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  • Writer's pictureShainna M. Callaway

Bracing Tree Limbs

My best friend, Rachael, has given me a baby bonsai starter kit for Christmas this past year that I am overjoyed to have received. I have always loved bonsai trees and admired the gardeners behind their beauty. In Florida, just past the state line down US Highway 231 from Dothan, Alabama, to Panama City, Florida, in a small town called Cottondale there is a side show attraction, Bonsai by Dori, that was actually my first introduction to the art of bonsai. We would stop occasionally and see what they had on display of their tiny trees. I didn't actually learn what a bonsai was until living in Japan. It is an actual tree which blows my mind. If planted in the ground, it will begin to grow as it should have into the full size of its species. I recently learned about the way a child tree grows stunted for decades without resources until the death of the parent tree opens up the canopy, and so now I have a better understanding about how this is at all possible. Anyway, the art of bonsai requires intricate amounts of pruning which may need the assistance of some wiring to allow either a harmonious balance that naturally occurs in full grown trees or even the unevenness that comes from intense storm damage and the subsequential limb breakage over time.

It is this loss of limbs that I actually want to discuss.

From my youth, I remember after a storm seeing the workers sawing back the broken limbs closer to the trunk and leaving a nasty stump in its place. The tree wearing its scar and sometimes forever losing its symmetry always made me wish there was another way but not knowing how it could be achieved. Then as a usual plot twist in my storyline of life, I arrived in Japan where all the answers to problems I have sought have already been solved.

In Japan, I saw these gigantic trees down the block from the royal palace in Kyoto, or quite possibly just on the outer walls of the palace. They were massive and amazing and on a steep hill next to the road which made them appear to tower over me even more. When we came to the corner tree, I noticed they had built crutches from tree logs to support some of the branches. Where there must have been a snap, they had other small pieces of wood strapped perpendicularly across the break as a cast for the two sides to stay together. All of those tree limbs were fully functioning and producing an equal amount of foliage as any of the other healthy and intact branches. I had never before in all my life seen anyone care to heal a tree from an injury. Since then, I have noticed this practice throughout the entire island of Japan.

An ancient tree supported by a wood beam, fiber cast, and steel cable.
This photo was taken in Kyoto, Japan, in May 2012
A tree being supported to keep it's symmetry intact.
This photo was taken in Osaka, Japan, September 2014.

The Japanese don’t just brace limbs that are broken. They also brace limbs that are being trained. I have seen younger trees that will one day form an arch over a pathway being guided and supported by cane poles. I have seen vines that they train into trees with a support beam that can eventually be removed once the trunk is formed. In addition, I have seen entire trees strung up like puppets connected to a flagpole to protect the limbs from heavy snowfall during winter. I love that they care about the beauty of their trees and protect the overall body shape to continue throughout its existence.

In Lago Maggiore in Italy, there is a famous tree that once reigned as the most beautiful tree in all of Europe. It is located on the magical island garden of Isola Madre. This noteworthy Kashmir cypress is still standing beside its palace albeit with the help of steel cables that support it. An act of God had uprooted it, but the people that loved her could not let it die. They used a helicopter to right this elderly beauty back into the ground and spent much effort reinsuring her survival. They made all attempts to restore her glory, and she is still quite a lovely tree even if she will likely never hold her former title again. I am assuming she is a lady from the soft and feathery way her leaves are delicately displayed.

The famous Kashmir Cypress being supported by steel cables on Isola Madre.
This photo was taken on Isola Madre, Lago Maggiore, Italia, in June 2019.

To my absolute delight, I found these practices of bracing fallen limbs taking place here in the United States of America since returning in January of 2020. There are the most beautiful trees located beside the beach in a protected nature reserve behind the Navy Lodge inside Naval Air Station Pensacola. There were what appeared to be steel braces under some limbs that looked as if they were benefitting from the extra support. These trees had very lanky and long exploratory branches that spread much wider than the actual height of the tree. I wondered to myself if all the travels abroad had brought this thoughtful practice back with someone who noticed and cared from their overseas tours of duty.

A long tree limb being supported by a metal tripod.
This photo was taken on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, USA in January 2020
An ancient tree being supported by multiple wooden posts.
This photo was from my daughter's Omiya Mairi in Tokyo, Japan in 2013.

I hope that this knowledge of restoring and retaining the beauty of a tree is shared around the globe, so that future generations can treasure and appreciate them into their grandest old days. There is nothing quite as amazing as being in the presence of a thousand year old master who has been preserved by the luck of seclusion and the safety of its location. Should all our favorite trees be given the same chances of survival what a garden of a world this could be.

Much love and kind regards, Shainna 🌼

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