Arborsculpture is the art and technique of growing and shaping trunks of trees and other woody plants. By grafting, bending and pruning the woody trunks and or branches are grown into shapes either ornamental or useful. Similar to espalier and possibly including some topiary for some projects. The word is a conjunction of the words arbor (Latin for tree) and sculpture.
The word Arborsculpture first appeared in print in his first book How to Grow a Chair- The Art of Tree Trunk Topiary 1995 by Reames and Delbol. ISBN 0-9647280-0-1 Reames coined the word in an attempt to give a unifying name to the practice of shaping the growth of tree trunks into sculptural shapes. The word has since been used in media around the world.
Arborsculpture relies on the ability of plants (trees) to be united together by approach grafting and the ability to retain a new shape when new layers of wood forms to hold a desired shape.
Approach grafting is accomplished by wounding two or more parts of a tree or trees by cutting off the bark, to or past the cambium layer and then binding the wounded parts together so good contact is secure while the wounded tree parts grow together.
Stems or branches, are bent into shapes and temporarily braced for a year or more depending on the amount of resistance overcome. During that time, additional layers of wood grow. These new layers of wood act like a natural cast, keeping the Stem and branches in the new desired shape. The temporary bracing can be removed after the shape holds itself.
Pruning may be required to remove unwanted branches and direct the growth into the desired shape. Pruning may also redirect stem growth. A pruning cut above a Leaf or Node can steer the plant. If a leaf points to the right, then a cut above that leaf will produce new growth that grows to the right side. Likewise, a cut above a leaf pointing to the left, produces new growth that grows to the left.
Using these methods (also used in Arboriculture), items like benches, chairs, etc., can be formed from trees by bending, merging and manipulating plant tissue.