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The Art of Cannabonsai

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Growing up in Hawaiʻi, Davin Carvalho was always drawn to the outdoors. He and his friends would skateboard, surf, and explore Oʻahu’s west side, enjoying the warm sun, breezy tradewinds, and cool waters around Mākaha Beach. As he grew older, he sought new hobbies that would keep him outside, and eventually discovered gardening. Today, Carvalho is known for his cannabonsai trees, which possess a Zen-like aesthetic and offer an enlightened high through the flower that they provide.

Carvalho’s journey as a gardener started early, when he began growing kalo as a kid. Kalo, or taro in Hawaiian, is a root vegetable that is inextricably linked to Hawaiian culture. According to mythology, the kalo plant represents the original ancestor and elder brother of all Hawaiians. For Carvalho, who is indigenous, growing kalo bound him to his familial roots. With around 100 plants in his garden, he could happily spend over an hour watering, fertilizing, and pruning on a daily basis.

For reasons unknown, in late 2020 Carvalho began to experience debilitating panic attacks. After two months of agony and countless emergency room visits, he discovered that gardening was a tool he could use to manage his anxiety. A friend sent him some traditional bonsai videos, which were relaxing and educational at the same time. Before long, Carvalho bought a couple ficus and juniper trees and began to seriously study Chinese and Japanese bonsai as a form of therapy.

During that same period, Carvalho decided to apply for official documentation with Hawaiʻi’s Medical Cannabis Registry, allowing him to grow marijuana for personal use. After realizing that traditional bonsai requires decades of devotion, he decided to adapt bonsai techniques to pakalolo which allowed him to grow beautiful, medicinal plants in a shorter period of time.

Through research on the topic, Carvalho learned that the bonsai “effect” comes as a result of training a plant. In the world of cannabis, training is nothing new. It’s common practice for growers to train plants for a higher yield and denser buds. By gently manipulating branches or tilting the pot the plant is in, Carvalho can create the bonsai effect as a result.

“My objective when I’m training my plants is to make it look like a replica of a full-size tree,” Carvalho said. “I try to think, ‘How many branches do I want? What do I want the canopy shape to look like? Do I want it to be a taller tree, a shorter tree? A bushier tree or a lankier tree?’ I keep all that in mind.”

Although he does not necessarily speak to his plants, Carvalho spends a lot of time in close proximity to them. Doing so promotes the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, with both parties benefiting in the process. By providing for his plants and helping them thrive, he hopes that they will return the favor.

“Gardening itself is a language. I might not speak verbally to them, but there is nonverbal communication with the plants in my garden and myself,” Carvalho said. “It’s a constant sending and receiving of messages in order for us to achieve understanding and reach a common goal, which is for the plants to flower and produce beautiful buds.”

In his most recent run, Carvalho incorporated rose quartz and amethyst, a crystal that is said to promote calmness and relaxation. When preparing for a new harvest, he is intentional about the overall aesthetics the cannabonsai will have, from top to bottom of the plant.

“I’ve done a little bit of research, but I’m definitely no expert. I wanted to make sure that if I was gonna use crystals, I wanted to know which combinations of crystals can go together,” Carvalho said.

When it comes to cultivating a successful cannabonsai tree, genetics play a huge role. To capture the bonsai aesthetic, Carvalho grows indica-leaning strains as they are shorter, bushier, and have tighter internodal spacing than sativa-leaning strains.

After three years of research and experimentation, Carvalho believes that each cannabonsai run has improved from the previous one. As much as gardening is an outlet to relax, it also provides a challenge that keeps him wanting more. No matter how much knowledge and experience he gains while growing, there are inevitably hurdles that humble and teach him along the way.

“If it was as easy as putting a seed in the ground and watering it, it wouldn’t be as fulfilling to me,” Carvalho said. “Anybody could do that. But to really have the commitment, dedication, passion, and drive, that’s what really gets me. I like something that’s not so easy to obtain but is something that if I work hard at it, I can either get it, or get something close to it and have something that I am happy with.”

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.



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