What defines a tree (and where to find it)?

Hey everyone! I always seem to end up with trees that don’t naturally grow around me. So for styling references, I keep going to the internet for pictures of old or even ancient trees (in the wild) to answer questions like “what makes a pomegranate a pomegranate?” in order to achieve a natural look in my styling.
I’m surprised how hard those images are to come by.

Do you have a good resource to go to for the study of older trees? (specific books, websites, databases?) Do you ever encounter the same problem? How do you deal with it?
Or should we just start a collection of pictures right here maybe? Curious to hear your thoughts!


Based on your post I don’t understand exactly what you are looking for. Are you looking for some information about specific tree species? Or are you looking for information about trees that grow in your region? What do you mean about older trees? And why is that important to you?

Hi @Bob_McCarlie, thanks for asking. Looks like I wasn’t quite clear about what I’m trying to achieve.

I’m trying to make my trees look natural so that I don’t “accidentally” style say a maple to look like a pine, for example. The best way to find out what is characteristic of a tree species (and sometimes inspiration for something a little more extravagant but still naturally occurring) is obviously to go and look at trees in the wild - so I’m mostly covered for species that naturally occur where I live (Germany).

However, I also have a lot of trees in my collection that I don’t just have “around” (pomegranate, crepe myrtle, ficuses, plumeria and other tropicals, Zelkova to name a few, but they keep coming). And I’m having surprisingly little luck with finding pictures online.

So I thought maybe there is a good resource to start any new tree species study? I’m guessing I’m not the only one with this problem. Maybe there’s an online database, a particular book about tree growth habits or a decent website that I’m missing out on and that would be a better point to start looking before I go on a scavenger hunt through google images?

Any help appreciated!

Hi @pcbritz
One of the greatest things for me that I have found in my practice of bonsai is the way that I have totally changed the way I look at trees and their natural environments. I think an effective bonsai display is one that has the power to transport you to a forest, a field or a mountain. I think the only way to do this is to get your boots on and get out there.
Many of us however grow trees from far off places where this is not possible to visit. Internet images can be very narrow, so maybe it is better to try to understand the environment the trees naturally grow in and the challenges they face there. Search “cultivation “ or “habitat” before “images” and let your imagination do the rest.

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Hi, @pcbritz. I snap photos wherever I go of trees (old and majestic examples especially) and build a catalogue on my hard drive of examples for the native species which I prefer to train. It’s worth pointing out that whatever I photograph is already filtered or “curated” though, as I primarily photograph tress to my taste. So it may not be as faithful or representative as someone else might want.

As you point out, that doesn’t help with species we might train but don’t grow where we live, so other than snapping photos when on holiday, I think the idea of starting a collection of pictures is an interesting one. The member base probably already has a good geographical coverage.

Don’t know what you meant by “right here” exactly, but I’m not sure a thread on the forum for posting them is the right place though as eventually the collection could get large and a way to search/navigate by species would probably be needed. A dedicated section of Mirai website though… :thinking:

Other than my photographs, I use Flickr or just google image search.

Hey @AndyK, good point about understanding the environment. Learning about the tree habitat is certainly helpful, but as a novice it doesn’t always give me an idea about what kind of branch angles, turns etc. are feasable and what kind of movement is just a bit over the top maybe. So it’s good to have references.

Hah! I knew I couldn’t be ALL alone with his, thanks @Ralph. I do the same thing taking pics wherever I go and sometimes get weird looks for it, but it helps!

The curation might actually be helpful. What’s often frustrating for me about internet pics is that they are taken from angles where you can’t see anything except the outer silhouette and there’s only one picture per tree. Can’t imagine a bonsai person would take tree pictures like that.

I wonder where the mirai team goes for study if they don’t happen to be on a field trip to Italy’s olives :wink: - @Sam?

I mean…honestly, as with most things Mirai, all our knowledge of trees in the wild comes from Ryan! And many times that does mean a field trip to Italy, or the Sierra Nevadas, or Spain, etc. Other than that, Ryan does have a degree in horticulture and grew up in Colorado, so he’s been looking at trees for a long time. We don’t have a database or anything like that, though that is an excellent idea.

If you were so inclined to collect them in the Forum, I think that’s totally reasonable. It could definitely be made searchable. If I was making it, I would create a thread for Pines, Deciduous, etc. (broad categories) and then post photos with exact species in the body of the post. Then, folks can use Ctrl + F and you can search within the thread for particular species. I would suggest doing this in the Design forum category. Hope this was helpful - if Ryan has any other insights I’ll let you guys know!

Edited to be clearer about what I mean with the forum threads - if you wanted it to be searchable, make each species group its own thread. Then post members of that species within the thread.

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Sounds like a good way to go about it, thanks Sam! I went ahead and created the categories. And started with a species close to my heart and some pictures. Hope we get a lot more people to contribute! :smile:
@Ralph maybe you’d like to share a few of your favorites from your travels?

Sure, Paul, I’ll dig some of my favourites out start adding them to the categories. Thanks for setting that up. And thanks @Sam for the suggestion, that looks like it’ll work – Discourse’s Ctrl+F hijack works so nicely. As forum software goes, this one does seem to have all the bells and whistles.