African Bonsai

Bonsai is not only a tree in a pot.

Bonsai is an illusion created by an artist to let the viewer think he/she is looking at an old mature tree.

An extremely successful bonsai has the ability to tell the story of the life of a tree to the viewer by making use of only one of the human’s senses, namely sight.

I am from Africa and I have observed the way some exceptional trees in Africa grow.

The tree that I want to promote in this article is the flat crowned acacia tree from the wide open plains of the African Savannah.

When a tree successfully captures your imagination it may let you think about a tree that you have seen in the past, or it may stimulate your imagination to think of places where you would like to be.

Set your minds free and let your imaginations accompany me on a journey to the wide open plains of Africa.

For a seed to germinate, grow to a mature tree and reach a ripe old age it is better to start its life amongst some rocks or somewhere it is not trampled or eaten by wild animals during the first few years of its life. If the tree succeeds to evade the attention of animals there will still be the wild bush fires to contend with.

The first three years the seedling tries its best to grow as tall as possible. Once the root system is well established, primary branches will develop, preferably growing upwards at an angle as if to embrace the warm African sun.

Once the primary branches show themselves with succulent green leaves, the attention of some hungry herbivores will be attracted.

The next stage in the life of the tree is to produce secondary and tertiary branches, all growing at smaller angles upward and outward. All the energy is taken up by the primary branches and the trunk does not increase in length anymore.

Because no one branch is dominant the tree starts forming a flat crown.

Downward growing branches are easy food for those animals that depend on green leaves and twigs for their existence.

During this stage of its life the tree will attract the attention of giraffes that will continuously nibble small quantities of leaves and twigs from the underside and the outer edges of the tree.

The frame of the tree now resembles an upside down triangle. The bottom of the triangle is where the branches fork and the flatter horizontal line of the triangle are formed by the tertiary branches and twiggy growth.

Bad news is when an elephant arrives. The elephant will tear and break branches to get at seed pods, succulent twigs and bark. Many a shari is created this way.

If the elephant have an appetite for tree roots it may push the tree over partially or completely. Trees growing at a slant with exposed roots are created if the tree manages to survive.

As the tree gets older the outer ends of the branches will start drooping. The outline of the tree now has a slightly drooping appearance, not only flat on top anymore.

The tree still has to survive attacks from insects, root loving animals, animals that keep on trimming the canopy, fire, drought and storms.

The tree now provides shade, food and sometimes a thick branch where a leopard may store the carcass of its kill. Birds will use the branches for nests and if the canopy of the tree is high enough a pair of eagles may start a family in its crown.

For those who want to listen, while resting in its shade, the tree can now tell a tree story.

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