"Japanese Outdone in Dwarfing Trees, Hugo Mulertt Grows Pigmy Maples as Japs Raise Little Pines
and Cedars: Secret is in 'Starvation'." (1899) :
JAPANESE DWARF TREES.
AMERICAN DWARF TREES.
Pine, 23 years old; 12 inches from bottom of pot
to topmost bough.
Cedar, 100 years old; 12 inches high from bottom
of pot to topmost bough.
Maple, 16 inches from bottom of pot to topmost
bough; 15 years old; six varieties grafted on one
trunk. Grown by H. Mulertt.
Red lace maple, 10 years old; 18 inches from
bottom of pot to topmost bough. Grown by H.
JAPANESE AND AMERICAN DWARF TREES COMPARED.
Hugo Mulertt, curator of Packer Collegiate Institute, has mastered the Japanese art of
dwarfing trees so thoroughly that he could grow a whole forest in a hall bedroom and yet not crowd the furniture.
With the Japanese the art of dwarfing trees is very old -- so old that quantities of
trees three and four centuries old are now in existence, living testimonials to the skill of many generations of gardeners.
For in the land of the mikado [sic] tree training is a hereditary occupation. Cedars and pines
are grown from the seed to any size desired and then stopped. Thenceforward the tree exists, healthy and vigorous enough,
but never getting any larger. These miniature trees are trained into any shape desired. Sometimes fantastic shapes
are cultivated; again, the dwarfs are trained into close copies of famous trees in the empire. The trees are grown in pots
of different sizes and shapes, no two alike. The shape of the pot is always chosen with a view to harmonizing with the shape
into which the tree is to be trained.
Often the Japs [sic, and also below] form miniature landscapes
with these dwarf trees. Some famous mountain is copied in a mound a few feet high. The surface is carefully sodded and
the trees are placed in position, the pots in which they are grown being carefully sunk out of sight in the sod. Then with a
tiny rill to represent a river and a china house or two the living picture is complete.
These dwarf Japanese trees have recently become the rage in New York and Brooklyn. Some
enterprising Japs imported a quantity of them. They made an immediate hit. Some very fine specimens have been sold on
this market at fancy prices. One fine tree with an authenticated age of 350 years was sold for $350, or a dollar for each
year of its age. A Brooklyn dealer recently secured a lot of dwarf trees. Included in the lot was a cedar 100 years
old and 12 inches high. A pine 25 years old was of the same height.
The secret of Japanese tree training is said to lie in the skillful pruning of roots and
branches. The roots of the dwarf trees are cramped in small pots, on the same principle that the feet of Chinese women are
stunted. In addition the trees are periodically taken out of the pots to have their roots trimmed. The gardener's skill
is displayed in trimming just enough to prevent growth, yet not enough to impair the health of the tree. It is said that in
the course of a hundred years or so these pigmy trees become so accustomed to having their roots trimmed that they really enjoy it,
and when the time approaches for the periodical pruning they wave their little limbs in eager appeals to the gardener to take them
out and clip their roots. [sic!!] This part of the story, however, is not vouched for; it is
merely given for what it is worth.
While the Japanese confine their efforts largely to evergreens [sic],
Mr. Mulertt has made a specialty of dwarfing deciduous trees. He has some fifty specimens, principally maples, but also including
larches and bamboos, all twelve years old and from 6 inches to 2 feet high. Mr. Mulertt is an enthusiastic botanist.
Twelve years ago he learned of the skill of the Japanese in dwarfing trees and at once resolved to try it. Since then he has made
it a hobby. Mr. Mulertt also grows dwarf fish. The method pursued in the cases of both trees and fish are the same and
extremely simple. It is nothing more nor less than starvation [sic]. At least, that is the
way Mr. Mulertt expresses it. In other words he gives both trees and fish just enough nourishment to keep them alive, but not
enough to permit any growth. There is this difference between the treatment given the fish and that for the trees: the trees
need pruning, the fish get along without it.
Dwarf trees can only be grown in pots, for success depends upon confining the roots. The
roots must not be permitted to grow too large, for large roots mean a large tree. Occasionally the maples start a shoot out of
proportion to the desired size of the tree. These shoots must be trimmed off. After the leaves drop in the autumn the
maples must be carefully laid down and covered first with leaves and then with earth, but not deep enough to prevent
freezing. In fact, the freezing is necessary. The trees are buried to prevent snow and ice from breaking the
delicate limbs and destroying the tree. Dwarf bamboos, on the other hand, must not be allowed to freeze.
These dwarf maples are beautiful in the extreme. The tiny leaves are delicately
translucent and very rich in color. Some of Mr. Mulertt's dwarf maples have blood red leaves in spring. In
summer they become a rich green and in autumn they change to fiery red. Others have light green and pink leaves.
One of Mr. Mulertt's rarest curiosities is a maple 12 years old and 16 inches high on
which five varieties of maples have been grafted on one trunk.
The forms of the leaves of these five varieties differ widely and the difference in
coloring is still greater. When in full foliage this tree looks like a bunch of autumn leaves. The effect of
these highly colored leaves in a miniature landscape is beautiful in the extreme.
Dwarf trees can be trained into any shape. It is only necessary to tie the limbs
rigidly in the position desired and keep them there until they have assumed permanent form. This may require anywhere
from three months to three years.
According to Mr. Mulertt no special skill is required to grow dwarf trees. All
that is required is a knowledge of plant growth and patience. 2
Biography of Mulertt in the article "Making Pets of Fish," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1894, pg.
The 1880 U.S. census
lists him as having been born in 1848.
Additional biographical info per Brunner, Bernd The Ocean at Home (Princeton Architectural Press; 2005), pg.
73, which precludes
Mulertt's alleged Civil War experience stated in 1894 article. (RJB's research did find one cross reference for
the Civil War, though that was probably just the same name and two years older.)
Per The National Union Catalog, Vol. 400, pp. 689, in 1886 he translated a German
cookbook; and in 1887 he penned the multi-purpose
House plants and their care; also hints for the care of goldfish and canary birds. All these
works were done while he apparently was in Cincinnati, Ohio. He then moved to Brooklyn.
The sixth edition (fourth in English) of his original goldfish book was published in 1910 with a portrait
of the author.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle,
November 19, 1899, pg.
See also an abbreviated verson of this article published the following year.
Bonsai History > Pre1945
> Hugo Mulertt