The Florida Bonsai Magazine: Summer 2021

From the editor

Adam Lavigne

Welcome to the Summer 2021 edition of the Florida Bonsai Magazine!

I know, I know, it’s a little late, but it’s been an interesting summer.

As you may have heard, our BSF President, Jorge Nazario, was hospitalized briefly in August due to mild COVID-19 pneumonia. Not to worry though, he is fine doing fine, though I’m not sure his taste is back yet (I should ask I guess). But he is back to work, updating the BSF website (club presidents, send him your club event news, that’s the main purpose of the site), getting all the forms ready on the Convention site, planning said convention with the convention team (to which I’d like to welcome Lauren McMullan to as the new volunteer coordinator. I wonder if Jorge will let her use his official “security” shirt?), and mapping out his continuing club visits throughout the state. You can’t keep a good man down. As we near the convention, I would like to remind the club level officers that the Scholarship Styling competitions in your clubs should be scheduled soon so that you have a champion to send off to the District semi-finals. To recap that process: each club determines (staging a styling competition works best, but you all decide how to pick one) who they want to send to districts, then the Trustees will hold a competition to decide who goes to the Convention to compete for the $1000 scholarship to be used towards bonsai training. Not to mention bragging rights. Previous winners include Reggie Purdue, Justin Michael, and last year’s winner, Les Lonsdale.

On a sad note, this summer we said goodbye to Mary Madison, the Buttonwood Queen, and my friend. I’ll quote David Cutchin’s memorial, he said all that needed to be said:

“In the early hours of Wednesday July 28th, the world lost a pillar of true compassion, dedication, and creativity. While most of us knew her as the Queen of Buttonwoods, it was second to who she was as a person. Mary Madison was a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend. The icon is what she was, but who she was is even more beautiful.
As a “little brat,” her father would take her on rides to the Florida Keys unaware that each ride solidified her love of the natural environment. While she loved the cute and cuddly creatures such as dogs and cats, she felt drawn to plants the most. A born naturalist, Mary would spend the rest of life sharing her love of all living things with strangers and friends alike. 
Mary exemplified what it is to be a good person. She treated everyone with kindness and humility, her resolve was to do what’s right and forgive regardless of the situation. A little wise crack from Mary and she’d have you laying down your guard eating out of the palm of her hand. She intuitively knew that your happiness meant her happiness. 
Her effort was instinctual, charm a natural weapon, and professionalism a mantra. While stubborn can often be viewed as a negative trait, for Mary it meant giving a thousand percent effort and nothing less. Quitting wasn’t a part of her vocabulary. She was a catalyst of human decency, hard work, and love to anyone she befriended.
For 91 years the world has been blessed to know Mary. She earned everything that she obtained in life and her passing is no different. A seemingly romantic gesture to her late husband TJ, she parted earth like lyrics from their favorite song by The Platters. “Heavenly shades of night are falling, it’s twilight time. Out of the mist your voice is calling, tis twilight time. I count the moments darling til you’re here with me. Together at last, at twilight time.”

The World has lost a true giant with Mary’s passing.

If you have any stories from your time with Mary, please share them so we can remember her in this publication. Or any bonsai related stories. Don’t worry about formatting or spelling or anything like that, I can even use plain text to plug into the publication. Send any articles to and we will take care of them.

Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy this edition, with contributions from Dave Collum, Mike Knowlton, David Cutchin, Tom Kehoe, and Jorge Nazario.

Does size matter

By Dave Collum

(At least in regards to my caring for bonsai it does)


When I started out in bonsai many years ago I always found it odd that I would show up at club meetings with very small trees while most of the other members were men handling large, heavy trees often getting help to move them. Over the years my trees have started to grow larger.


4 years ago while hanging out with my fishing buddy, Bob, his neighbor, and cousin Rick came over letting us know he wanted a tree removed from his front yard. My friend Bob is well known in the community as one who likes to cut trees and clean brush helping others with their projects. The tree we’re speaking of was a giant Ilex Schilling’s Holly shrub approximately 10 ft high and 12 ft in diameter.


It was February of 2018 we went over with a couple of shovels and began to dig around the roots to make a trench. We placed blankets over the roots and hooked the chain around the bottom of the root ball and to the back of my friend’s truck. With a few good tugs by pressing on the gas we were able to uproot the shrub and drag it out of the yard. Using planks, we then proceeded to drag the tree into the bed of my friend’s truck and over to my place, approximately one mile away.


I didn’t have the sense then to take a picture of what it looked like beforehand, but I have never seen an ilex shilling so large in my life. Obviously a very old tree.

Using concrete blocks to make a raised bed I planted the shrub and just allowed it to grow unchecked for the following year. It quickly budded back profusely.


July 2019 I repotted the tree into a 3 ft diameter pond container using cactus soil.

Minimal training was done prior to this. At this time some larger roots were cut back further with additional cleanup of the basic structure. Again I use planks to drag the tree up and place it into the container as the plant was way too heavy for myself or even two people. I hadn’t realized, even with all the pruning that was done, just how heavy this plant would be.


February 2020 I again repotted, but this time into a larger wood box that I made using old planks. Everything was cut back to improve the structure and more pruning of heavy roots. Again, I used planks and plywood to slide the tree into its new container.

And the tree was allowed to regrow with minimal work done throughout the year.


March of 2021 I finally got the tree repotted into a large bonsai pot with new bonsai soil. Larger roots were, again, cut back further and I found many fine routes to take their place. Removed another large trunk from the main tree and performed a small amount of carving. And, again (there are a lot of “agains” because the most important part of bonsai is growing) the tree was left to grow until July. In July I did some further refinement of the branches.


( As you can see from the picture I needed to get creative using ladders, strapping, and planks to accomplish this task. I did have bonsai friends willing to help, thanks Christopher and Gregg, but wanted to see if I could do it on my own.)


Though I love this tree, which is often admired by people walking by my house, I am now considering selling it due to it being so heavy and difficult to handle. Even two large guys generally are unable to lift this tree and pot. So now I have a pretty good idea of my size limits.


Present appearance of tree with 24 inch nebari.

From the desk of the President


  2021 has been full of changes for all of us, everything has been somehow different. At Bsf, we planned for a convention that was different in many different ways and we are so delighted that the vast majority of you decided to take a chance with us and made 2021 one of the most successful conventions in years. We have put together a short video made up of photos from this year’s convention, hope you enjoy it. 


   Friday, October 1st will mark the beginning of our annual Bsf Convention Logo Contest. This is where you get your creative juices flowing and come up with an original drawing that could end up being the logo for the 2022 Bsf Convention. As you can see from the included picture, we already have a poster with our theme for 2022; the only thing missing is your drawing. Please take inspiration from the theme as well as the fact that Club Competition Trees must be in “Forest” style. “Forest Style” will be a reoccurring theme throughout the 2022 convention. Please submit your drawing/s using the following link: BSF LOGO CONTEST. The winner will be announced by December 15th. Good luck!


I am re-starting my Club Visits in November and plan to continue until I have visited them all. I never miss an opportunity to learn something new, and the club visits have enabled me to learn more about the extremely innovative and creative ways in which Bsf clubs carry out their mission statements. See you guys soon.


  *Do not forget to send us your flyers for club-level events ( so that we may post them on our BSF website. 

See you all real soon.

Florida makes an impression at the 7th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition in Rochester

Michael Knowlton

Thanks to all the hard work and determination of Diane and Bill Valavanis, and their large dedicated group of volunteers, the seventh U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition, originally scheduled for 2020, occurred on September 11 and 12, 2021 in Rochester, New York.

Again, the continued progress of the Art of Bonsai in the U.S. was very apparent at the Show.  The number and quality of the most beautiful bonsai in the country were most impressive.


Due to COVID complications, the usual Florida truck had to be canceled, reducing the quantity of Florida displays.  However, a number of Florida people attended and enjoyed the event.  In addition, Lunetta and I had two displays – one a tropical Shohin display: and the second, a large Brazilian Rain Tree.  Also, Rob Kempinski had three displays – one a tropical Shohin display,

the second a Buttonwood,

and the third a Premna.  

On a special note, Florida artist, Christopher Neal, won “Best Classical Bonsai” with his outstanding Japanese Black Pine.

Congratulations to Christopher!!


On another special note, Jeanne Cosenza (Our Trustee from District 5) had the privilege of working with Young Choe, arguably the best kusamono artist in the country.

Jeanne taking care of her Kusamono, photo by Christopher Cosenza

 A number of Jeanne’s kusamono were on display at the Show, along with kusamono from other parts of the country.  

In fact, Young was so impressed with one of Jeanne’s Kusamono’s that she has already put it on display at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. Note in the picture that it has been placed adjacent to Mary Madison’s spectacular Buttonwood which is on permanent display at the Arboretum.  

We were moved by a special poster that was displayed in honor of Mary Madison at the Show.  Many well earned congratulations to Jeanne!!


Christoper Cosenza, Young Choe, and Jeanne Cosenza

Serious Florida bonsai enthusiasts should be sure to include attending the U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition on their bucket list.  

It is an experience that you will not forget!



A historic tree comes to Heathcote

By Tom Kehoe photos

by Adam Lavigne

Reggie, Tom and Jorge relaxing before the work

This massive forest was created by the late James J. Smith in the mid-1970s.

According to Smith’s catalog, it is the largest forest he ever made. It contains 14 willow-leafed ficus, the largest of which is more than four feet tall.  It was purchased by bonsai collector Robert Stott, of Vero Beach, sometime in the 1990s. When Stott died, his brother inherited the collection and moved it to his home in Palm Beach.

For the past year or so, the tree was worked on by Mike Blom, of Emblem Bonsai. Blom said that for many years, the bonsai had essentially been treated like a topiary, and he was called in to help tune it up.

The trunks show significant damage from Ambrosia Beetles, although much of the damage is long-healed. Repotting the giant took four experienced bonsai artists (Jorge Nazario, Adam Lavigne, Reggie Perdue, and myself), and 20 gallons (!) of bonsai soil.

The pot
The tree before work
Beginning of the repot
Reggie holding up the repot tag history
In Jim’s own hand, all the times he repotted the tree
Looking for treasure

When Stott’s brother died, the executor of the estate offered Stott’s 13-tree collection to Heathcote Botanical Gardens,  In addition to the forest, the collection included several massive F. Salicaria, and four informal upright Bougainvilleas, one with a base a foot in diameter.

Placing the tree into the pot
All done
Tom watering the tree on its new stand in the collection

Tom Kehoe

Curator, James J. Smith Bonsai Collection

Heathcote Botanical Gardens

Florida, A Regional Study

David Cutchin



Florida holds more natural diversity within its landmass than any other state in the country. States with similar latitude are dry, desert environments; while the Florida landscape ranges from temperate, sub-tropical, and tropical regions. For bonsai enthusiasts that means you have over half the native tree species in the United States at your fingertips. As an added bonus, the physical appearance of species depends on where they occur regionally, in turn providing artists with an arsenal of creative influence. With bonsai largely designed to mimic trees in nature, Floridians are able to learn in one of the most universally awesome places to practice the art.

In Florida, geography determines the framework of trees. Just one inch in elevation change can cause varying shapes and sizes within species. This is due to the nearly three hundred types of soil found in Florida. Of those, three individual groups can be identified: sand, stone, and clay substrates (or fine sands). These soils have a massive impact on differing species’ access to water and nutritional needs, as well as the tree’s ability to secure its foundation.

For instance, trees in more upland areas with sandy bottoms tend to form few surface roots due to loose or well-draining soil. In areas with greater or permanent water retention and acidity, such as silt or muck, roots grow predominately along the ground surface. The trees found here have wide, fluted bases due to poor oxygen within the soil or the presence of a hardpan beneath. A similar reaction occurs in bonsai as a result of shallow containers. As bonsai mature, their trunks appear to melt as their bases expand laterally mirroring trees from harsh soil conditions in nature.

In conjunction with soil variation, the presence of water or lapses between hydroperiods contributes to the compounding diversity among Florida trees. Since Florida has water on three sides, annual rainfall can exceed sixty inches. The amount of water captured by the land via lakes, wetlands, or seepage and the humidity produced, regulate temperature fluctuations across the state. As a result, nearly 3000 species of trees and shrubs are able to thrive because they are unlikely to experience consistent freezing or arid heat.

As you travel from north to south, you’re able to observe how Florida’s land and weather dictate the native species that exist there. Each region tells a different story through individual species and offers bonsai enthusiasts’ guidance as they interpret trees artistically. Since there are no “typical trees” in the Florida environment, you’ll find impressions across the state to be just as diverse as the regions they’re found. It is these differences that make Florida difficult to overlook.


Skirting the emerald waters and white sandy beaches of the northern panhandle, there resides some of Florida’s most unique species. The trees found here lean angular towards land as winds along these coasts carry salt spray onshore, pruning away their seaward buds. A common design in bonsai culture, this windswept style framework does not oppose the impending wind but flows along it.

With each branch moving in unison,

sand pines Pinus clausa and sand live oaks Quercus geminata emerge seamlessly from dunes as they rise with the landscape. Thanks to root adaptations, these coastal specimens are able to lean and bend at angles less than 45 degrees in pure sand. Instead of the traditional taproot, their roots expand laterally connecting to one another like interlocking fingers. This phenomenon provides each tree with unwavering stability and maximizes nutritional uptake in soils where high leaching occurs.  

Moving inland across the panhandle, short wind-sculpted trees give way to lofty 300-year old longleaf pines

Pinus palustris. Their massive trunks with drooping branches and burdened crowns tower over acres of wiregrass and wildflowers. With architecture similar to formal upright bonsai, the domineering statures of these conifers go unchallenged within their upland zones. However, as the pine flatwoods rescind into north Florida’s river floodplains and swamps, one of the most iconic southern species reigns supreme. 

Timeworn bald cypress Taxodium distichum sit atop mirrored reflections as they protrude from still waters. Like badges of honor, each scar and broken branch represent the storms they have faced with each passing year. Bonsai artists go crazy for their naturally wide and fluted bases, especially specimen with adventitious roots or knees. The wide distribution of cypress and the vast elements impacting their growth attribute to the broad representations we see in bonsai. Often imagined to have flattop apexes that clash with an invisible ceiling, this species more commonly grows long shadowing branches with crowns of near uniformity. 


Further east, across the central peninsula, old-growth forests open up to vast cattle ranches and fountains of turquoise-colored spring water. Southern live oaks Quercus virginiana dot the open prairie with their long ornate branches often reaching out to touch the ground before returning to the sky again.

Though not commonly used as bonsai material, the live oaks’ natural framework influences a variety of species used in bonsai such as ilex and boxwood.

Their short trunks and broad canopies can easily be identified as they exhibit graceful maturity at any age or size.

Scattered throughout the central prairies, hardwood hammocks huddle around limestone depressions and beautiful freshwater springs. Referred to as karst topography, these zones occur where acidic plant litter and surface water percolate downward eroding the limestone floor. In areas that resist collapse from this erosion, the remaining vegetative particles accumulate forming a peat surface layer. As a result, trees growing within these zones are anything but typical due to the ever-shifting acidic environment.

Sugarberry Celtis laevigata, red maple Acer rubrum, and American hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana are a few of the species thriving within Florida hammocks. Similar to trees in wetland areas, the flowering hardwoods residing here have large fluted bases and creeping surface roots from poor soils. In addition, overcrowding causes their trunk and branch structures to grow wild and irregular, making them great resources for visual bonsai design and collection. Without many native conifers suitable for bonsai, these deciduous Florida natives are the primary contrast to the tropical species of the south.


In South Florida where palmetto scrubs and expansive marshlands meet sun-scorched beaches, diversity among species decline. Here, seasonal temperature changes result from rainfall variations following summer and fall storms. Temperate and subtropical hardwoods practically disappear as conditions become better suited for salt-tolerant evergreen species. Nonetheless, trees native to this environment express beautiful character against the backdrop of an often harsh landscape.

Indulgent of these conditions, slash pines Pinus elliotii soar high above south Florida’s level farmlands and dry scrub environments. With their elegant simplicity and contorted framework, this species bears a striking resemblance to the “less is more” bunjin and literati styles of bonsai culture.

Their cantilever-style branches slope and twist with age as limbs along the trunk fall away leaving behind heavy and deformed apexes. These native slash pine not only mirror long-established bonsai designs, but they also give local artists an opportunity to see what made these designs so meaningful in the first place.

Past the scrublands of south Florida slow-growing pines are replaced with fast-growing tropical trees. Species like the native strangler fig Ficus aurea flourish in the constant heat and humidity of these coastal regions. The only ficus native to the sunshine state, strangler figs represent one of the most popular species used in bonsai. They’re known for their cloud-like canopies with aerial roots that rain down, becoming smaller trunks of their own as they lock on to everything in their path. Bonsai artists commonly display the species having multiple trunks or prop roots as well as growing over a variety of objects.

The southern tip is one of the harshest, nutrient and oxygen-starved regions of Florida. Vegetation along these coasts must tolerate loose foundations and yearly beatings from tropical storms and shifting seas.

Photo by Adam Lavigne

Photo by Adam Lavigne

Endemic to this part of Florida, the buttonwood tree Conocarpus erectus beautifully twists and turns over and around itself as it fluently absorbs each difficulty with grace. Their sun-bleached deadwood and elaborate branch structure compare only to the snow and wind scorned junipers of the western United States.

From Mary’s garden, photo Adam Lavigne

Highly prized amongst the bonsai community, the buttonwood species rugged texture and centuries-old character set it apart from traditional tropical species.

Photo by Adam Lavigne


As seen from the northern panhandle to the southern tip, Florida’s diverse landscape is nothing short of awesome. Trees bend and crawl as they adapt to the elements impacting their ability to survive. Though there are species that cannot circulate between north and south regions, most areas of the state are able to enjoy both temperate and tropical species with little temperature disruption year-round.

Native trees long overlooked for their odd nature are now celebrated for their complex and unique architecture. Artists are looking at new species to collect and advancing new naturalized species as representations of their local environments. With bonsai interest across the United States shifting from traditional styles to designs from the American landscape, states like Florida are becoming more relevant than ever. Because of this, Florida is gaining international recognition for its commitment to push the envelope and helping advance interest in North American species. Proving the ultimate point, understanding how species evolve and their relationship to bonsai can only lead to a greater appreciation of the art form.


*Originally published in 2017 by

Send all correspondence, articles, pics, or poems, to:

To contact Jorge Nazario, the BSF PRESIDENT, the email is

2021 copyright Bonsai Societies of Florida

7 thoughts on “The Florida Bonsai Magazine: Summer 2021

  1. Thanks Adam, as well as all contributors to this edition. It was well worth the wait.

  2. Wow! Nice edition………glad you are feeling better Jorge……….well done! David Cutchen is a chip off his grand dads block……..quite interesting

  3. Thanks for the many articles and pictures of bonsai trees and native tres in their native environment.
    BonsaiBruce, Bonsai Society of Brevard.

  4. Adam – Very comprehensive and informative issue of Florida Bonsai Magazine. David – Outstanding, well written article!!! Mike Knowlton

  5. Thank you Adam, one of your best magazines ever – big Thank you to David for the wonderful article concerning the vast varieties of Florida trees- beautifully written and inspirational on many levels.
    Linda Gibbons

  6. Really enjoyed reading all the awesome articles, and the fantastic pictures.

  7. Wonderful edition ! Congrats to everyone who contributed. Well worth a second read !!!
    Ed Trout

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