from the April 2006 issue

When money grew on trees

Bonsai growing is the art of dwarfing trees or plants and developing them into an aesthetically appealing shape by growing, pruning and training them in containers. True Bonsai take years to grow... and are usually priced accordingly and therein lies the rub.

Israelis by nature are impatient and it would never occur to them to initiate an enterprise that might take several years before achieving a saleable product. They love flowers and will travel to greenhouses to buy flowers and seedlings for their gardens.

The Israeli bonsai industry, and mind you, at one time there was a bonsai industry in this country, is now defunct. I remember seeing, no fewer than one million bonsai plants in various forms and shapes, sitting neatly on shelves at a growing area just outside of Tel-Aviv. Their elegant shapes were beautiful. They were being prepared for shipment to England to be sold at Marks & Spencer. No further proof of the industry's existence was needed.

The origin of the Israeli bonsai industry goes back to the period when a demobbed Israeli soldier decided to take a post army service trip to the Far East. In Japan he worked at various jobs, mostly physical labor. His life took a major turn when he came across a bonsai farm. The one time soldier was taken back to his childhood days when he lived on a kibbutz farm. He loved trees and flowers. By then he knew some Japanese and asked whether he could be hired. It was there that he learned the art of bonsai growing. He also fell in love with a Japanese girl who agreed to move with him to Israel.

Back in Israel a friend, when hearing the story and having some idea of the value of bonsais, suggested that they establish a bonsai growing farm.

It was a miracle of modern Israel. The seedlings grew to bonsai plants in a matter of weeks. Father time had been conquered and only a few insiders knew how it was done. The shaping, the twisting of the roots were done quite openly in the daytime. However, only a few were aware that the Israelis were taking advantage of modern science and technology to enhance the growing progress. The size of a bonsai plant can range anywhere, from six inches to approximately 36 inches in height. To reach the appropriate size in record time the grower turned to the Agricultural Research Institute of a major Israel university. They were happy to comply and told him which accelerator he must spray on the seedling to set it on its way to adulthood. But that was not all. When the plant reached its desired height, the growing process had to be arrested. The scientists at the Agricultural Research Institute were happy to comply. They supplied a growth retardant and with the help of these two substances one million bonsai came into being in record time

However, the business partner of the enterprise walked away with a major money investment, spelling the death of the bonsai enterprise.

What further proof was needed to show how modern agricultural science with its accelerators and growth suppressants could help Mother Nature and enhance the ancient art of bonsai growing.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report April 2006

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