Fukien Tea (Carmona retusa) is a very popular bonsai plant. It is often listed under the old scientific name Carmona microphylla, but it is also known as Ehretiamicrophylla (buxifolia).
Fukien Tea leaves are small, shiny and dark green. The leaves are also covered in tiny hairs. The leaves create a dense, compact appearance when they are combined. Fukien Tea’s young bark is light brown and begins to crack with age.
Caring for Fukien Tea Bonsai
In its natural environment, Fukien Tea can grow up to 12 feet tall in its native habitat. It is native to India and Malaysia, as well as the Philippines. The tree is especially popular in China for bonsai.
Fukien can be a difficult bonsai to grow.
This is a beautiful and interesting choice for bonsai lovers who love a challenge.
This bonsai produces stunning white flowers in the spring and summer. These flowers eventually give way to small orange berries, which turn into black seed pods.
Fukien tea can be handle some cold, but should be grown indoors in temperatures below 50 degrees.
Fukien Tea should be kept at 60 to 80 degrees during the summer. It can be sensitive to changes in temperature or lighting, so it is important to keep it indoors and outside.
Bonsai Fukien Tea care is relatively easy. Remember they are tropical plants, bring them indoors or in a greenhouse at the first frost or freeze warning. Good air circulation is important both outdoors and indoors.
Fukien Tea trees require direct sunlight but protection from strong winds if grown outside.
If grown indoors, Fukien tea thrives in bright windows with east or south exposure.
A fluorescent bulb can provide supplementary lighting for the tree for up to 12 hours per night if the window is exposed to the west or north.
The soil should be slightly moist or slightly dry. The tree will lose its leaves if it is allowed to dry out too long. It is best to keep the soil moist at all costs.
Root rot is unlikely if you use fast-draining bonsai soil. However, you should not continue to water your Fukien Tea bonsai. Frequent misting discourage spider mites.
Fukien Tea needs humidity.
This can be easily achieved by using a humidity tray. Fukien can tolerate humidity at home, but it will thrive if humidity is maintained above 30%.
Fukien Tea bonsai should be fed every other week, from Spring to Fall through the winter. Use either bonsai food or half-strength plant food.
Fukien tea is not a fan of being overfed.
To avoid root burn, water the plant thoroughly before you feed it. If the food is not diluted, weekly feedings may be possible.
Fukien Tea is densely foliar so you can easily prune it to your desired shape without the need for a wiring method. You can prune the tree as long as it is healthy.
Occasionally, this plant becomes chlorotic. The yellow leaves may be an indicator of a fertilizer deficiency.
Use organic fertilizer as directed or an all-purpose liquid weekly, spring through fall.
During cooler months, once a month will be adequate.
After six to eight leaves appear, prune new shoots. Fukien tea is a continuous grower, which is different from indoor bonsai. However, it does slow down slightly in winter. There is no dormancy but it is not uncommon for some leaves to drop in the fall.
Fukien tea can be used to reduce cuts. However, large cuts will not heal. You should plan to conceal or include large pruning scars into the tree’s design. These large cuts don’t callus, so make large cuts at the trunk or allow the cuts to rot and create irregular hollows.
When this plant is happy in its growing conditions, it often sends out new branches.
This new foliage can be trimmed at any time of year. It does not hurt the plant and can make it prettier in the long run. New branches are easy to wire. When you purchase a bonsai, take a picture to remember the shape. If you like, you can change the shape as it grows.
You will need to plant the seeds outdoors once they are ripe to propagate Fukien Tea.
It is easy to propagate from fresh seed.
The easiest way to propagate fresh seed is to remove the moistened skin from the fruit and place it in bonsai soil. Small seedlings will emerge from the soil in one to four weeks. Then, let them grow for one year.
Once they have become slightly woody, use wire to shape the branches and general shape. In the summer, softwood cuttings can be used.
Easy rooting is possible with stem cuttings.
Any cutting that has a softwood or green stem can be used. Cuttings taken from vigorous plants will increase the success rate.
Repot Fukien bonsai every two to three years in spring. Keep in mind that Fukien Tea is primarily shipped with clay when coming from China. This causes the tree to become compacted, so it would be necessary to replace its soil with a basic bonsai mixture.
This is where the key lies: gradually replace the clay with soil while avoiding unnecessary stress on the plant.
Every two years, the bonsai should get repotted in spring when new growth begins to appear.
Fukien needs a well-draining bonsai soil made of pumice, surface, lava rock, or akadama. Some pine park is also recommended to retain moisture. Fukien doesn’t care about the type of soil it is planted in. Fukien is happy with 100% organic material.
Don’t allow soil to compact or roots will rot.
A ‘too wet’ root environment can cause rot, fungus, leaf yellowing, and/or defoliation. Be sure your soil drains freely. Ehretia (scientific name) likes to be moist, not soaking wet. Many hobbyists have found it prefers some organic matter in the soil mix. Read about Fukien Tea bonsai care.
Ehretia roots are fairly fast growing in proper soil. IMPORTANT: Root-bound Fukien Tea can deteriorate quickly. Once established, check roots at least annually as they do not like “tight feet.”
Trimming the roots is an important care aspect of growing bonsai Fukien tea.
Best Growing Location
Fukien Tea bonsai grows best in full to half day to full sun. Too much shade encourages undesirable leggy growth, larger leaves, and more frequent pests.
Growers often keep them outdoors as long as possible and bring them in only after the first frost or freeze warning.
High light and good air circulation are especially important indoors.
It grows best in half day to full sun. Too much shade encourages undesirable leggy growth and larger leaves.
Depending upon your environment, you may still need to watch for aphids on new growth and occasional mite infestations in hot, dry seasons. Unfortunately, indoors, bonsai Fukien Tea is prone to pests.
In addition to mites and aphids, scale can be another dilemma. It is important to address these problems as soon as they are discovered. Check frequently.
Fukien Tea Names
Two Fukien Tea bonsai varieties are commonly used. Both have glossy leaves, are woody, branch easily, and bloom periodically all year. (In the plant world, it is not unusual for a plant to have many common names.)
Fujian Tea, Fukien Tea, Philippine Tea, and Bath Tree are all names for the plant once scientifically known as Carmona microphylla and renamed Ehretia buxifolia.
Young branches of Fukien tea bend and shape easily. Feel free to wire any time of year. Be cautious not to wire too tightly, as they grow quickly. This plant is an excellent choice for clip-and-grow styling. Some growers trim frequently and do very little wiring.
Because of the small leaf size, leaf pruning is not required. If leaves are removed or fall off for any reason, a healthy tree will quickly regenerate them. Frequent pruning will keep your foliage compact.
This plant can be suited to many different styles. Many Ehretia bonsai grown from cuttings end up as formal or informal upright bonsai.
Some old imported trees have enough curves to be used as cascades, slant, or even literati styles. Move the plant around to see what it looks like at different angles. Old trunks have hardwood and are ideal for creating shari and jins!
Fukien Tea Penjing
The small leaf variety is especially good for planting on rocks. Because of their leaf size and woody trunks (even while young plants,) they look like small trees. If you like this bonsai Fukien tea style, see the penjing rock planting page.
Recently, imported bonsai from China have made Fukien Tea a popular tropical plant. They are often used as beginner bonsai trees because of their “ready-made” shapes.
Commercial production in China is done in 100% clay fields. After years of pruning and maintenance (primarily using clip-and-grow methods), specimens are dug out of the ground and shipped around the world. Large wounds often rot in the field and account for many wonderful gnarly and hollow trunk specimens.
The appearance of these less-than-spectacular plants has led some to negate Fukien Tea bonsai as a viable subject. With “good bones” and some restyling, many hobbyists are finding imported Ehretia can create the look of very old bonsai trees.
- One reason this plant is so popular is that it’s being imported from China in large quantities. This has allowed many more enthusiasts to grow this plant as bonsai.
In the plant world it is not unusual for a plant to have many names. Fujian Tea, Fukien Tea, Philippine Tea and Bath Tree are all common names for the plant once scientifically known as Carmona microphylla and renamed Ehretia buxifolia. Although some are deciduous, the species commonly used for bonsai is a tropical evergreen shrub.