March Yamadori


Today brought snow and freezing temps in Massachusetts. What better time to search for yamadori! Well-above-average temps throughout February have prevented the ground from freezing, and plants are just beginning to wake up. I had a few hours free and decided to head out to a special spot to look for native trees.

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The woods are unbelievably beautiful when you’re alone, with little chance of running into others. This area is full of oaks, beeches, and white pine.

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I followed hiking paths but found no footprints. Parts of this area are overgrown with invasive vines that were overloaded with snow in February, damaging the trees. The stooped stands make an eerie scene.


Finally, I reach some power lines. I’ve had lots of success finding interesting trees in these areas. The lines pass over hills and granite outcroppings, which are loaded with oaks, shagbark hickory, pines, junipers, sweet fern, and lots of other woody species.

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Lichen seem to love these areas. The British soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) are especially fantastic against the gray winter backdrop. From the same genus, Star-tipped Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia stellaris) would be an important food source for reindeer and caribou, if  they lived in Massachusetts. Oh well.

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The repetitive trauma these plants face every year causes them to stay small and stunted, building thick trunks. I’ve found many trees with seriously reduced foliage. The oaks especially seem to reduce their leaves dramatically in response to the maintenance cutting. Most of the trees up here send roots deep between the granite cracks, making them impractical to collect. Ideal specimens have shallow roots in dirt pockets near the surface, and are easily removed.

Many years ago, before I became a curmudgeon who searches for shrubs in my free time, I might have come to a granite slope just like this one, to light a bonfire and drink wine coolers stolen from someone’s fridge. From the picture above, I’m happy to see that this tradition continues.


After some searching, I find this eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), about three feet high, with a thick tapered trunk. According to Nick Lenz, white pine is suitable for bonsai but rarely found with the interesting qualities. Far too often, the juvenile bark on a white pine this size is smooth and undesirable. This tree seemed very compact, with a thick trunk, already starting to develop mature bark. It seems that the dirt pocket in which its roots have grown has restricted it’s growth, keeping it naturally small.


A littler leverage with a small shovel and the compact, flat root mass comes away easily from the granite pocket, where I estimate it had lived for 10-15 years.


Nearby, I find another stunted conifer (Juniperus virginiana), easily removed with a substantial amount of feeder roots.

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I collect a few more trees, and hike back to the car with my arms full. In addition to the pine and cedar, I also find a thick red oak (Quercus rubra) and a smaller, more graceful white oak (Quercus alba). I’m interested in seeing how these species will respond to bonsai culture–in particular, with regards to leaf size.


The red oak has a thick trunk with great taper. The base is about 5 inches across. Red oaks have a tendency to sucker in response to trauma, killing off the upper tree. Hopefully, this one withstands the trauma I put it through today, and sends out some shoots from the trunk.

A word about collecting this oaks–trees older than three or four year have already established a substantial tap root that often drowns straight down. I found this out the hard way while trying to collect oaks in the past. Expect to use a saw or pick axe while collecting these. Don’t use your good saw, as you’ll likely be cutting through dirt as well as roots. I had great luck with this tree, levering it out using the upper trunk.


This smaller white oak was much easier to lift out of a dirt pocket. It already has some nice lower branching. White oaks have gorgeous pinkish juvenile foliage. I’m looking forward to seeing it when this tree wakes up.


This eastern red cedar looks very healthy in its winter color, and fortunately, I barely had to touch the roots except to remove some glass shards and rocks. I left a substantial amount of existing soil, as conifers often depend heavily on the mycorrhizae that live near their roots. Unlike the deciduous trees above, I’ll leave this tree to recover for at least a season before doing any work to it.


The white pine, which is far too big for the roof of my apartment, was planted out in the garden, where I’ll let it recover and then work on chasing the foliage back towards the trunk, and sketching out a future design. I did remove the upper trunk, because I hadn’t had to prune the roots at all, and the tree looked vigorous enough to handle it.

All in all, a very successful day of collecting native New England species. Hopefully, there’ll be more to come in the next few weeks.

Thanks for reading,







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