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Flowering Quince for Bonsai

by Brent Walston


Flowering Quince, Chaenomeles spp, has been used by the Chinese for thousands of years to celebrate the New Year. The brilliant flowers on the leafless stems are a wonderful harbinger of Spring. This tough and versatile plant also makes excellent bonsai. Bred in the East for many centuries, there are some remarkable cultivars that are relatively unknown to the West. Among these are cultivars that are short in stature and some that are even quite prostrate, and others that are deep clear reds, pure white, clear pink, or contorted in growth habit.

Getting a Decent Sized Trunk

All of the cultivars sucker to some degree, a process that dissipates their energy into many small stems, making it difficult to get a good trunk. When growing them out for bonsai be sure to remove all the suckers as soon as they appear. There seems to be little advantage to putting them into the ground to fatten the trunks, they seem to grow just as quickly in five gallon cans. However plan to spend five years to grow even a 3/4 inch trunk. This is what makes thick trunked quinces so rare and so valuable. They are remarkably adapted to root pruning and usually suffer little from even a drastic pruning as long as an equal amount of top growth is removed either before or at the same time. This phenomenon makes them ideal to collect and there is always someone who wants one removed from his or her yard.

Fruit and Flowers

Another remarkable quality of Quince is its ability to repeat bloom after heavy pruning. Of course in a bonsai situation they are always being pruned so that they flower on and off all summer and especially in the fall. Most cultivars will also set fruit which is yet another pleasing quality for bonsai. The fruits range in size from about one inch for 'Orange Delight' to about the size of a medium apple for 'Toyo Nishiki' a popular cultivar that has pink, white and sometimes red blossoms on the same plant. I have even seen individual petals perfectly divided, one half pink and one half white. All of the fruits are edible and wonderfully fragrant, although they must be very ripe to release their perfume. This usually occurs in late Fall after a few frosts have softened them.

Proper Names

The species names of Chaenomeles is a taxonomist's nightmare. Usually they are referred to as japonica although I see speciosa used often for the larger varieties. A similar situation exists for crabapples where the parent species are so cross bred that they are named simply Malus followed by the cultivar name. I have adopted this same procedure and will leave the fight to the taxonomists. Although I must add that C. contorta does seem to be a distinct species, or at least subspecies since the contorted characteristics are preserved in the seedlings.


Quince are easily propagated by cuttings and by division of the suckers or root division. They are best grown in full sun, except that some of the cultivars do burn in afternoon sun in the hottest and driest areas. They are not particularly heavy feeders and it is probably best to limit the amount of nitrogen to get the best flowers. The flowers form on wood that is a year or two old so do not remove all of the previous years growth when pruning. They occasionally will throw flowers from quite old stems especially after heavy pruning. Also the wood that forms first in the Spring will mature by late fall and may throw a few flowers then.


I grow twenty some cultivars and it is not possible to describe them all here, but I will point out some of ones that are particularly suitable for use in bonsai. The contorted forms are always favorites. There is a white flowered one that has pale pink buds that open to pure white, and like all the contorted ones the stems are fantastically contorted, often doubling back on themselves. The Red Contorted has solid red buds that open to a deep pink. It is less aggressive than the white and will probably be ultimately smaller, perhaps four feet if planted in the open. This year I plant to introduce a contorted seedling selection that is a beautiful clear salmon pink.

One of the best forms for bonsai is 'Hime' a small red form with solid red flowers and showy yellow stamens. The flowers and fruit are smaller than other Quince making it a good choice. The growth is not aggressive and it gets quite twiggy at an early age. Another small flowered form is 'Kan Toyo'. The flowers are a nice pink and only about 1/2 inch across. A very rare and highly prized cultivar is 'Kurokoji' that has very beautiful dark red velvety flowers. This is the darkest red form I have ever seen. However, the growth is weak and upright, but the sheer beauty of the flowers make it good candidate. The most beautiful white form is undoubtedly 'Jet Trail', an almost prostrate and slightly contorted form. The flowers are a brilliant pure white without a trace of pink, and it is very floriferous and a repeat bloomer.

'Falconet Charlotte' has beautiful double pink flowers on a plant that is not too large and can be controlled. Also double flowered is 'Iwai Nishiki' a dark solid red with large fully double camellia shaped flowers that also tend to form in clusters sometimes 6 inches across. It is low growing and almost prostrate. Spitfire is another red that is quite small in stature and develops nice twiggy branches with little effort.

And finally

Quinces are quite easy and very rewarding. People are delighted to come into our nursery and see a nice little Shohin bonsai with a single 3 inch yellow fruit hanging from it and sometimes flowers too at the same time!

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