While cannabonsai isn't a recognized word it should be fairly obvious what it's about; cannabis plants are cared for in a similar way to bonsai trees.
North Vancouver resident Manny Oyarce is quick to point out he's not the inventor of the practice, but he's found himself at the forefront of the hobby's internet community.
"I was just growing it for myself and then I put the pic on Reddit and it went viral," he says. "It made the front page of Reddit."
That's led to a book, massive social media following, and side business.
Oyarce didn't intend to become a public figure to a niche community. It started, as any plant does, with a few seeds.
"I had a whole bunch of free seeds," he says. "I started experimenting and ended up with a cool-looking plant."
A full-time gymnastics trainer, the cannabonsais were a hobby he decided to pursue.
...as a way to peace...
While he's growing cannabis, Oyarce explains the experience isn't about producing something to smoke. He only gets two or three grams from a plant; it'd be easier and faster to grow larger plants he points out.
"You form a relationship with the plant because you're checking on it every day," he explains. "You build a timelapse in your brain."
Over time the changes compound and he can see how the plant s growing and changing. It's a calming, peaceful experience.
"Being mindful and in the moment when you're working on them, it produces a zen experience," he says.
The plants aren't like bonsai trees, he clarifies; they grow and are harvested over three months (as compared to the decades a tree might live). Over that time he forms each plant, creating organic art.
"You make the choice at the beginning," he says. "This plant is for art and that peacefulness."
Each plant is a canvas for those three months.
The artful nature of his plants has led to a show later this month at Studio A-OK 's All Day Breakfast location (Studio A-OK is a brand mixing cannabis accessories and creative studio space). Five or six of Oyarce's plants will be on display from Aug. 12 to 14. Oyarce himself will be on hand on Saturday, Aug. 14.
"It's going to be essentially like an art gallery show where they'll be displayed in the studio and people can drop in anytime during studio hours," he says.
The studio/shop is located at 436 Columbia St. in Chinatown; it's open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. On Saturday it's open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
...and became a business...
The viral photo was a couple of years ago, before the pandemic. He found the result interesting and decided to post the photos online. He thought a few people would enjoy it.
"I went from 200 followers to having 10,000 followers in the span of a week," Oyarce says. "It was very unexpected."
That first photo is still shared around the internet, and he gets linked to it on occasion. With the sudden following came questions.
"I saw myself answering a lot of questions," he says. "So I was going to make an FAQ or a text paperback for Amazon."
But as he was writing it he found it difficult to put some things into words. At the same time, a big part of the appeal of cannabonsai is the visual nature of the plants.
"So I got on Fiver and hired an illustrator," Oyarce says. "I had a bunch of good pics, since a lot of my friends are photographers or videographers. I thought I could put a book together."
But the pandemic hit, meaning he had spare time to devote to a pandemic project; the book was perfect. After a few months, he published the aptly named 'Cannabonsai: A Beginners Guide' on April 20, 2020. It's out in e-book, paperback, and hardcover editions.
"The book kinda took off really well," he says. "I've sold over 20,000 copies now, it sells pretty steady."
A website followed, and other business opportunities, along with sponsorships.
...but it's not everything.
While the business aspect is apparent, Oyarce doesn't expect to pursue it full-time ever.
"I don't ever want to be dependent on this financially, but I'm having a lot of fun with it," he explains, noting the volatility of an internet brand, even in the burgeoning legalized cannabis community.
He also enjoys his work as a gymnastics coach, working with up-and-coming gymnasts competing in provincial and national competitions.
"I'm passionate about it and I love it," he says of gymnastics. "When all this started happening I told myself coaching will always be a priority."
It doesn't help that, even though it's legalized in Canada, cannabis businesses can face an uphill battle on social media. He can't monetize his YouTube channel and he's had his Instagram account deleted once, and posts taken down. However, Oyarce has built a large following online, and he thinks one day someone will reach out.
"I feel like at some point, someone who knows what they're doing will help me out."
Instead, he'll focus on the plants.
"It's very relaxing, very calming."