What Cannabonzai Is
Cannabonzai at the heart of it is a cross-cultural project. One half of us is Taiwanese-Canadian and the other half is French/Scottish?-Canadian so in some ways it represents the crossroads between very different cultures.
We try our best to honor the traditions of bonsai by learning and practicing the techniques developed already and adapting it to cannabis. By creating cannabis bonsai with intention using genuine techniques and care with respect for the history and culture, we hope to create something new that may bring the practice in new directions and create new traditions.
Cannabonzai is not about imitation, it’s about authentic experimentation, art, design and nature. We can do all of our own photography, illustrations, and grows due to the fact that this comes from our backgrounds. We are not simply trying to make pretty plants, but rather trying to demonstrate that the complexity of nature goes far deeper than at first sight.
Why Cannabonzai Exists
We live in Toronto, Canada, one of the first countries where cannabis has been ‘legalized’ at a federal level, but still the cannabis space carries with it a lot of perceived risk from institutions in a process that degrades the freedoms those very laws intend to protect. The laws may deem cannabis legal, but without protections from corporate de-risking, true legality is still being held back by private interests. That said, the newfound legality has opened the possibility to grow cannabis bonsai comfortably.
In contrast to Canada, Cannabis is vilified in Taiwanese and Chinese culture; the punishment for getting caught with it ranges from jail-time and in some Southeast Asian countries, being caught with drugs could mean life in prison or death. Growing up, I’ve heard so many misconceptions from my parents and grandparents like how it is the devil and if you smoke once you will “throw your life away”. This is one of the reasons why I was so drawn to the idea of showcasing cannabis in a different light.
When we first started, we weren’t sure if it would be possible to successfully constrain an autoflower into a bonsai shape so we started there, growing out of a basement in a 3x3ft closet under a 400W MH/HPS setup and shot in front of a canvas nailed to our wall. Our photo studio consisted of two CFL bulbs with foam taped over them, shooting with an old 12MP Nikon D60 and a 50mm prime lens.
We started with an attempt at a foldover and the other a windswept, over time trying a bunch of autoflower bonsai. We slowly started sharing our work, the first autoflower roots-on-rocks, foldover, wrap, and moyogi styles with a few making it into Huffpost and Culturemag in early 2019.
We initially grew exclusively with autoflowers for almost a year before starting our year photoperiod series. Our initial idea revolved around the idea of quick-bonsai, something that people could do to experience end-to-end bonsai without needing many years like with traditional species. We were some of the first to popularize the idea of cannabonsai, growing roots on rock, and the first to grow on a crystal (thanks to our follower’s suggestion), and the first roots over a 3D print. As our project grew, we shifted our focus to exploring the more formal characteristics of bonsai, beyond just the techniques themselves, in order to create genuine bonsai. Our 1.5 year old crystal cannabonsai was probably the closest we’ve come to achieving some of those characteristics.
We used to get a lot of heat from people asking why or saying that it’s a pointless amount of flower, but slowly people came to understand the intention. Each round of our grows incorporated critiques and suggestions from the comments and convos we had with the community to continue to push ourselves and the boundaries – we experimented with revegging after talks about the annual nature of cannabis – we experimented with grafting and growing over a crystal thanks to suggestions.
Eventually and thankfully for our backs, we built a plinth and threw a smoother sheet over the canvas. As our project grew we invested in a Nikon D750 and were gifted larger lights that changed our photo game with more true, vivid colors so we could shoot pics that didn’t need too much post-op beyond cropping.
We launched the first ebook on cannabonsai on the 14th of April 2020 on Amazon while our printed editions were underway. The ebook was truly a labour of love from writing, to formatting, to doing the illustrations ourselves so that the anatomy of the plant and training steps were as accurate as possible – many illustrators can draw cannabis, but few illustrators are also cannabonsai growers!
We merged, updated and relaunched our roots and canopy books into our title ‘How to Grow Cannabonsai’, and now we’re working on new product lines, prints, and collabs with makers around the world so stay tuned and reach out if you want to work together on a project!
So far we have around a TB of photos, videos and other files overall, so what makes it onto our page represents a fraction and we try to surface the most interesting of it.
At the end of the day, it’s still not an easy industry to be in: bank accounts are hard to get, payment processors shut you down, you get shadowbanned, and people can give you a bit of trouble, but ultimately what motivates us is knowing that it does move some people, even if just a few. We’ve been juggling full-time jobs and a few hurdles this year so we had to take it slow the last few months, but we’re back with a bit more time to focus! So thank you to all of those that have supported us – we hope to keep experimenting and sharing our work as we evolve.