Thursday, May 3, 2012

Japanese quince: the best for bonsai



Species name: Chaenomeles japonica

Common name: Japanese quince

Location: Nova Scotia

You should be able to guess by the name that this plant is not only a non-native tree, but also that it is native to eastern Asia (Japan, China and Korea). The Japanese quince is somewhat related to the traditional quince in that it's in the same family, but other than that it's not closely related at all. The two can be used to make jams and jellies, but the Japanese quince is much less palatable on its own. It makes a fruit similar to an apple but is quite bitter and leaves you with an intense dry-mouth feeling. They do, however, contain more pectin than an apple and more vitamin C than a lemon and so are ideal for making jams. That being said, they are mostly grown in North America for their ornamental value as opposed to their nutritive value.

This specific species of Japanese quince (despite only one species of the genus Chaenomeles being the true Japanese quince, all three species in the genus are commonly referred to by the same common name; the way to tell them apart is by their size and the colour of their flowers) is ideal for the art of bonsai. This is a very arduous process of making a regular-sized plant very, very tiny through pruning and root growth restriction. The crown, or very top of the plant, is pruned as well as the tips of the roots to ensure that the plant remains a very small tree. Once the final product is achieved by the artist, it is typically planted in a pot with defined physical characteristics depending on the type of plant. I didn't realize that there was literally a rule book on traditional bonsai tree pruning and artistry! Once in the final display pot, the plant is continuously pruned to force the plant into a specific growth pattern (size and shape).

Other than ornamental purposes and the odd jam or jelly, this plant has no real commercial value. The Japanese quince is commonly attacked by the apple scab fungus but since the fruit are not typically consumed this is of little importance. In a cold environment this plant can suffer since it doesn't have much frost tolerance and the flowers are damaged easily.