30 November 2009

A Cruel Art Form | The Sunday Leader

A Cruel Art Form The Sunday Leader

By Risidra Mendis

Controlling a tree’s growth, reducing it to more than half its size and admiring the finished product is known as bonsai. However bonsai artistes have failed to see the manipulation and harassment imposed on these trees for many weeks and months, while they cut, wire, clamp, defoliate and chop to get the required design.

It was the Chinese who introduced this art to the Japanese. ‘Bonsai’ is a Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese term penzai. The five basic bonsai styles are formal upright, informal upright, slanting (or windswept), semi-cascade and cascade.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader environment lawyer Jagath Gunewardene said he doesn’t like stunted plants. “I like to see plants grow out naturally and bloom,” Gunewardene said.

Former President Dehiwela Mount Lavinia Horticultural Society Sunila Rajawasan said when we prune or cut branches from a tree or plant it feels it. “This theory has not been proved but I read it in a book. In bonsai you are basically limiting the growth of the tree by controlling its nourishment and lessening the soil. Wires are used to control the growth of the branches and unwanted branches and small roots are cut off,” Rajawasan said.

Landscape Architect and Chartered Architect Shereen Amendra said in nature you find stunted plants. “Due to the low layer of soil and high wind conditions plants are stunted. In Hakgala due to the wind conditions trees that should be 30 to 40 feet high are only three to four feet in height. A bonsai plant was initially created by planting a plant in a shallow pot and exposing it to high winds. However since these conditions couldn’t be found easily wires were used to bend the branches,” Amendra said.

“According to Peter Thomkins and Christopher Bird’s Secret Life Of Plants, plants have their own life. In an experiment one plant was hooked to a machine to test its reaction and another plant was mutilated in front of the previous one. The plant hooked to the machine responded when the other plant was mutilated, therefore proving that plants have their own feelings and energy. The roots are pruned and the growth of the plant is controlled. It’s not torture to the plant but manipulation. A plant needs to complete its cycle within a time period. We cut the branches to get more leaves. We are depriving the plant from completing its normal cycle by forcing it to do what we want,” Amendra said.

She added that if a person has a small garden space and wants to have a bonsai plant that is fine. “It is a lovely art form from a human’s point of view but not from the plant’s point of view,” Amendra said.

Techniques used in bonsai include leaf trimming, pruning, wiring, clamping and defoliation. Copper or aluminium wire is wrapped around branches and trunks to hold them in place until they lignify (convert into wood).

Screw-based clamps are also used for shaping trunks and branches and are a much greater force than wiring. To prevent damage to the tree, the clamps are tightened a little at a time and make their changes over a period of months or years.

In defoliating most or all of the leaves are removed by clipping partway along each leaf’s petiole (thin stem that connects a leaf to its branch). Petioles later dry up and drop off or are manually removed once dry. The tree responds by producing a fresh crop of leaves, but defoliation weakens the tree.

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