Mini Flora

Envision the age-old banyan trees lining Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables: majestic canopies, enveloping branches, massive root structures. Now picture those in miniature. It's called bonsai (bone-sigh), a venerable art form (not to be confused with banzai, the Japanese battle cry) descended from Buddhist monks that dates back to fourteenth-century Japan and possibly earlier in China, according to ancient scrolls. Bonsai, literally translated from the Japanese as "tray planting," involves the dwarfing and shaping of all types of trees through pruning, scarring, and fertilization. Tree and "tray" together are essential elements of the Zenlike craft that is gaining popularity among tree lovers and hobbyists.

The work of local bonsai artists and masters will be on display this weekend at Fairchild Tropical Garden's thirteenth annual Bonsai Exhibit and Sale sponsored by the Bonsai Society of Miami. The Garden House at Fairchild will be abloom with diminutive awe-inspiring landscapes, forests, and gnarled trees, hand-sculpted to look as if they have for years withstood the harsh elements of nature. Windswept, weather-beaten, and lightning-charred while under careful supervision in their pots, the little trees (ranging in size from six inches to just over two feet) represent the traditional styles and techniques of bonsai. Outside vendors will help the budding grower by offering demonstrations, starter plants, decorative pots, and the traditional tools of bonsai.

The Society's head of exhibits, Joe Samuels, often referred to as the Father of Bonsai in South Florida, meticulously handpicks the entries. He expects fifteen to twenty exhibitors, each bringing highly refined trees that have been manipulated for upward of twenty years. According to Samuels, an accomplished master of nearly 40 years: "If you can grow an African violet indoors [a relatively simple task], you can cultivate a bonsai, although patience is key."

Miami is the perfect place to nurture the tiny trees, says Stephen "Bear" Brown, vice president and chairman of the show for the Bonsai Society of Miami, founded in 1993. "Native Florida plants are coveted by bonsai growers worldwide because, unlike Northern trees, which go dormant in the winter, our trees are green and beautiful year-round," Brown explains. Joe Samuels, a self-proclaimed "loafer" at Miami Tropical Bonsai, the largest supplier of tropical bonsai in the United States, concurs. Florida buttonwood, bougainvillea, bald cypress, and ficus will be among the tropical varieties on display at the show, and Samuels promises, "People will be drooling over them."

-- Stacey Steig

The Bonsai Exhibit and Sale takes place 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 15, and Sunday, May 16, at Fairchild Tropical Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Rd. Admission is $8 (free 9:30 a.m. to noon Sunday). Children age twelve and under are admitted free. Call 305-754-6906.

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Stacey Steig