Ethics of Collecting

I just read great post on Backcountry Bonsai blog I think everyone who does or plans to collect trees should read it too.

Hope it’s okay to quote part of a comment on this article shared by Michael Hagedorn that I strongly agreed: ''In this modern era of social media and websites, I have come to believe that the publication of film and photos and sometimes even stories, tend to glorify the practice and give a slanted view of what is a greatly difficult, highly expensive and often fruitless process and end up encouraging yahoos to go out and start mindlessly ripping and tearing.

Enjoy reading :slight_smile:


That is a great opinion piece. Thanks for sharing it.

I have my own set of ethics when it comes to collecting bald cypress. Key among them is that the area cannot be considered part of coastal defense. My collecting areas are bordered on all sides by human development.

The problem with this approach is that my set of ethics is a personal choice. It’s a code developed by looking in the mirror. “Hey, Bill, do you think this is a good idea?” “Why of course, Bill! You’re doing great work.” I’m thinking of asking my GPS “How do I get to Hell?” and hear it reply “Take a left on Good Intentions Road.”

My saving grace is that I told my daughter’s “Wetlands Studies” teacher about my collecting practices. She didn’t have a problem with my collecting area. On a side note, this was on a class field trip where we planted 300 trees (bald cypress and tupelo).

An artist from Texas came to New Orleans to give a talk and do a demonstration on a tree he brought. It was many years back and I don’t remember the species. Whatever it was, his collecting technique involved pick axes, pry bars, and explosives on private land. I was amazed at the time. I’ve come to realize that this guy was not practicing responsible collecting. As an artist, I want to make positive contributions to the art of bonsai. If a tree worth collecting involves marring large stone faces, it’s not worth collecting. This Texan was creating scars that will last for a millennia. More than a thousand years from now, someone may look upon the damage and ask “Why would someone do this?” That’s not a legacy to embrace.


I came across this blog prior to a club dig…and I’m glad I did. It saved me the trouble of digging and killing trees that were not really good candidates for collection and to think long and hard about each tree before I dug. I take flag tape with me now. I may flag 10 trees and dig 1.
Hell I find flags from the past sometimes and think “What was I thinking?”…and sometimes “Yes…now this guy is ready.”

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When I find flags from previous years I only think “What was I thinking?” The trees I leave behind never get to the state of “Yes… now this guy is ready.”

I’ve learned the hard way about which trees make the best collected trees. That’s not right. I learned through inconvenience. It was the trees that went through the hard way.

I agree with your “mark many select one” technique. It’s very responsible. I certainly don’t want to care for 4 bad trees and one great tree. I also don’t want to leave dug trees behind after I realize I have collected better trees. That’s why I donated so many trees to the local bonsai club auctions.

Pretty sad story @BillsBayou but massive lesson we can all get from it! I also admire your ethics and here are my thumbs up for you :+1::+1:
My love and passion for nature leads me to the goal of having a nursery with stock specialized for bonsai enthusiasts in the future rather than supporting collection except people they have strong ethics and respect to trees they are here longer than collector in many cases.
Other option is imagination. Here is my tip:
Almost daily I’m passing by the tree I called ‘willow termite castle’ and if I have a time I just stare at the tree imagining what would I do to style it into bonsai. Sometimes I think to call local council to hire bonsai artist and play with it right there :slight_smile: See pic of this spectacular tree in tiny gardens near street I live on.

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Your local council has already begun discussions on this tree and they’re looking for the money it takes to dig it up.

Funny you mention seeing a tree almost daily. I have a tree that tempted me for years and years; a very large boxwood. Finally, I decided to dig it up. There were some… issues with respect to whose permission I should seek. I approached the nearest house and a half-blind woman of advanced years told me her husband might mind, but he’s in the shower, so go ahead and take it. 15 minutes later the tree and I were gone. Within 15 months, so were the elderly couple. I doubt the new owners of the house even knew the tree existed.

As for ethics, I got permission from a woman who felt she had the power to decide a boxwood’s fate. As for the other “issues”, I can’t discuss that here for another few years.

I’ve had the tree for a few years and still haven’t done anything with it. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. Guy Guidry tells me he’d do it as a cascade. That style is at the top of the list of what to do. Then again who knows? The real limiting factor is the weight. The only way to get the tree out of the pot in the photo is to cut the pot off. That’s not a cheap container. So, ideas first, destroy container second.

It has a fascinating base! The trailer I have it in is 4’ x 8’ (122cm x 244cm). Water bottle for scale. Google Streetview will help with what I was seeing on my way to work, and the parking space it opened up for the new owners.



Wow! Nice piece! And funny story as always haha :grin:

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If you search Google for the phrase “Midnight Bonsai Society” (use the quotes to get an exact match), there is only one result. It’s me. Here at Mirai’s forum. “Midnight Bonsai dot Org” is available. Maybe I’ll register that. Maybe I’ll sell t-shirts. Maybe I already am! Ethics Schmethics! (click the link for a laugh, @CoffeeCherry I worked this up in Adobe Illusatrator and Photoshop because this thread inspires me)


Hahaha omg Bill I love that shirt. I showed it to a bonsai buddy of mine and he thought it was hilarious too. It’s always important to maintain a sense of humor in everything we do. Speaking on ethics in a grey area, I collected an elm from an out of business Tim Hortons recently, you can see it in the thread I started “what have you collected this season”. The property has been abandoned for a couple years and is owned by some large corporate entity. The Tre had already been cut down as if it was unwanted. I collected it without permission because I feel it was the ethical thing to do to save it from the bulldozer, and contacting this large property company in another city, they would have just been very confused as to what I was asking. I liken it to rescuing a stray dog with no home and no one to care for him.


The real question is- how do you collect in any decent sized tree in 15 min? lol

18v DeWalt reciprocating saw with a 12" Diablo pruning blade in dry soil on a Sunday afternoon while the New Orleans Saints are playing while hoping no one comes by to point out any vague legalities

And a shovel

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That’s double the motivation. I understand now… but Go Chiefs