A Tribute to Joe Samuels
South Florida's renowed bonsai pioneer and watercolorist, Joe Samuels, died Monday, April 9, 2007, at Baptist Hospital in Kendall, Florida after suffering a severe stroke. He was 87.
Joe was one of the founders as well as a driving force in developing the art of bonsai in South Florida. He served as a mentor and friend to many bonsai artists and was considered by all as a master of the art, although he would be the first to refute the title.
He was a humble, gentle man who always strove to improve his love and appreciation of the art of bonsai. An accomplished bonsai artist, he is remembered for introducing one of the most favored bonsai specimens in tropical bonsai, the Ficus nerifolia of which his "Cloud" is a hallmark. A photo of his bald cypress was published in 'The New York Times' after a reporter saw it on exhibit in Atlanta, Georgia in 1965.
The Ficus Nerifolia Story
by Mary C. Miller
In 1965, tropical bonsai pioneer Joe Samuels was the Superintendent of Parks for the City of Miami Beach. Part of his responsibility was buying landscape plants and trees. One of Joe's favorite stops was the old Fantastic Gardens Nursery (now gone). On one visit he spotted a small tree (finger thick) that looked like a strange Ficus. He questioned the owner who said he had imported the Ficus from New Guinea, but it was not for sale. Joe is a patient man and continued to ask about this new found prize.
After almost a year of pleading and arm twisting, Joe finally purchased the unusual fig in 1966. A friend researched the tree and identified it as Ficus nerifolia. As the Ficus n. grew, Joe envisioned a mature looking fig tree in a bonsai container. Most of what he did was experimental at the time, but Joe was determined to create a good tropical bonsai. I asked him if he intended the resulting effect or if it was by chance. Joe answered "I observed the growth pattern of figs in the landscape and planned accordingly, including aerial roots. I noticed that Ficus often have surface roots as far as 500 feet from the trunk. From this I found out they would grow in shallow containers." Joe always takes wisdom from trees in their natural environment.
Samuels first exhibited his Ficus nerifolia at the Bonsai Clubs International convention in Miami Beach in 1975. Participants from all over the world applauded him. Following the convention he had a new vision for his tree. He placed it in a larger container and let it grow. Meanwhile he rooted cuttings "just in case anything happened to the original tree, the strain would keep going." Many hobbyists now claim to have a bonsai grown from a cutting of "Joe's tree". They probably do.
When exhibited again in 1985, the original Ficus Nerifolia bonsai was a specimen tree. A fellow Miami bonsai enthusiast, Bruce Sutton, took one look at it and called it "The Cloud". The name stuck.
Today it would be unlikely to see a tropical bonsai exhibit and not see a relative of Joe Samuels' Ficus.
We mean this to be a dynamic gallery in which those who view it can add any content that they may have by Joe Samuels, be it photographs of his bonsai, or photographs of Joe himself, simply by emailing them, with your name and a brief history of the drawing or drawings, to [email protected] As always at AoB, the owner of the pictures retains all copyrights and will receive full credit for them. AoB only requests permission to use them in this gallery. We hope you'll take the time and help us expand this gallery.