Tanuki/Phenix graft

Do you find Tanuki/Phenix graft acceptable? I heard a famous bonsai professional in a recent podcast express reservations against phoenix graft and in the same podcast express support for grafting shimpaku foliage on yamadori rocky mountain junipers. Is it just me that find this inconsistent? So having “fake” live foliage in a tree is fine but having a tree “planted on a groove” of a deadwood piece with character is not? If Phoenix graft is not allowed then what about Root over rock - or any other composition that contains anything other than the tree? Lastly, I not just find that position problematic, I also think that if you took a tree from nature, and it survived, and it is old and full of character, the least thing you’re allowed to do out of respect for that living organism is to replace its foliage by grafting something else. You don’t like the foliage in that 300 year old juniper or pine, then leave it alone. I feel more insulted by grafting different species (grafting from the same tree is fine) than phoenix graft where you’re giving a new life to a piece of deadwood as part par of an art composition.


I think there will always be strong opinions in favor of or against Phoenix grafts in the bonsai world, and that’s just how it is. I think Phoenix grafts are fine, they are a style/art form in their own right. I just think as long as you are always upfront that it is a Phoenix graft and you don’t try to pass it off as a “natural” tree than that is fine. I have to disagree with you slightly on grafting new foliage, I don’t think it is quite on the same level as a Phoenix graft but you do make a good point. The Bonsai world likes to pick and choose what is and isn’t respectable or acceptable when it comes to more extreme manipulations of aesthetic, like Tanuki or foliage grafts, in ways that don’t always make sense. I’m not opposed to foliage grafts or tanuki but I think the same should go for foliage grafts, as long as you’re honest about it, it’s fine.


Each person is entitled to his opinion, his likes and dislikes. We do bonsai because we find it enjoyable. Some like tanuki, some don’t. Some like junipers and others like maples. There is no right and wrong. If a person wants to graft chinese Juniper on Rocky Mountain Juniper who is it to say that it is right or wrong? With what criteria?
Let’s just get on with enriching our knowledge, our bonsai skills and let people do whatever they like without criticism. At the end of the day most of usdo it (bonsai) to get away from the crap of life, to find some peace. Let’s keep it that way!


I agree with one exception. Seems to me that I read somewhere a while ago that the tanuki was really only practiced by the best of the masters as a test to see how skilled they were at fooling even their peers.
I personally like to use unusual wood pieces as a framework for otherwise plain plantings to give them more interest.Tanuki%20-%202017-10


I think in a few years you may end up with a very nice composition there. For my taste, I would consider tilting the planting angle somehow.

I would agree, to an extent. However, I can’t help but feel that in certain cases grafting can be used as shortcut when someone doesn’t want to spend the time or lacks the horticultural knowledge to cultivate good natural foliage. The prime example of this is a post I saw recently from a very popular artist of a graft of Japanese black pine onto ponderosa. I’m aware Ryan has a ponderosa with grafted JBP as well, but he’s also spent years figuring out ponderosas to be able to reduce their needles and has plenty with phenomenal natural and compact foliage due to years of proper horticultural technique. However, in the other artists case, I can’t help but feel that to some extent it’s a cop out mechanism to get small foliage immediately rather than to spend the time allowing ponderosas to gain strength and longer needles, allowing for backbudding and eventual short needles. Regardless though, bonsai is bonsai and even a well done Phenix graft can be great (so long as that fact isn’t ommited and it’s made clear that it is one), so let’s just enjoy the incredible artform and hobby that bonsai is. I think within any realm of the art sphere there’s going to be discrepancy in opinion and disagreement, and that’s just something we have to accept to an extent in the bonsai world as well.


In my case it isn’t just a short cut but availability. Being from Michigan there aren’t many mountains to scout for yamadori. Even if available, who can afford such luxuries?
Since I love to work with wood anyway and finding the right planting to complement a fine piece of deadwood is a real challenge. And the reward is obvious to me, and continues to be half the fun.
In future I hope my compositions will be remembered as much for the unusual wood work as for the companion bonsai. I have even experimented with weathering finishes to age the wood even more to add value in future. Adding hundreds of years of age to a composition this way to me feels exhilarating.

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I think that in some cases a well done graft is better than yamadori.
Think about it, the yamadori has the showy deadwood and the live vein already attached. It all just needs to be cleaned up and cultivated to a show piece years down the road.
A graft has to be matched perfectly to look descent at all and still needs years of development to reach the same point of refinement to show status.
If they both take the same time period to reach identical destinations, where’s the cheat?

A phoenix graft works when a phoenix graft works.

For a phoenix graft to work, it can’t look like a phoenix graft. As soon as you see the graft (phoenix, thread, approach…) the illusion is lost and all you’ll see is the graft. If that’s the case, then the artist has failed. If someone asks where you got that tree, the deadwood is gorgeous, the artist has succeeded.

So many things in bonsai are about illusion. Scratch that. EVERYTHING in bonsai is illusion. If a bonsai is not evocative then it’s more likely to be easily recognized as a shrub in a shallow pot.

(Which got my brain thinking and I opened Photoshop…)



Why is that a bad bonsai Bill?

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First and foremost is that big round ball of foliage. Second, no nebari. Third, while we cannot see inside of the foliage, we can be assured that the branch structure has not been developed with bonsai in mind. Also, with landscape trees like this, all the leaves you see may be all the leaves there are. The tree’s foliage is just a big green shell surrounding a chaotic void. All the landscaper was concerned with was keeping the tree healthy and keeping that foliage round.

If I were to attempt to convert that potted tree into a bonsai, I’d first find out where the roots begin and hope they’re something that will look nice as a bonsai. Then I’d attack the branch structure looking for runners, multiples coming off the same spot, bar branches, inverse taper, bad internodal gaps, and so forth. I’d need to open up the canopy to get light in there to encourage pad development and proper branch structure. I’m thinking two years before I can really consider it for training.

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I concede to you on the Nebari - and whereas all you say is true, had it been developed as a bonsai with proper structure it does look like a well developed old park tree. It does carry the illusion if not of age, of scale of a real tree. Just like that, without a nebari to speak off, it beats 90% of deciduous bonsai in development without even starting to get developed…

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I’ll give you that. The big pretty ball, however, the tree doesn’t move me as a bonsai. But hey, that’s why there’s vanilla and chocolate!

And by the way, I love Montreal. I was there in 1999. My wife dragged me there on a business trip. I was in grad school, so I didn’t have time to do any advanced research on what Montreal had to offer. Subsequently, I was surprised by the bonsai display at the botanical garden. I ran around like a madman trying to take as many photos as I could. Here is my Montreal Bonsai Gallery. The images aren’t very big. If I ever get the chance, I have a 35mm film negative scanner I should put to use. However, the photos are about 18 years old, so maybe they’ll give you some perspective on trees that are still in the collection.

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Hey Bill,

You’re welcome to visit in Montreal any time. I’ll share a beer with you in my garden. By the way, they only show part of the collection at any one time so every time you go back there are new trees to look at. Also in addition to the Japanese pavilion, there’s also the ‘Maison de l’arbre’ on the far end of the JBM (Jardin Botanique de Montréal) where they only display North American species of trees (I see in your gallery that you’ve been there). They also have one tree styled by Ryan, a coastal redwood donated by @Heliostar to the JBM.


I will try to keep an eye on these trees and if I find any I will photograph it for you…

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Exactly. How many times have you seen an artist bend a huge branch just to hide that it was too long of a straight length? Or creating a negative space to redirect the viewer from seeing the wrong main branch.
Like you said, all illusion.
Maybe that is half the fun?

The illusion is half the fun. The other half is the story. I’m pretty sure there’s a third half.

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Rafi-- I’ve seen several tanuki over the years. Some will fool you. Others not. Leonard’s LOOKS OK. . The lower limb is a little contrived, though. The gap will need to grow closed. That takes time.:+1:

Maybe OK. It was my first completed one and have had better material and plants to work with since then ( also, 10 others that didn’t make the grade at all ).
I am sincere about not believing it is cheating. No one of the Japanese masters ever did this to cut down on the development time. Their goal was always to fool their peers as an exercise in skill, not in payoff.


I too don’t see anything wrong with a well crafted Phoenix graft. Including a great piece of deadwood in your design can be a beautiful thing as long as the tree is identified as a Phoenix graft.

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