Styling a Bantulinao Bonsai (Maba buxifolia)


the Bantulinao is a tree species that I am unfamiliar with here in the UK, however, looking through the images in this article, one can appreciate not only the suitability of this species for bonsai, but also the way in which the tree in question has been styled.

This article was first published in the August edition of the Harbest Bonsai Newsletter, an e-mail based newsletter from the Philippines (for more details and subscription information, please see the foot of this page). My thanks go to Leo de Leon and Teddy Lim for granting me permission to reproduce this article at
Bantulinao is a tender evergreen with small white flowers which has red fruits when ripe. It is slow growing and thrives in temperatures of above 15° Celsius. The tree should be positioned in full sun; in warm, wet and windy conditions.

The appealing character of this tree species is that it has uniquely black bark and roots, nice thick ovate leaves, and tiny fruits. The internodes are also naturally short.

Newly sprouted leaves are often red.

Bantulinao flowers in May, bearing fruit in June to July which turn red as they mature.

Amazingly beautiful shari and very aged bark can be found in very old Bantulinao bonsai, just like the ones we see in the pictures above. This is a very desirable characteristic that we try to have in a bonsai. This tree is about a 100 years old.

Cultivation Notes for Bantulinao Bonsai (Maba buxifolia) in the Philippines:

Watering - done twice a day except during summer, when three times a day may be needed. First watering is done early morning and last is late afternoon. Never water your Bantulinao in the evening, may cause disease due to too much dampness.

Soil –Coarse, well draining soil is best. Size of grain is 5 to 10 mm. This will allow good air circulation and water and nutrient retention.

Fertilizer – Organic fertilizer is best.

Pruning and wiring – can be done anytime of the year.

Repotting – Best done in the months of January and February.

Propagation – by seeds

Style – Suitable for all styles

Styling a Bantulinao


We are presented with a Yamadori bonsai that has been allowed to grow for ten years in a training pot since it was collected. From experience, it is best to let the Yamadori recover from the stress for at least two years before any training and shaping should take place. When the new roots have grown and have established in the pot, we will see strong growth of branches and shoots. Teddy decides now is time to make the initial styling.

For better appreciation of the tree, its four sides were photographed before the work started:

Choosing the front

This is the chosen front of the tree. This side has the widest base. The location of the existing branches dictates this to be the best choice as front as well. You may have noticed that the leaves were thinned to allow us to study the trunk and branch structure of the tree

Two thirds of the leaves have been cut. This way we are sure there will be no die back among the branches.

Now with the leaves cut, we can see the branch structure. We can see that there are many secondary and tertiary branches. Those branches that are growing in the wrong direction will be pruned. All crossing branches will also be removed.

Teddy explains which branches to cut.



You can see an example of a branch that is too strong and is growing in the wrong direction. This is removed.

Removal of very strong and unnecessary branches is important to balance the strength of the tree. It also allows air and sunlight to pass into and reach the inner branches.

All the remaining branches were wired in a more horizontal and outward direction

Post-styling Images

For now, the work is complete. Branch refinement, rewiring and repotting will be done in around five months.

Teddy Lim and Leo de Leon with the styled bonsai.

Collection to