Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Succulents are attractive in their own right. When they’re trained as bonsai, their beauty becomes even more intriguing.
I was surprised to learn that a number of succulent species make excellent bonsai. I happened to learn this accidentally when I was reading through the list of plants for bonsai in “Bonsai Survival Manual” by Colin Lewis from Storey Books. In this book, the author has complete profiles of 50 popular species for bonsai, one of which is the jade plant. This got me to thinking. Perhaps there are other succulents that can be turned into bonsai. Sure enough, upon checking in bonsai catalogs I found several others listed as well.
First, let’s look at the jade plant or Crassula that Lewis profiles in his book. He recommends Crassula arborescens in particular for bonsai, and says that it is hardy enough to withstand a light frost.
If you’ve never done bonsai before, this is the one to practice on, because he says even a novice will not be able to kill it. He offers complete instructions on creating a jade plant bonsai along with details on how to care for it. He has a marvelous idea on how you can save the plant if you end up overwatering it and causing the roots to rot.
The twineroot bush (Operculicaria decaryi) also makes a beautiful bonsai. It is in the same family as the cashew and poison ivy (Anacardiaceae), and is also related to the legendary frankincense. This plant isn’t well known, but seedlings are available at various nurseries specializing in unusual indoor plants. It is also sold in the form of a bulb.
This plant is originally from Madagascar where it is found in the subtropical savannah. Regarding exposure, it prefers sun to partial shade. This is a tender species, and doesn’t like temperatures below 46-50 degrees Fahrenheit. For the daytime, the ideal temperature is between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Normally considered a tree less than twenty feet in height, it remains much smaller when it is grown in pots and trained as bonsai. This plant is quite picturesque. It features a gnarled trunk that gives the bonsai the impression of age. Its other characteristics are just as gorgeous. These include knobby bark, contorted growth habit, and weeping branches.
Portulacaria, another lesser-known succulent is sometimes used as a bonsai. The most common species is Portulacaria afra, generally known as elephant’s food or elephant bush. There is also a variegated variety as well.
Native to South Africa, it grows as a shrub with a colorful reddish-brown trunk and small, succulent foliage. Only the older plants will bloom. They produce clusters of small, pale pink flowers. This plant is so easy to grow. It is easily propagated from cuttings.