Try Your Hand At Arborsculpture For A Fun Hobby

Arborsculpture is the art of shaping live tree trunks.

Arborsculpture isn’t for everyone, but it is for anyone that is into living eco-art.

The art of shaping live tree trunks into living art has been around for centuries and continues today by skilled arborists and enthusiastic green thumbs around the globe.


While researching for this post, I’ve come to discover that arborsculpture requires patience, practice, artistry and a knowledge of bending, shaping and grafting procedures.

It is a unique form of art that instills a sense of awe when viewed whether as a work in progress or as a ‘finished piece’.

If you’ve thought about taking up arborsculpture or maybe even honing your skills in your own backyard, this post should inspire you even more. If you’re here just to have a look-see, I’ve got you covered, too.

You might be thinking to yourself that arborsculpture sounds very similar to the art of bonsai, espalier, pleaching or even topiary… and you’d be correct. But there are slight differences and they are explained quite well here. Pleaching is probably the term to use for this form of tree shaping other than arborsculpture, to be honest, but arborsculpture sounds much more glamorous than pleaching.


Arborsculpture Takes Time


One thing is for certain: arborsculptures don’t happen overnight.

It could take years or even decades before your vision comes to fruition but the results can be fulfilling, breathtaking, beautiful and even quite humorous if you so desire.

If you do decide that you’d like to attempt some arborsculpture, you need to establish deep roots of your own. Because if you’re the type that likes to pick up and move the family every few years then don’t bother attempting arborsculpture… unless you’ve got a couple of small ficus in a pot working in unison to create your dream.

The photo above shows some of the tools of the trade.

Richard Reames experiments in the art form technique of pleaching and gives instructions on how to grow your own chair:



These basic principles can be used to form a variety of useful pieces when harvested. The man knows what he is doing.

Check out the boat he’s growing (not rowing)… yes, growing:



Dr. Chris Cattle shows you a technique to grow your own stool …it’s a chair. (Get your mind out of the gutter people!)

Willow Baskets: Dr. Lois Walpole is trained in sculpting and basket weaving and decided to combine her talents into the eco-friendly business of willow products. Oh yeah…if you currently have a willow bread basket you’d better read the link I provided here about the possibility of it being poisonous!

Here’s an entertaining arborsculpture video put together by Richard Reames of Arborsmith Studios:


Arborsculpture Ideas & How-To’s

Tree Faces are another way to have some fun with trees.

Arborsmith: Richard Reames is an authority on arborsculpture technique and artistry.

Aharon Naveh has done some interesting arborsculptures with larger trees in Israel.

Plantware: A team of scientists, horticulturists and designers combine their talents to create products that are made of living trees.

Extreme Nature: Dan Ladd creates some very interesting pieces of work through the pleaching technique. Dan is also in the business of molded gourd artistry. Sounds a bit odd but you won’t believe your eyes when you see the artworks he has grown. Very cool!

Fab Tree Hab: The Human Ecology Design team at M.I.T., consisting of Mitchell Joachim, Ph.D.; Lara Greden, Ph.D.; Javier Arbona, Ph.D. scholar, have come up with an ecologically sound human tree habitat design concept called the Fab Tree Hab that is clearly outside of the box but well within our grasp of implementation. The Fab Tree Hab is ‘intended to replace the outdated design solutions at Habitat for Humanity International.’ Now that’s vision and ambition!

Apparently, Mr. Wu from the Liaoning province in China is hip to arborsculpture artistry, as well. It’s a global thing.

Ficus House: P.J. Wilkin on growing your own home.

Pooktre tree shapers… unlike anything you’ve seen before!


Sources and Photo Credits: ArborsmithWikipediaTreehugger

Randy Boerstler

Randy Boerstler

Writing a home building blog that chronicles new homes during different phases of construction from a consumers' point-of-view is rather unique and loads of fun. Basically, my tips are a collection of checklists for what I think should (and should not) go into building a quality home. So let's have fun seeing what's new in the housing market these days!

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  • Shaman’s Drum

    Here’s the full story as I understand it

    The word “arborsculpture” was coined by Richard Reames about 15 years ago. He never capitalized it, called it “the arborsculpture method”, or did anything similar to imply that it is a term for his method. The world needed a word for the sort of 3-D pleaching done by Erlandson and others, so Reames made up a useful term that easily gives a sense of what it refers to.

    Over time, it became a popular term. Numerous published articles refer to the work of Axel Erlandson and others as “arborsculpture.” Some of these are in notable publications such as Popular Science and Science Frontiers, or are related to the relevant departments at respected universities.

    Mark Primack coined the term “botanic architecture” and considers this a term specific to methods typified by himself and Erlandson. While that’s Primack’s prerogative, neither Reames nor the world at large consider “arborsculpture” to be a comparable term referring to a method rather than the more general practice.

    Archive #4 on the talk page of Wikipedia’s “tree shaping” article documents dozens of occurrences of “arborsculpture” as a generic term. If the person who invented the term, and the world at large, consider a term to be generic, there is no logical reason why 1 or 2 people should be able to override that and tell us it is not.

    I haven’t seen any evidence that Reames has exerted improper influence in promoting the use of this word. Like any author and lecturer interested in income, he does self-promote, but I haven’t seen evidence that he does so in a way that should provoke criticism.

    Primack is correct that Wikipedia should not be used as a tool to advance someone’s personal interests, but I haven’t seen evidence that Reames has done this. I have seen Beckley Northey abuse Wikipedia for her personal agenda, and I suspect Northey’s involvement with Wikipedia – and her characterization of Reames’ involvement with Wikipedia – may have colored Primack’s reaction.

    Becky Northey has ambitiously chased the word “arborsculpture” all over the web in order to misinform people that the word has not fallen into general usage but instead refers to a specific method developed by Reames. She also considers Reames’ methods inferior to her own, apparently because they can involve the bending of relatively hardened wood versus the bending of the younger, softer wood she prefers.

    Therefore, I conclude, that Northey’s obsession with suppressing the widely-used term “arborsculpture” is driven by her professional rivalry with Reames.

    After manipulating the Wikipedia article “tree shaping” to serve this agenda (despite policies against editing articles when a conflict of interest exists), Northey left posts on numerous internet forums referring people to the Wikipedia article as supposed proof of her assertions.

    As recently as April 2010, she is ignoring the consensus of Wikipedia editors and administrators that arborsculpture is a generic term. The article is in a constant state of flux because of Northey’s involvement. What you will see when you look at it is anyone’s guess. To be clear, Reames also edits this article, mostly just to curb Northey’s efforts at using it to oppugn him.

    Northey’s has even managed to get well-meaning Wikipedians to avoid the word “arborsculpture” on the grounds it’s “controversial. It’s amazing (and sad) the influence one single person with skewed thought processes and a mania for advancing them can accomplish. On the surface, there’s no harm in avoiding the word “arborsculpture” just to keep Northey happy. But Wikipedia is supposed to be objective resource. Instead, it has become part of Northey’s greater effort across numerous internet forums, comment boards, etc.

    In the comments above, someone referred to Northey’s efforts as cyberstalking. This caused someone else to say very correctly “Commenting on one blog is hardly cyber stalking, it’s voicing an opinion.” Becky Northey, however, has made countless of posts as part of a systematic effort to assert that “arborsculpture” is the name for what she considers an inferior method of tree shaping. I would deem that cyberstalking.

    If you don’t believe me, Google “Northey + arborsculpture” and wade through the results. As for evidence of arborsculpture as a generic term used by numerous authors, search the net yourself or see the proof already gathered in Archive #4 of the talk page of the “tree shaping” article on Wikipedia.

    Why someone should go to such great efforts to create the impression that “arborsculpture” isn’t a generic term does puzzle me a little. My best guess is that it is driven by her animosity towards Reames and a belief that people using the term benefits Reames in some enormous way. From what I can see, it doesn’t. It looks like Reames only lectures a few times a year, and he doesn’t sell a ton of books either.

    But if Reames can derive a little prestige, and perhaps some beer money, from having coined a useful word, why begrudge him that? Whether people say “the Pooktre method of tree shaping” or the “the Pooktre methods of arborsculpture” doesn’t affect Northey’s livelihood. She should therefore stop harassing Reames and channel that energy into the positive goals of refining her own methods, implementing them, and sharing them with the world.