|"Could you call it bonsai?" might be the only question
raised about this palm growing technique. While the palms growth and form cannot be
manipulated to the extent of traditional bonsai, the essence of the older plant or larger
scene can be suggested in miniature form and this, says one expert, makes it bonsai.
Depending on the species, palms can be grown as solitary specimens or groups of one
species in a container to suggest mature trees or a whole forest. The unique features of
each palm are enhanced in this small scale setting. One of Treisters most dramatic
creations is six 70 cm (27 inches) tall Hyophorbe verschaffeltii in a
rectangular, blue-glazed pot, where their strong forms and red leaf stems are beautifully
displayed. A 1.5 m (4.5 ft) tall Chamaedorea metallica looms over its small
container home of four years making a daring new statement as well (see p. 55). While some
might consider this an odd or inappropriate treatment of palms, it does make for a new way
to admire them. Treister has made bonsai palms a hobby for 20 years and has more than one
hundred containers arranged along shelves on a patio. He points out that he enjoys a large
collection of palms in a rather small area and here is an outlet for frustrated palm
lovers in apartments.
With close attention to watering and
regular liquid fertilizing, palms can be grown for years in bonsai containers. Pure
long-fiber sphagnum moss is the recommended potting medium since frequent watering flushes
soil media out of these containers. Seedlings or small plants cleaned of all soil are
carefully arranged in the container with sphagnum moss packed in around them. Moss and
even miniature mondo grass can be placed over the sphagnum moss as a groundcover (Fig. 1).
Due to the rootbound state of the palms, watering is a nearly daily ritual, and
fertilizing typically consists of a weekly liquid 20-20-20 drench. Treister rootprunes as
often as twice a year to keep the plants within their containers, and this involves
cutting large emerging roots of single specimens or sawing a bottom portion off multiple
plant roots, and then repotting with sphagnum moss around the cut areas.
Palms cannot match the longevity of traditional bonsai, but many
species remain an appropriate size in bonsai containers for 510 years. Faster
growing palms such as Roystonea spp. have been retired as early as four years when they
reached 1 m (3 ft) in height. Some of the best subjects for bonsai include species of Arenga,
Rhapis (Fig. 2) , Livistona, Hyophorbe, Chamaedorea, a n d Dypsis .
Some named varieties of Rhapis excelsa, such as R. excelsa Kodaruma
can stay in the same pot for decades, only reaching 1 m (3 ft) in height.