Chabasai®, Chabazite, Chabasie, Clinoptilolite, and the Zeolite Hero Song

The word “chabasai” showed up again in last night’s Mirai Live event. I’ve seen this product mention briefly on video feeds and discussion forums in the past year. Like many, I’m curious about it’s properties and its use as a bonsai substrate. What immediately strikes me is the “-sai” suffix of the product name. Sure enough, the word “chabasai” is a portmanteau of the words “chabazite” and “bonsai”. As a bonsai enthusiast, I’m constantly re-evaluating techniques and resources. I want to know more about Chabasai®; what it is; how it performs; and how to get a cubic yard of it delivered to New Orleans for less than premium registered-name-brand prices.

Chabasai® is a registered product of the French company Somez. The company touts itself as a leader in the field of zeolites. A look at their product page shows that each of their products has a registered name. Somez is marketing Chabasai® as “The reference substrate for the cultivation of bonsai, cactus, succulents and rare plants.” Including “rare plants” in the description makes me chuckle. I’m a fan of marketing techniques. This is a good one.

A product name is nice if we want to order a bag or a truckload of Chabasai®. But before I order anything, I want to know what it is. Somez specializes in the use of zeolites, but that’s not enough. Zeolites are a family of minerals. They’re typically porous and have a high cation exchange capacity (CEC). As bonsai enthusiasts, you should recognize that CEC values are important in substrates for evaluating their ability to hold on to nutrients. Low CEC values mean that much of our fertilizers are being washed out of our pots, rather than being held for use by our trees. With high CEC rates, water absorbancy, and porous structure, zeolites deserve our study.

Visiting https://www.chabasai.com/, with a detour through Google translate, tells us what Chabasai® is made of: “Chabazite is a natural mineral of the zeolite family, derived from the geological alteration of volcanic materials.” This particular zeolite was orginally name chabasie in 1792 by French scientist Louis Augustin Guillaume Bosc.

What we have up to here is Chabasai® the product of a French company, chabazite, the mineral, with an original name of chabasie given by a French scientist. What I don’t have yet, is a porous granular form of chabazite from anyone other than Somez.

Zeolite was named such by “Swedish mineralogist Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, who observed that rapidly heating the material, believed to have been stilbite, produced large amounts of steam from water that had been adsorbed by the material. Based on this, he called the material zeolite, from the Greek ‘zeo’, meaning “to boil” and ‘lithos’, meaning ‘stone’.” Zeolites can be either natural or synthetic. Search the web for chabazite shows numerous photos of a salmon-pink mineral. For example:
Chabazite
While Chabasai® is a porous dusky brown:
Chabasai1

The work of Cronstedt makes me think that Somez is processing chabazite into Chabasai®. I might be able to confirm this by contacting Somez directly, but I’m not fluent in French and “Are you guys boiling chabazite?” is a weird question. I could purchase chabazite crystals and heat them in my kiln to see what happens, but even if I do manage to produce a quantity of a Chabasai® knock-off, I won’t be doing this on a scale large enough to produce even one bonsai pot-full of the substrate.

The next part of my Internet journey is finding out where chabazite is mined. Chabazite is found in “India, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland, Bohemia, Italy, Germany, along the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Oregon, Arizona, and New Jersey.” The mention of Great Britain and Germany makes me chuckle because of a bonsai forum discussion on Chabasai® mentions that Walter Pall (in Germany) is using Chabasai® and forum members (in Great Britain) were lamenting the high cost of the product. I cannot find much mention of chabazite mines in France, but chabazite has been found in deposits of the hot springs of Plombières and Bourbonne-les-Bains in France. Just being a deposit doesn’t make a mine. Is Somez getting chabazite from Great Britain and/or Germany and selling it right back to them? If so, this is why we need to research our materials before paying premium prices for products we could resource locally.

Chabasai® has one other property that makes it attractive to bonsai enthusiasts: It’s brown. After all, shouldn’t soil be brown? Dark brown being better and black being the best of all? It may be a little lighter than akadama (from what I find in photos), but for anyone looking to replace akadama in their substrate, jumping to Chabasai® makes little visual difference. It also makes very little difference in cost. Both can be rather pricey.

I’m currently beginning tests with another member of the zeolite family, clinoptilolite. It has many of the same characteristics as Chabasai®, high CEC, porosity, and water absorbancy. As it is mined, getting it to the size we like requires no more processing than crushing. It’s toxicity level is the opposite of toxic if you believe statements on the Internet. As a powder, it is being used as a food additive to remove toxins from your body. I won’t stand by that statement, I merely found it amusing. If any of you keep aquariums, you may already be familiar with clinoptilolite. It is used as re-usable filter media for the removal of ammonia. The only thing it lacks is a dark color. Clinoptilolite is very light green and almost white in color. If this bothers you, then I recommend a dusting of red and black lava rock as a top-dressing.

I’d like to order a bag of Chabasai® to test add it to my current soil test, but shipping a CAD$40 bag of Chabasai® from Quebec is CAD$72.27. That brings the cost of the bag up to CAD$112.27. The current exchange rate makes that USD$84.29. That’s going to be a hard pass for me. I’ll look around the Internet for a little while longer. I’ll keep you updated on my search.

As for clinoptilolite, I get it through Grainger.com I have a business account with them and a 40lb bag costs me just under USD$30 including tax. It’s sold as “EcoTraction Pro” and used as a traction grit for icy surfaces. It’s advertised has having no negative impact on the invironment. Again, I’m only at the beginning of the soil comparison test. Nothing has died, yet.

I would like to ask the Mirai community to do their own research into Chabasai®. While exhausting, my research is hardly exhaustive. Somez may own the name, but they don’t own the mineral. If Chabasai®, or chabazite, can be found in generic porous granular form, then it can sourced cheaply. If Clinoptilolite works well as a soil substrate, I’m developing a source in China to send me a raw ton or two. I wouldn’t mind also being able to receive a raw ton of chabazite granules. All I would need is a name to register… How about Cha-Bill-sai? Yeah, buddy…

More to come.


All in all, zeolites are a pretty interesting family of minerals. So much so, that someone has even created a song about their favorite aluminosilicate hero:

I figured the Internet was such a silly place that I could search the phrase “zeolite song” and I’d get a hit. Sure enough, the Internet didn’t let me down. Hey, if my college geology teacher could find a naked woman coated in oolite back in the 80’s for his slide show, I should be able to find a zeolite song, right?

If you want to sing along, here are the lyrics (please note that chabazite and clinoptilolite are both mentioned)

Lyrics:
Here’s an ode to my friend with a ‘Z’ like a Zorro
Just like that man, you convert the people’s sorrow
Your acid strength and capacity provide chemicals for society
your narrow pores and stability really turn me on

A tight embrace yields fuel for tomorrow
Those awesome qualities, I wish that I could borrow
Your topology and morphology, a tidal wave full of mystery
I exaggerate, my apology, here’s what I say

Zeolite! aluminosilicate hero!
Zeolite! In a powder extrudate!
Zeolite! aluminosilicate hero!
Zeolite! I wish I could marry you!

Diffusion rates may be keeping it real slow
But with some mesopores, this complication is gone, now
Unlimited tunability gives us mountains of creativity
Here me say with audacity, you’re all I need

Zeolite! aluminosilicate hero!
Zeolite! Racing through my mind
Zeolite! aluminosilicate hero!
Zeolite! I think I’m gonna marry you!

In every shape or form, there’s a zeolite for you too
just take my word for it, and make your dream cum true

Your acid strength and capacity, but how about some longevity?
Narrow pores, instability, what’s going on?

Zeolite! aluminosilicate hero! Zeolite!
X, Y, chabazite!
Zeolite! aluminosilicate hero!
Zeolite! Clinoptilolite!

Zeolite!
I see your light!
Zeolite!


One final note, if you’re wondering how to get the registered symbol ® to display, on your Windows keyboard, hold down the Alt key and press 0174 on your numeric keypad. The number key row does not work.

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I feel this compulsive need to send you money for this post.

Funny, absolutely unnecessary, great information, and a bit of sarcastic-trollish inclusion. Great work!

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Hi Bill, some more info about Chabasai: pH 7.0 CEC 230 meq/100g and between 2 and 5 mm average diameter and the molecular level the structure is composed of channels, cages, cavities and pores. Also the price here in Montreal varies from year to year, the quantity and depending where you buy it also as a member of the SBPM or not. It is used here in Montreal for a several years already and resists better than Akadama to our harsh winters.

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I have a SBPM apron. Does that count?

Thanks for the numbers.

The environment here in NOLA is also unforgiving to akadama. I’ve only just purchased my first bag of “hard akadama” for testing. The story goes that akadama breaks down very quickly here. That within a year, all we have is muck. I bought the hard akadama with the hopes that it would hold up.

My test is simple. I have several 1" bald cypress in nursery pots. Some will be potted in pure akadama; some in pure clinoptilolite, some in a mix of clinoptilolite and lava rock, and some in my standard mix of haydite and pine bark. After two years, I’ll make a before/after analysis of the tree’s health and root ramification. I’ll also be looking at the structure of the soil particles. I don’t have any hypothesis, it’s just a study. If it weren’t for the price of shipping Chabasai® to New Orleans, I’d include it in the test.

Given the cost of shipping, I’m willing to try the slowest shipping method ever: Hand-off shipping. I send you the money, and you find someone heading just about anywhere south of Montreal. That person then finds someone heading further south. After 3-5 years, I happen to be somewhere when someone yells “Bill Butler! Do you have any idea how long we’ve been handing this bag off to each other?” and I get my bag.

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Haha I’m dying. I’ll volunteer. I live just about 9.5 hours southwest of Montreal, right by Detroit.

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The Chabasai Railroad: When it absolutely, positively, needs to get there. Eventually.

Here’s my current out of town schedule:
Houston in April
Monroe, Louisiana this summer
Gatlinburg, TN and Asheville, NC some time this summer
Olive Branch, MS / Mephis, TN in May ( Brussel’s Rendezvous )

If you know someone going to Brussel’s, I know people who are going from NOLA. But then, this isn’t supposed to be the speediest transit methods.

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If it helps, I’ll be in Switzerland, Rome, and Greece the last half of May if there’s anything international you wanted or some coincidental crossover lol.

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Wow…just like Ryan’s covered wagon delivery service…:rofl:

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Sure, and if anyone can get themselves into Ryan’s delivery route with a bag of Chabasai®, I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

@rafi and I were messaging back and forth about this, and I think the idea of a Bonsai Underground Railroad getting Chabasai to me for free just might work.

The beauty of the process is that it isn’t about finding one person going from Montreal to New Orleans or anywhere I may be during the year. This isn’t Montreal→Courier→NOLA. It’ll be done with with an unknown quantity of intermediaries: Montreal→Courier→…→Courier→…→Courier→…→NOLA

It’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is. I won’t spend CAD$72 shipping for a CAD$40 product, but I’m willing to spend CAD$40 and hope it gets here by the good graces of anonymous individuals.

I think the bag would need an engaging label. Something with a Twitter hashtag so people would want to be part of the process. #ChabasaiForBill or #UndergroundBonsai

The transport rule is simple: Underground Bonsai Couriers, UBCs, would need to be willing to transport the bag from one city to the next to hand it off to another UBC. Successive UBCs should be closer and closer to New Orleans.

TIME IS NOT A FACTOR, I just want to see if it gets here. Progress can be tracked via Twitter. Unsurprisingly, I’m @BillsBayou on Twitter. I’d like to monitor the bag’s progress, but I don’t need to dictate the progress. I’d be happy to contact UBCs to let them know where I happen to be and if I’m able to drive to meet them. Otherwise, I’ll leave it up to them to find the next UBC.

Okay, @rafi, what’s the charge? How should I pay you? (Please don’t make me send a check via the Underground Bonsai Railroad)

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@Bill, I wish I could help you with the chabasai but I doubt I can. Perhaps you can speak to the people at Bonsai Gros Bec where they sell chabasai (the current price is CAD 50) and they can advise you.

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@BillsBayou, I’ll only do it if I get to be the one to smuggle it across the border :joy:

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[quote=“rafi, post:11, topic:2792”]
(the current price is CAD 50)
[/quote]//
I am not sure how they list the price… is it Canadian $?

I don’t know, maybe the price I got is for members of the SBPQ (Societé de Bonsai et Penjing du Quebec). Better call them, but for sure the prices are in CAD.

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Grainger actually sells the Eco Traction on eBay for $26 plus $5 shipping. Another person has it for same price but free shipping if you spend over $50. I actually get my DE, Optisorb, from Grainger through eBay since they have cheap or sometimes free shipping on it; right now only $15 with shipping. Worth checking out.

Eco Traction

Optisorb

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@BillsBayou it’s funny that chabasai popped up again, it’s almost impossible to find in France now, most resellers stopped carrying it in 2016 and there are currently only 2 resellers left in the south of France (Toulouse and Montpellier).

Additionally, based on the experience of people on French forums I participate in, I would avoid it on: maples, junipers, hornbeams, pines and quinces or at least only use it as a minor ingredient. The alkalinity of chabasai gave them issues from the second year onwards, with trees progressively displaying chlorosis symptoms and weak growth. It also apparently retains too much water, which complicates things in humid areas (as in most of France above Rhone-Alpes).

With that out of the way. I do believe that chabasai is the commercial name for chabazite-ca. If my belief is correct, you should be able to find some ‘locally’ by calling quarries in Oregon, Arizona or New Jersey and get yourself a big-bag of it for the price of one 25l bag with shipping. There are also quarries in Canada, apparently all in Nova Scotia: Bloomington, Wasson Bluff, Parrsboro, Bay of Fundy. It may be worth doing a small test :slight_smile:

The company behind Chabasai states on its website that North American chabazites are saturated with sodium and that Italian chabazites aren’t really chabazites but pumices with some chabazite inclusions. It could only be a commercial argument as they claim using the only quarry in the world with the correct chabasai. As Ryan would say, nature doesn’t do unique. Maybe try first with a young plant without value, as a precaution in case they were right about the sodium content. I believe the sodium saturated one would be Chabazite-Na which are quarried in the same US states…

There’s actually a quarry with chabazite-ca roughly 30 minutes from my garden… I may pay them a visit in the near future to find out the price of a big bag in 1/16-1/4". Worst case if it doesn’t work as a substrate, I can use it as ballast for lime concrete slabs.

I’ll have to look into this.

I don’t know the pH of cliniptilolite or chabasai. That’ll be something I’ll have to check with each vendor. My goal is to purchase a ton of the material to blend into the soils I sell. Ideally, I want to remove pine bark from the mix because it breaks down so quickly.

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This is the best forum thread ive seen to date. Thank you for sharing your research!!

My excitement for chabasai definitely ebbed when I found out that it costs pretty much the same (sometimes more) than akadama. For me, that kinda kills the intrigue; however, I respect that we need to not mine all the akadama out of japan.

If I understood all the information that you presented, Chabasai sounds like a good replacement for akadama, save that chabasai doesnt self scale with roots, unless there is another mechanism that achieves the same results.

I really look forward to the results of your experiment with bald cypress and different substrate mediums. Hopefully the results will be released this year?

Any luck with the Underground Bonsai Railroad?

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Hey, If some people what to experiment with Chabasai let me know and the best I can do in terms of a bonsai railroad is to bring paid-for bags with me next time I go to Nature’s way in Harrisburg, PA. Pending on the COVID-19 situation, I am planing to visit in November 2021 but many factors may make me postpone the trip to the spring of 2022.

are you still having good results with chabasai? is it still as expensive as akadama? I live in wesstern canada if you ever come this way loaded with bags…