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Tree shaping is an art form that transforms trees into wonderful creations. Also known as Biotecture, Grown Furniture or simply tree shaping, the technique involves growing and shaping the trunks of trees and other trunk-based plants. Dating as far back as the 16th century, tree shaping has been mentioned or displayed in paintings and literature but it was not until Axel Erlandson, the father of modern tree training, that tree shaping was made to be what it is today. What Erlandson had observed and used to great effect, was a natural form of grafting known as inosculation. This phenomenon occurs when trunks, roots or branches in close proximity gradually fuse together; it can arise within a single tree or neighboring trees of same or different species.
There are three main methods to achieving a shaped tree. Aeroponic culture, Instant tree shaping (Arborsculpture) and Gradual tree shaping.
Aeroponic culture – This method is completed by growing the roots of the tree in a nutrient mist until they reach a determined length, at which time the roots are shaped as they are planted.
Instant tree shaping (Arborsculpture) – This method is done by using mature trees or branches that are then bent into the desired design and held with a cast for the next 3-4 years.
Gradual tree shaping – This method starts by creating the framing to support the growing seedlings and then planting tall seedlings or cuttings. The new growth is trained along the design pathways for the next couple of years. As time passes the trees begin to grow thicker with time.
Most species of trees are suitable for tree shaping but not all species are suitable for the creative treatment of the Arborsculpture method. Trees to be bent into shape must be flexible, vigorous and easily grafted, a common trait that these ideal trees possess is thin barks. Notable examples of these trees are willow, sycamore, poplar, birch and Persian ironwood.
One of the most exciting aspects to tree shaping is the designs. Designs may include abstract, symbolic, or functional elements. Some shapes crafted and grown are purely artistic; perhaps cubes, circles, or letters of an alphabet, while other designs might yield any of a wide variety of other shapes, such as ladders, furniture, and animals. Eye-catching structures such as living fences and jungle gyms can also be grown, and even large architectural designs such as live archways, domes, and gazebos are possible with careful planning, planting, and culturing over time.