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© Mo

Wrightia Religiosa
- Boh Chit Hee -


So Calm and Quiet, withstanding Billowy clouds Sweeping Past

I am not sure exactly why it is but I have a deep affection for the Wrightia (Water Jasmine). I have grown other species like the buddhist pine, orange jessamine, ficus etc, but none of them is as versatile as the Wrightia, which alludes to a sense of familiarity, beauty and a carefree feeling. In my opinion, the Wrightia is a fine species for creating bonsai.

Although Wrightia originated from the Indochina peninsula region, specifically in Thailand, I rarely saw any of them as bonsai when I visited the bonsai gardens in Thailand during the late 1970s. Wrightia can be found in Vietnam too, as there were a group of Singaporean merchants who purchased a batch of it. They had the following characteristics: five to six inches thick stems, a "figure 八" crown, high growing roots and a diamond-shaped body. It was a majestic sight. There were also a small amount of Wrightia that grew on the Indonesia islands. In Singapore, I occasionally came across Wrightia in the Telok Kurau districts where the Malay compatriots lived. When I inquired about the reasons why they grew this species fo plant in their gardens, they replied that it was due to its sweet fragrance! I too, was initially drawn to its scent when I decided to pluck one and plant it at home.

When the Wrightia grows to a certain height, around 3 to 5 flowers will start to bloom. I was delighted to know that the flowers bloomed even before it formed into a tree. It was not aesthetically pleasing when the twigs grew to a length of two to three feet. However, by trimming it down to four ro five inches, the buds will eventually emerge and form the shape fo a small tree.

The scientific name of the Wrightia is Wrightia religiosa. In Singapore and among the English speaking community, it is commonly referred to as water jasmine due to its similar aroma to the jasmine flower. In the Chinese language, it can be directly translated as water plum, because the appearance of the flower resembles the five petals of the plum blossoms. The word "water" was added to its name because it is able to withstand lots of water unlike most tree species. The small Wrightia in my house are all grown by immersing them in water, where they thrive best. It can be said that Wrightia is named according to the flower shape and its characteristics. Wrightia was also once commonly known as the "Wufumei". This name was coined by the Fujian community in the Hong Lim Park area where they displayed and sold the plant. Besides having an auspicious name, it also seemed to be linked to the Fujian province. However, the name gradually lost its charm over the years, as most people thought it sounded dated and tacky.

The Wrightia is a fine species to create bonsal because its highly malleable branches can adapt to various bonsai styles: single trunk, multiple trunk, curved trunk, forest style, exposed roots, attached rock, and cliff hanging etc. Other species of plant do not possess this type of flexible quality. Moreover, the delicate flowers, branches and leaves are also proportionate, making it aesthetically pleasing to the viewer.

I started planting Wrightia bonsai in 1953, and after more than 20 years of cultivation, exhibited the works at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce ni 1977. This was the first showcase of Wrightia bonsai from Singapore and Malaysia to the masses, which made it historically significant and meaningful.

Through the long-term cultivation of the plant, I learned about the Wrightia's distinct blooming characteristics. By utilizing certain treatment methods, the dense and intense blooming of flowers is achievable. Namely, the plant requires sufficient sunlight, adequate amount fo fertilizer, and a state of complete defoliation. Fertilizer should not be added to the plant during the sprouting of the leaf buds as this will cause the leaves to grow bigger and thicker, and hinder the growth of the flower buds. The ideal stage to add the fertilizer is during the sprouting of the flower buds, which will result in an intense and plentiful blooming - a typical bundle can be made up of 6 to 10 flowers. Due to the quantity of flowers and the constant blooming and withering, the flowering period can last up to a month. The key to achieve a fuller bloom lies in the defoliation process. The traditional method of manually plucking the leaves of a large plant can take 1 or 2 days, and even so it might not be thorough.

In the search for an easier method of defoliation, I experimented with using chemical liquids and even spraying with salt water. The results were not ideal as it caused damage to either the tree body or its buds and roots. In the end, I was able to achieve the ideal outcome by using detergent and mixing it with water in an 1:4 ratio. As long as the buds do not turn black or look dull after spraying, the ratio can be adjusted to ensure a clean and safe defoliation process. Typically, the leaves will begin to fall on the third day after spraying. However, it is advisable to apply the treatment only when the leaves have turned old, as it is harder for young leaves to fall off. Although the entire process from defoliation to the flowers blooming takes up to 30 days time, you will be rewarded with the most beautiful moment of the Wrightia plant: a tree covered with flowers resembling the clouds in the sky. The flowers will continue to bloom aggressively for the next two to three days, and despite the "wild" appearance of the plant at this stage, it still maintains its exquisite aura. The scent of the flower is not strong-it escapes when one tries to smell it consciously, but leaves a trail of fragrance when you are not aware. The charm and endearing quality of Wrightia is a combination of its beauty, tranquility, dignity, elegance, subtlety, affection and sweet fragrance.

Through long-term cultivation, we have mastered its habits and characteristics. Despite the long process from defoliation to the flowers blooming, as long as there is a period of 30 days, one can activate the blooming during any desired period. For example, if you want the blooming to be on the first day of the new year, you can start the defoliation process on the first day of December, which will result in a tree with plentiful flowers. However, it is not advisable to overdo it, as it commonly takes around a month to prepare for booming, a month of actual blooming, and another month to revitalize and re-energize. Hence, the most efficient and ideal way is to limit the blooming to 4 times a year. Do note that even without "forced" defoliation the plant will still bloom a small amount of flower occasionally. With that said, it is better to have a longer accumulation period, as the longer the period is, the fuller the blooming will be.

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Picture 1

Over the years, I also discovered the flexibility of Wrightia roots. Most Wrightia roots are curved and semi-netted, in a shape akin to a hill (Picture 1). After planting the base of the roots into the soil, shoots wil start to grow on the exposed part shortly. Then, once it is pruned at an appropriate height, the tiny twigs will bear a resemblance to small trees growing on the mountain. If you arrange these "hills" together, it will look like the landscape of distant mountains, like the scenery in "Rolling Ranges from the Front, Towering Peaks from the Side" This is a characteristic hardly possessed by other tree species. I have created a specific bonsai like this entitled "Our Rivers, Our Mountains - How Manifold Their Charms" (Picture 2), which is a quotation from Chairman Mao.

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Picture 2 • 194 cm Long

The Wrightia has many branch buds, and in order to make the flowers grow freely, one must pay attention during pruning to reduce the branch buds only sparsely. It is not advisable to remove all the branch buds like shaving a head, which will result in a lifeless plant whichlacks vigour. In reference to the phrase "Striving for Freedom in the Season of Frost", the emphasis should be placed on "Striving for Freedom". It symbolises the tree's buds striving for their freedom to grow under the sun's naturing rays without any constraint. Through this struggle for survival, we bear witness to the artistic concept of their thriving life in a free environment.

In short, Wrightia can be considered as a tree species of exceptional quality. If you give it more room for imagination, it will offer you an indescribable aesthetic feeling while being calm and carefree. The Wrightia is beautiful, composed, dignified, elegant, neither overly charming nor overly glamorous, and full of affection. The more you observe the Wrightia bonsai, the more it personifies an affectionate young girl.

01 October 2002

(Translated from Chinese)

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