11 February 2013

Succulents as Bonsai

 Article by:  Gail Theron


The giants tower over the landscape causing mere humans to realise the limits of their existence in nature’s scheme. The majestic and mysterious Baobabs thrive in dry tropical climes, the world’s largest succulent capable of storing water for when rainfall is sparse or non- existent they are reputed to reach a great age of many centuries. There are many fine examples of baobab bonsai.

 For the novice bonsai grower the special requirements of the Baobab (Adinsonia) and the effort of having to keep them dry in winter, in the Western Cape, coupled with their complex growth habits might prove daunting to even experienced bonsai growers. For this reason easier to manage succulents with good potential are attractive alternatives



Portulacaria afra “spekboom or jade trees” have for years been cultivated as bonsai in Asia and there is currently strong demand and appreciation of them. There are wonderful examples in Japan, India and other Asian countries. They develop reasonably fast and are very long lived. Their trunks are particularly attractive. They are rather brittle and when wired great care has to be taken lest the branch breaks when bent.




There are many species of the genus Crassula which are grown as bonsai and locally the most frequently found are Crassula sarcocaulis with pink flowers and Crassula sarcocaulis ssp sarcocaulis with white flowers and slightly larger and sparser foliage.

They are especially suitable for the beginner grower as they are extremely hardy, can be trained into interesting “tree-like” shapes, are water-wise, respond to fertilizing and fatten up very quickly. They are relatively pest free. Their biggest advantage is that they may be potted or re-potted at any time of the year and are readily available at local nurseries.

Crassula ovate (money tree) are more commonly used overseas than in South Africa.  Crassulas are the ideal subject to practice your bonsai techniques on.

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