Ancient Chinese bonsai art takes root in Cuba

Repeating Islands


A report from Xinhua.

Bonsai clubs have sprouted throughout Cuba, bringing together fans of the ancient Chinese horticultural art form in the cities of Matanzas, Ciego de Avila, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and in the capital Havana.

Havana’s club gathers 24 active members — whose Biennial Salon to showcase their creations just opened at the House of Chinese Arts and Traditions — in the heart of Chinatown.

The show features almost 50 miniature trees, from lemongrass to casuarina and many other species collected locally, but trimmed and pruned in keeping with the Asian pastime.

Jorge Guerra, 68, a journalist, was introduced to the art of bonsai by a neighbor.

“He is a person with a lot of theoretical knowledge, but he has never made a bonsai. He lent me the first books I read on the subject,” said Guerra.

All the knowledge he acquired from the books prepared him…

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Gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba)


The February 16 post on this blog was of another species of Bursera, the “torote” tree, native to Baja California. Today’s posting is for a Floridian species of this genus, with the common name “gumbo limbo”. It is also found throughout the Caribbean and Central America.

I first saw gumbo limbos in the wild on a trip to Florida in the 1990s, where I was impressed by their fluid trunks and distinctive peeling bark. The sap of all species of this genus is fragrant and may have medicinal properties.

I mail-ordered this tree from Bonsai Collectables in Lancaster, California along with a couple of baobabs (see the April 21 post for one of them, an Adansonia greggorii) which arrived on May 23, 2013.

August 24, 2019:
The tree today

May 23, 2013:
The tree the day it arrived, getting its first repot.

May 24, 2013:
The tree in its new…

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Madagascar Baobab (Adansonia madagascariensis)


Six of the nine species of baobab found worldwide are native to Madagascar. This is one of them, also called a “monkey bread tree” even though there are lemurs but no monkeys in Madagascar. Go figure.

I bought the tree online from Bonsai Collectibles located in Lancaster, California in 2013. It arrived on May 23 of that year.

November 9, 2019:
The tree today.

May 23, 2013:
The tree being repotted upon arrival.

May 24, 2013:
A rough first day.

October 2, 2013:
Better after a summer of growth.

March 14, 2014:
I keep baobabs inside as regular nighttime temperatures fall below 50 degrees F, from about early December to early March. I don’t water them during this period. The leaves on this tree were left over from the previous summer.

July 12, 2014:
New summer leaves sprouting.

July 22, 2014:
Leaf growth in 10 days.

August 15, 2014:

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Root-over-rock privet (Ligustrum sp.)


I’m unsure of the species name of this plant, but my best guess is it is the Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense. Privets belong to the olive family, Oleaceae. I bought its parent from Kuma Bonsai in San Diego on March 16, 2013. The parent plant died in the winter of 2018 but this sprig survived.

November 2, 2019:
The tree today.

I think this is the sprig that eventually became this root-over-rock tree.

May 9, 2015:
Attaching the tree to a rock with raffia.

May 9, 2015:
My soil mix of scoria, pumice, akadama, and organic matter from a worm farm I feed with kitchen scraps. Recently I have been using less organic material in my mix.

April 6, 2016:
The tree getting acquainted with its rock.

October 16, 2016:
The tree after two summers of growth.

March 24, 2017:
Thickening the trunk with long leaders.

April 2, 2017:

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African strangler fig II (Ficus natalensis)


Up until today’s post the entries on this blog have covered several years of development for each tree described. Today’s post will be different, covering one day of additional development for a tree whose prior development history I posted earlier this month (see the September 8 post for this tree).

After the September 8 entry I was dissatisfied with the long branches snaking out from the trunk. Today I decided to prune it back hard and repot. Although in many regions in the Northern Hemisphere it would be too late in the season to repot a ficus, in Southern California we still have two or three months of good growing weather with nighttime temperatures in the 50s and 60s so I think it will have time to recover.

The tree today after being pruned and repotted.

The tree this morning, resprouting after being defoliated earlier this month.


Removed from…

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African strangler fig (Ficus natalensis)


The African strangler fig is a fast-growing East African species commonly used for bonsai. In the wild these trees can start growing on other trees, eventually killing the host tree by “strangling” it with ficus roots. The bark is used to make barkcloth.

I started this tree from root cuttings in 2014. I bought its parent from Bonsai Collectables in 2013.

September 8, 2019:
The tree today, defoliated.

May 10, 2014:
The tree five years ago as a pile of root cuttings left over from a repot of another tree.

August 14, 2014:
Its first growing season.

Jan 24, 2015:
The tree at the start of its second season.

April 11, 2015:
First wiring.

August 1, 2015:
Becoming a little tree in a pot.

December 5, 2015:
The tree at the end of its second growing season.

December 6, 2015:

January 16, 2016:
On the bonsai benches.

March 12…

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Bonsai Basics

Juniper & Basil

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on

The art of bonsai has been around since it originated in 1700s China and is still widely practiced today. The main purpose of bonsai is to gain a connection between man and nature. By adapting nature to a certain desired aesthetic, you can control what is represented by the plant. It’s a fun and challenging way to show off your creativity.

Bonsai can be made from any tree, but the key is pruning, trimming, and repotting. Pruning back the branches and roots are what give the plant a miniature look. There are many different styles of bonsai. For example:

  • Formal: A single upright trunk that tapers towards the top.
  • Informal: A single upright trunk with well balanced curves. The top usually bends towards the front.
  • Semi or full cascade: A single arching or cascading trunk either severely slanting or extending below the container.
  • Group…

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