Brazilian Pepper Bonsai

Starting a Brazilian Pepper bonsai from scratch

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Brazilian Pepper Bonsai National Bonsai MuseumIn Florida the Brazilian Pepper Tree is an invasive species and is hated by all those Floridians who posses even a fundamental knowledge of gardening, landscaping or environmental conservation.

State, County and City governments cut them down with vigilance but the tree is nearly impossible to kill and new shoots will spring up from stumps in just a couple of weeks. I too hate the Brazilian Pepper and would enjoy seeing them all eradicated from the Florida Peninsula.

And with that attitude in mind, can you imagine my surprise as I stood in the National Arboretum recently in Washington D.C. admiring a beautiful bonsai only to read the sign and discover that it was a Brazilian Pepper?

Needless to say I was shocked, yet at the same time I was inspired by it because it was a really nice looking bonsai. And if there is a positive to be said about Brazilian Pepper being used for bonsai it is that they are so prolific that even cut branches left behind on the ground can sprout new roots and start growing again. So I decided that I wanted to start a Brazilian Pepper Bonsai, and here’s how it went:

After returning home to Florida; one evening I tucked a folding pocket saw into my back pocket, hopped on my bicycle and rode through my neighborhood to a few empty lots. I stopped at each one to inspect the Brazilian Peppers that were growing there. At my third stop I found a tree with thick branches. One branch in particular had a bit of a curve to it. With folding saw in hand, I spent about ten minutes cutting through the branch and eventually separated it from the tree. I got back on my bicycle and struggled my way back home dragging nearly twenty feet of foliage behind me, no doubt a curious sight to my neighbors.

Once I arrived home, I grabbed the pruning loppers from the garage and cut off all the foliage. I then put the branch onto my table saw. Adjusted the saw blade to the steepest angle and cut what remained of the branch in half. I was left with a piece of wood 7 inches in diameter and 15 inches in length. (If you’re listening only to the audio version of this article, you can visit The Bonsai Garden Podcast website to see pictures of it).

I had an empty bonsai pot in the garage. I ran some thick bonsai wire through the drain hole of the pot to be used as an anchor for the rootless branch. I secured the branch to the pot using the wire and then filled the pot with bonsai soil. If you try this yourself, it’s really important that the branch be right side up in the pot. In other words, the branch needs to be in the pot in the same orientation it was on the tree. The vascular system within the branch will not work in reverse. If you plant the branch upside down it will die.

Brazilian Pepper Bonsai from scratchSo I planted this bare log into a bonsai pot on March 26th and by April 11th, just two weeks and two days later, I noticed the first bud beginning to open on the side of the branch. To the new bonsai artist this process of cutting off every leaf and every branch may seem strange or even harsh, but the reality is that new buds will eventually pop from all over the branch giving me perhaps a dozen or more options to choose from once I begin to have a vision for how I want the bonsai to look. But I won’t do any branch wiring or even any branch selection until I know that the tree has had plenty of time to develop a new root system. So I will most likely leave the tree untouched for about one year before I do anything further to it other than applying fertilizer.

Brazilian Pepper Bonsai? Who would have ever thought? But the one featured in the National Arboretum was outstanding. So if you want to make one yourself, give it a try.

P.S. – *The family Anacardiaceae contains poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and Schinus terebinthifolius, or Brazilian pepper-tree. People sensitive to poison ivy, oak or sumac may also be allergic to Brazilian pepper tree because it also has the potential to cause dermatitis to those with sensitive skin. Some people have also expressed respiratory problems associated with the bloom period of pepper tree.

*Reference Source