Botanical name- Diospyros ferrea
Common name-Ebony or Persimmon
In 1995, during my visit to a nearby forest I found a small bush with copper red tender leaves, small, very dark green tender leaves and a black trunk. I felt it might be a suitable plant for bonsai. Later I observed the same plant as a small tree in different places in the Western Ghat forests and hills.
First I brought home some of the small saplings from the forest and tried to grow them in pots. But none of them survived. I also hunted for the plant in various hills around my hometown. That was when one day I found the same plant, this time with fruits.
I collected a lot of fruits and the seeds from them eventually sprouted. Of them, I selected nearly 15-20 plants for my study and observation as a bonsai plant. By keen observation, I found that there was difference between the flowers in different plants and that only a few developed fruits.
This led me to conclude that this species had male and female plants. Upon searching online, I saw plants of the same species being developed into bonsais in China and was able to confirm that this was indeed Diospyros ferrea.
During the last All India Convention I exhibited a bonsai of this plant at Mysore and Mr. Budi Sulistyo from Indonesia who saw it there confirmed that it did belong to the Diospyros species.
Botanical Aspects of Diospyros ferrea
Diospyros is a genus with about 450-500 species of deciduous and ever green trees, shrubs and small bushes. The majority of them are native to the tropics with only a few extending to the temperate regions.
Diospyros ferrea is an ever green shrub or small tree up to 12m in height with a black bark. Leaves are very dark green and grow to a size of 1 to 1.5 cm. Tiny unisexual flowers bloom on separate male and female trees. The fruit is berry like and ellipsoid shaped and about 0.5 -1cm. Young fruits are green in colour, yellow when mature and red when ripe. This tree is common in ever green forests in low altitudes in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. There are more species and varieties with small leaves similar to Diospyros ferrea in the Diospyros genus, like the Diospyros buxifolia.
Bonsai Aspects of Diospyros ferrea
All the information given here about the bonsai culture of Diospyros ferrea is from my experience .
This is a very slow growing species having only seasonal growth even when young. To get a thick trunk, it is better to grow it in a big training pot. Ground growing method is not advisable for this species. The survival of a tree uprooted from the ground is very unlikely. It grows well in soil containing more of coarse sand.
Best method of propagation is from seeds. It can also be propagated by air layering.
This species is suitable for all styles except wind swept. Since its root system and trunk is black in colour, it creates a contrast look with light coloured rocks if grown on rock and in rock styles. Very attractive cascade and semi cascade styles can also be created. It is also suitable for all sizes, from mini bonsai to big bonsai. This is good material for Penjing also.
It is easy to train the trunk and branches by pruning and wiring method. Wiring has to be done before the branches become hard. Its response to pruning is not like that of the Ficus species. Its progress is very slow, but over time, you can create beautiful shapes and curves by pruning and growing method. Another typical character of this species is that it produces fast growing leaders or branches from any point of the trunk, which can help to create different styles. However, from what I have seen, the best method of working on this plant is to go along with the plant’s natural growing character and do some pruning and wiring.
Root Pruning and Repotting
Root growth is very fast and frequent pruning of lower growth and thick roots is very essential when the plant is very young. During repotting, mild root pruning is advisable. Remove only one third of the root and soil. After repotting, keep the plant away from direct sunlight till new leaves appear. The plant needs to be kept in full shade during the first two weeks and then in half shade or filtered sunlight. Rainy season is the best time for repotting.
By being closely involved with nature, bonsai growers everywhere can try to discover new plant species that are suitable for bonsai and work on them. Discovering a new plant suited for bonsai culture is one of the greatest joys of a bonsai enthusiast.
This article was previously published in the Horticulture World Magazine.