful collections like the Weyerhauser collection in Tacoma and Ellendan Gardens in Bremerton Washington. Even the Chicago Botanic Gardens have a wonderful Bonsai collection.

My problem with keeping my own has always been that I am not home consistently enough for a bonsai to survive.  The drainage design in a true bonsai is quite rapid meaning that you pretty much have to water them daily — and travelers who leave home for weeks or months on end are doomed to return home to dead or suffering plants.  I tried in my early years and finally assented to who I am and gave up trying to grow my own; now I appreciate everyone else’s examples.

I sometimes think that my fascination with bonsai accounts for my interest in the West Coast of the U.S. and the arid regions in the West where naturally occurring conditions create the tree forms that bonsai attempt to harness and replicate.  Whatever the reason, it may be the trees that are more appealing to me than any other aspect of the West.

REAL bonsai can be hundreds of years old.  And sometimes real trees show us the reality that our bonsai attempts to mimic.  I came across this post and had to share because because of the majesty that formed completely unaided by human interference and the sheer size that this plant has attained.  I hope you enjoy.


One of my favorite Sierra junipers doesn’t fit neatly into any categories. It’s form is somewhere between informal upright and semi-cascade. The base of the trunk is massive, but the apical foliage extends from a slender, twisting branch. I can’t say I’ve figured the tree out, but I enjoy trying.

Sierra-juniper

Ancient Sierra juniper

The tree sits at timberline, almost 9,000 feet above sea level, a short walk from Meiss Meadows and the Carson Pass Information Station. Slightly protected by the rock from which it grows, the tree reveals the easterly prevailing winds that give it its shape.

Juniper-on-the-rock

Growing out of the granite

The tree’s key features are its unique deadwood formations. The topmost dead branch makes me wonder what the tree looked like when the branch was still alive.

Deadwood

Dead branch

Along the trunk, a slender lifeline crosses a large expanse of deadwood along an improbable path.

Life-lines

Slender lifeline

Just below this, more significant lifelines provide support to the cascading branches with contorted deadwood.

Natural-shapes

Cascading branch

Jagged-deadwood

Contorted deadwood

When approaching the tree from the east, there’s much less to see. It’s from the south that the tree’s form is most easily appreciated.

Side-view

If you are curious about the tree’s size, here are Yoichi Fukuda and Hiroharu Kobayashi posing for scale.

Yoichi-and-Hiro-with-Sierra-juniper

Yoichi and Hiroharu posing with the Sierra juniper

Originally published here: bonsaitonight.com/2019/06/18/appreciating-a-massive-and-ancient-sierra-juniper/

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