The little Japanese trees exhibited in the windows of the better grade Japanese novelty shops never fail to excite considerable interest, because they are so unusual. In fact, in Japanese horticulture the art of landscape gardening on a miniature scale plays as important, if not a leading rôle. A village or a single home, surrounded by beautiful country, will be formed within a plot of ground a few yards square by the Japanese artisans. A river with its bridges, a lake with tiny ships on its silvery surface, roads, gardens, fields – all these features are to be found in the more pretentious Japanese miniature works. Hence it is not surprising to learn that the Japanese, in order to carry out their miniature landscape gardening with the utmost realism and fidelity, have had to raise dwarf trees for this purpose.
So the custom of dwarf trees has become an established one in Japan, some of these trees attaining the age of 200 years. The whole system of culture of these tiny trees may be summed up as the reversal of nature’s method. It really consists not in the survival of the fittest, but rather in the survival of the unfittest, so to speak. A poor, weak seed is usually chosen and planted. As soon as it has attained some growth, the leading shoot is trimmed off. The little plant then grows two other shoots, and these are carefully watched. When one shoot exhibits a strength that is vitally greater than its fellow, it is at once cut off and the weaker shoot left untouched in order to form the future dwarf tree’s main stem or trunk. This system of trimming and cutting is followed punctiliously. Water is seldom used – only in such small quantities as to keep the little plant actually alive. The tree is kept in a pot too small for its full development and the roots are constantly pruned. The shoots are carefully trained and bent to follow the growth of a large tree.
All of which, it goes without saying, requires great patience; but this is a commodity with which the sons of Nippon are endowed to a degree approached by few of the Caucasian races, and the Japanese horticulturist never tires of watching the growth of his tiny trees. When such a tree has been growing for about five years, it can be left to take care of itself, since it has become accustomed through its training to follow the rigid course laid out for it, and can then be trusted not to strike out again in the pursuit of its natural size and vigor. In this manner magnificent specimens of dwarf trees are produced which compare favorably with anything found among their big brothers in the untrained forests of Japan. 1
1 Scientific American, June 11, 1921, pg. 473.