Thu, Sep 22, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Small is the old big

Bonsai tree-growing has been going in Taiwan since the late Qing dynasty and has become more popular over the years

By Meredith Dodge  /  STAFF REPORTER

Trees that are popular in Taiwan include tamarind, Chinese parasol trees, common jasmine orange, Formosa firethorn, maple, Chinese hackberry and even guava, but the most widely grown is the banyan.

"Taiwan's banyan bonsai are the best in the world," Yen said. "But as for exports, the cypress is our top tree." Evergreens are especially valued in the bonsai tradition due to their sturdiness. Cypress, which grows with a bent trunk in nature, is consi-dered the most beautiful tree to grow as a bonsai.

"One of the important issues for bonsai creation is how to catch the specific characteristic and spirit of each species. Cypress is grown at high altitudes ... Affected by the violent geography and climate, it always develops a flexible trunk and branches ... Tender but tough, cypress fully reveals the value of life and accommodation in adverse circumstances," writes Yunlin (雲林) bonsai cultivator Zheng Cheng-gong (鄭誠恭) on his Web site.

According to Yen most of the value of a bonsai depends on its age and how well it imitates nature. Yet to the trained eye, a beautiful bonsai is one that goes beyond simple realism to convey a deeper, indescribable aesthetic.

Yen, who offers classes in the art of bonsai, emphasized the importance of learning how to appreciate that aesthetic before spending a large sum on a banyan tree. The trees in his nursery -- mostly large bonsai that are 40 to 50 years old -- cost from NT$150,000 to NT$3,000,000. For those with a tighter budget and a less discerning eye, a smaller, younger bonsai from the Jianguo Weekend Flower Market (建國花市) costing from NT$500 to NT$10,000 will do fine.

Bonsai World is at 235, Chengde Rd, Sec. 5, Beitou, Taipei.

The Web site is www.bonsai.org.tw/aiabonsai/

The phone number is (02) 2828 8022.

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