A unique hobby is fast emerging into a popular pastime. It’s known by various names such as Pooktre, arborsculpture, tree shaping or tree training.
Simply put, arborsculpture is a rare art form using live saplings to create living furniture and other structures. Items like fences, gazebos, bridges, benches, chairs, or almost anything one can imagine can be fashioned by bending, merging and manipulating plant tissue. It is a unique form of art that can instill a sense of awe when viewed.
Arborsculpture isn’t for everyone, but anyone who loves living eco-art will thoroughly enjoy it. However, arborsculpture requires patience, practice, artistry and knowledge of bending, shaping and grafting procedures.
The art has been around for centuries and is still practiced by arborists worldwide. The earliest known surviving examples are the three legged stools grown in ancient Egypt around 1570-1305 BC. An illustration is on display at the British Museum.
Another example is the living root bridges built by the Khasi people of India several hundred years ago. Living trees were also used to create garden houses in the Middle East. The practice later spread to Europe.
Arborsculpture might sound very similar to the art of bonsai, espalier, pleaching or even topiary. It is, but there are slight differences. Pleaching is probably a more accurate term to use but arborsculpture sounds more sophisticated.
However, there are several drawbacks to arborsculptures. It can take years or decades before your project comes to fruition. But, the results can be, breathtakingly, beautiful or even quite humorous if one chooses. The other drawback involves people who pick up and move every few years. If you’re the nomadic type it’s not really feasible to take up this hobby.
There are various methods used in shaping trees. Most artists use grafting to deliberately induce trunks, branches, and roots, into artistic designs or functional structures.
Today, the art form seems to have experienced a rebirth. The time to grow and construct an arborsculpture object varies with the species of plant used, its rate of growth, cultivation conditions and size of the project. Some trees and shrubs have pliable branches and trunks that make it much easier to bend and manipulate. Many tree species have been used, but some are better suited than others. Following are types used from least to best:
1. Poplar trees. They grow fast and big, but are prone to disease.
2. Ash trees. They are dense, strong and grow very tall, but less flexible and take more time to work with.
3. Cherry trees. Cherry trees have a dark, rich wood and produce beautiful blossoms. However, the soil PH they grow in must be kept at correct levels and the bending and molding are time consuming.
4. Eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus trees are a popular choice because they are very pliable, easy to mold, and grow quickly. The downside is eucalyptus doesn’t stand frost or extreme climate changes well and are found mostly in Australia.
5. Oak trees. It takes time using oak because branches are not very limber or pliable. The upside is they are strong, stable and grow very tall.
6. Apple trees. These are a good choice. They grow small, but sturdy and have pliable branches. The wood is not as hard as oak and can be more easily molded. However, they are prone to fungal infection and insect infestation. They take extra care as they need to be regularly sprayed with fungicide as well as an insecticide.
7. Alder trees. Alder is an excellent choice since they are extremely hardy, grow fast and even under harsh conditions. They grow tall and strong, but are pliable. They can also be easily grafted and are an excellent choice for beginners.
8. Redwoods. These are known for growing rapidly and have a long life span. Redwoods can grow hundreds of feet tall and can be grafted easily. But they do require some work to mold and bend as they grow taller so most arborsculpture designs are done in the first 50 feet of the trunk.
9. Willow trees. Willows are very pliable and strong. They can be bent and molded into almost any shape, making them a good choice for beginners and experienced arborsculptors alike.
10. Sycamore trees top the list. The average height is over 100 feet and they have a long life span. Sycamores grow fast and are very hardy. They are also easily transplanted without causing damage to the tree.
The tools used in Arborsculpture are similar to those used by Gardeners, Arborists and Horticulturists. Stems and branches, are bent into shapes and braced for a year or more, depending on the amount of resistance to overcome. Bracing can be removed once the shape is able to hold itself.
Materials and items for bending and shaping are virtually unlimited. Basically, they can be whatever one chooses for bending, fastening and restraining. Materials most commonly used by arborsculpturists include wood boards, pipe, rope, wire, string, tape etc.
Trees and shrubs can grow into works of art in the hands of someone who knows how to bend, sculpt, and graft. The result is arborsculpture. An article describing the practice in finer detail can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arborsculpture