Pursuing a bonsai unicorn

This is a dwarf European purple beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea nana.) It has very small leaves (relatively speaking- think of the dwarf-leaf varieties of Japanese maples) which stay a brilliant purple-black for quite a while, tight internodes, etc. Perfect for bonsai, right? Only problem is they are always grafted, and the grafts are all super ugly, as it seems the bark on the ‘nana’ variety is somewhat rougher, and even a bit warty, than the species, soooo…. Just airlayer, and problem solved, (again) right? Well, after trying and failing several times in the past (and wasting money), I just thought- “yeah, you’ve had some success with air-layering other trees, but this is out of your league.” Also, at a certain point, another thought occurred- “Have you ever even seen, or heard, of anyone having one as a bonsai?” The answer, of course, was no (I don’t get out much, so I can’t be positive.) So, for many years I put the idea on ‘hold.’ But I’m stubborn, and after searching (they’ve become harder to find), I finally found another one in 2018, and thanks to Ryan’s trident maple root-grafting stream, I figured out an angle: thread root-graft as many beech seedlings as possible at the same level through the trunk (above where the grafted trunk area is, of course.) I thought about approach grafting, but abandoned the idea as the trunk wasn’t big enough (though it’s quite rare to find one this big, which is almost 2” dia.) Also, I figured I’d drill the holes so the exit point of the seedlings would be slightly lower than the entrance point (where the roots would be occurring.) Finally, in the spring of 2019 I took a shot at it, and was actually able to thread 4 seedlings through the trunk (one didn’t leaf out, so I added another this spring.) Now, after 2 growing seasons, I think they’re fusing together enough so that I can (fingers-crossed) separate it from the understock next spring. The pics are from this week, so the leaves have faded some.


Congratulations on your perseverance.
What diameter were your seedlings?
Do you know if the grafts ‘took’ on both sides of the trunk or just on the root side?
That must be one confused tree!

Tx., when I checked last they are definitely taking. The seedlings weren’t small enough, I can tell you that; I had to go up to a 1/4" drill bit to get them through, so that’s about what size they were. I’m not sure about the ‘branch’ end taking, guess I was so focused on the other ends. And I really don’t like to put my fingers in the ‘operation’ too much lol! When I finished working on it, my initial reaction was- what the heck did you just do!

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Do you think it would be possible to air layer the top ends right at the trunk and get roots growing on that side as well?

Hmmm… are you asking- can I scrape down to the cambium, the bottom sides (the areas in contact with the soil) of the branch ends of the seedlings, to initiate root development? It’s possible, but I would wait until next year to try it. And I might try it, but beech in general, for me, are very difficult to airlayer. I’m still considering whether or not to separate the new root area from the parent plant next year. Maybe I’ll just start designing branch structure and leave it attached.