Operculicarya decaryi

Operculicarya decaryi, the Jabily or Madagascar elephant tree.  It is semi-dormant in winter and has lost most of its leaves.

In a comment on my recent post about the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Show, I mentioned that I have a few small trees that I have been crudely attempting to shape, despite my lack of training in bonsai techniques.  This is one of them, a 21-year-old Operculicarya decaryi that I grew from seed.  I’m not fully satisfied with its current shape, particularly the crown, but I ‘m having fun with it.

Operculicarya is a genus of perhaps half a dozen species, all from Madagascar, of which O. decaryi is the most common in cultivation.  It isn’t traditional bonsai material, and from the point of view of a proper bonsai artist it has several natural flaws.  Most notably, it tends to form a swollen, barrel-shaped trunk that is narrowest at the base–the dreaded reverse taper.  Here, I have hidden the worst of the reverse taper with chunks of quartz in an attempt to recreate an arid, rocky environment.  The roots are also a problem.  They are massive, like huge brown sausages, and resist cramming into a shallow pot.  On the other hand, the leaves are small, the trunk naturally has a knobbly appearance, and the branches become gnarled and twisted.  For someone attracted to weird and unusual plants, there’s a lot to like.


O. decaryi is not frost hardy, so my tree spends summers outside and winters in the greenhouse.  New twigs are whip-like and have long internodes, but with repeated clipping they eventually thicken up and branch.  Getting a nice, fat barrel trunk is just a matter of waiting for the tree to mature.   Old trees, wider than they are tall, are sometimes available from online nurseries, but they are almost certainly collected from the wild.  It is more sustainable–and probably more fun–to start with a seedling or rooted cutting.  Even young plants have a lot of character.

The same tree at about five years old

6 thoughts on “Operculicarya decaryi

    1. I have never heard that common name applied to O. decaryi. Operculicarya is in the Anacardiaceae, while Zanthoxylum is Rutaceae, so they aren’t closely related.

      I haven’t seen flowers, but I might have overlooked them. They’re very small.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Yes, I knew that. These are not close species but often confused because of the scent of the crumpled leaves. Bonsai blogs and French websites describe yours as the false Japanese pepper plant. Jabily is its other name

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s