JUNE 8-SEPTEMBER 22, 2019
“Conifers” by Bob Hilvers, Clark Bonsai Collection Curator
When the term Conifer is mentioned, the image that comes to mind for most folks is of pine trees in the pointy-top Christmas tree shape. In reality a Conifer is any variety of plant with needle-like or scale-like foliage that produces “cones” to protect and distribute their seeds. Pines, cedars, firs, cypresses, junipers, larches, hemlocks, redwoods, spruces and yews are all “Conifers,” and most of these have their own distinctive shapes other than the pointed drooping branch forms we are most familiar with.
In fact it is the myriad of tree-forms represented by Conifers that make them the ideal subjects for bonsai artists. The quintessential California bonsai uses our native California Juniper to depict images of ancient trees with twisted trunks battered by wind, bleached white by harsh desert sun and ravaged by marauding insects.
A Coast Redwood stumps can be used to create images reminiscent of once mighty trunks broken and shattered yet regenerating new growth. Bristlecone Pines, the oldest trees on earth, don’t look like pines at all. Rather they resemble buttressed and spired fortresses formed to withstand the ravages of time itself. Indeed it has been documented that some Bristlecone Pines existing in the White Mountains of California today sprouted as the Great Pyramids of Egypt were under construction.
An incredible variety of Cypress tree forms inspire a host of dynamic and intriguing bonsai. The Bald Cypresses, denizens of the swamps and bayous of the south, are tall and stately with iconic “knees” at the base of their trunks. Bald Cypresses are also one of the few Conifers that seasonally shed their foliage, like deciduous trees, revealing bare branches in the winter. The mature form of Monterey Cypresses consists of tall gracefully curving trunks, topped by foliage pads flattened and elongated in the direction of prevailing winds. “Pygmy Cypress”, one of the rarest Cypresses in existence, are often referred to as “natural bonsai” as they can reach full maturity at two feet in height. Mature Cedars of Lebanon more resemble spreading Oaks or Chestnuts rather than the Conifer forms we normally associate with Cedars.
You are invited to experience for yourself why Conifers offer such inspiration for the art of bonsai. Take a stroll among the Conifers of the Clark Bonsai Collection exhibit from June 8 to September 22. Join us at 11am on June 8 for Bob Hilvers’, Curatorial Walk and Talk Tour of the new exhibition. Consider each bonsai. See its history written in the language of age and influence of the elements. Listen to its silent song, hear its quite poetry, learn the story of its life.