From - Plant Encyclopedia and Gardening wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
A bonsai trident maple growing in the root over rock style.
Bonsai displayed at a garden show in Tatton Park in Cheshire in England
Maple Bonsai in Heidelberg (Germany)

Bonsai Template:Audio (Template:Lang-ja, literally "potted plant". Template:Zh-cpl), is the art of aesthetic miniaturization of trees by growing them in containers. While mostly associated with the Japanese form, "bonsai" originated in China and was originally developed from Chinese penjing. In Western culture, the word "bonsai" is used as an umbrella term for both Japanese bonsai, Chinese penjing, and Korean bunjae.



A bonsai tree

Chinese were the first to miniaturize container-grown trees Penjing around 200 AD.[1] The art form may be derived from the practice of transporting medicinal plants in containers by healers. Its early focus was on the display of stylistic trunks in the shape of animals and mystic figures.

From China, the practice spread to Japan around the Heian period. During the Tokugawa period, landscape gardening attained new importance. Cultivation plants such as azalea and maples became a pastime of the wealthy. Growing dwarf plants in containers was also popular, but by modern bonsai standards the container plants of this period were inappropriately large.[1]

The period term for dwarf potted trees was hachi-no-ki, "a tree in a pot." The term "bonsai" probably didn't come into use until the late 19th century during the Meiji period.[1]


Main article: Bonsai aesthetics

Japanese School

Yose-ue (Forest Formation)

The Japanese aesthetic is centred on the principle of "heaven and earth in one container", as a Japanese cliché has it. Three forces come together in a good bonsai: shin-zen-bi (真善美) or truth, essence and beauty.

Traditional subjects for bonsai include pine, maple, elm, flowering apricot, Japanese wisteria, juniper, flowering cherry, azalea and larch. The plants are grown outdoors and brought in to the tokonoma at special occasions when they most evoke the current season.

The Japanese bonsai are meant to evoke the essential spirit of the plant being used: in all cases, they must look natural and never show the intervention of human hands.


A bonsai is not a genetically dwarfed plant. It is any tree or shrub species actively growing but kept small through a combination of pot confinement, and crown and root pruning. Any tree or shrub with the right training and care could become a Bonsai with time, but some plants are more sought-after for use as bonsai material because they have several characteristics that make them appropriate for the smaller design arrangements of bonsai. There are many different ways to cultivate and grow Bonsai, the most common are:

Common styles

Bonsai Garden at the pagoda Yunyan Ta (Cloud Rock Pagoda; Suzhou, China)
Bonsai Trees showing a variety of different styles in Sydney, Australia.
A Pine bonsai in the informal upright style. This tree is more than 30 years old, in the Hidden Lake Gardens Collec tion

There are many different styles of bonsai, but some are more common than others. These include formal upright, slant, informal upright, cascade, semi-cascade, raft, literati, and group / forest.

  • The formal upright style is just as the name suggests, and is characterized by a straight, upright, tapering trunk. The trunk and branches of the informal upright may incorporate pronounced bends and curves, but the apex of the informal upright is always located directly over the roots.
  • Slant style bonsai are similar to the straight trunks of formal upright trees, but the trunk emerges from the soil at an angle, and the apex of the bonsai will extend to the left or right of the root base.
  • Cascade style bonsai are modeled after trees that grow over water or on the sides of mountains. The apex, or tip, of Semi-cascade style bonsai extend just beneath the lip of the bonsai pot, whereas the apex of a (full) cascade style will fall below the base of the pot.
  • Raft style bonsai mimic a natural phenomenon that occurs when a tree that has been toppled (typically due to erosion or another natural force) and branches along the exposed side of the trunk form a group of new trunks. Sometimes, roots will develop from buried portions of the trunk. Raft style bonsai can incorporate other treatments, such as sinuous, straight-line, slanting styles. These all give the illusion of a group of trees, but are actually the branches of a tree planted on its side.
  • The literati style is characterized by an emphasis on the bare trunk line, with branches reduced to a minimum, typically placed higher up on a long, contorted trunk. Their style is inspired by the Chinese brush paintings, like those found in the ancient text,The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, depicting pine trees that grew in harsh climates, struggling to reach sunlight. In Japan, the literati style is known as bunjin-gi. (Bunjin is a translation of the Chinese word wenren meaning "scholars practiced in the arts" and gi is a derivative of the Japanese word, ki, for "tree").
  • A group or forest style comprises a number of trees (typically an odd number if there are three or more trees) planted together in a pot. The trees are usually the same species, but a variety of heights are employed to add visual interest and to reflect the age differences encountered in mature forests.
  • The Root over rock style where the roots of a fig tree (mostly) are wrapped around a rock. The rock is at the base of the trunk, with the roots exposed to a certain extent.
  • The Broom style The broom style is suited for trees with extensive, fine branching. The trunk is straight and upright. It branches out in all directions about 1/3 of the way up the entire height of the tree. In this manner the branches and leaves form a ball-shaped crown which can also be very beautiful during the winter months.
  • The Multi Trunk style All the trunks grow out of one root system, and it truly is one single tree. All the trunks form one crown of leaves, in which the thickest and most developed trunk forms the top.
  • The Growing in a Rock In this style the roots of the tree are growing in the cracks and holes of the rock. This means that there is just not much room for the roots to develop and take up nutrients. Trees which grow in rocks will never look really healthy, thus it should be visible that the tree has to struggle to survive.

Size Classifications

Additionally, bonsai are classed by size. There are a number of specific techniques and styles associated with mame and shito sizes, the smallest bonsai. These are often small enough to be grown in thimble-sized pots,[citation needed] and due to their minuscule size require special care and adhere to different design conventions.


Bonsai at the "Foire du Valais" (Martigny, Switzerland, oct 2005)

Shaping and dwarfing are accomplished through a few basic b ut precise techniques. The small size of the tree and the dwarfing of foliage are maintained through a consistent regimen of pruning of both the leaves and the roots. Various methods must be employed, as each species of tree exhibits different budding behavior. Additionally, some pruning must be done seasonally, as most trees require a dormancy period and do not grow roots or leaves at that time; improper pruning can weaken or kill the tree.[2]

Most species suitable for bonsai can be shaped by wiring. Copper or aluminum wire is wrapped around branches and trunks, holding the branch in place until it eventually lignifies and maintains the desired shape (at which point the wire should be removed). Some species do not lignify strongly, or are already too stiff/brittle to be shaped and are not conducive to wiring, in which case shaping must be accomplished primarily through pruning.[2]

To simulate age and maturity in a bonsai, techniques called Jin and Shari can be used. Jin is done by removing the bark in an area of a large branch or the trunk, while Shari is the stripping off of an entire branch. These techniques simulate scarring by nature and limbs being torn off. Care must be taken when employing these techniques, because these areas are prone to infection, and removal of too much bark will result in losing all growth above that area. Also bark must never be removed in a complete ring around the trunk as it contains the phloem and will cut off all nutrient flow above that ring.

Bonsai care

Bonsai IMG 6398.jpg
Bonsai IMG 6402.jpg
Bonsai IMG 6404.jpg
Bonsai IMG 6427.jpg
Bonsai IMG 6424.jpg


Because of limited space in the confines of a bonsai pot, bonsai care can be quite difficult. The shallow containers limit the expanse of the root system and make proper watering practically an art in itself. While some species can handle periods of relative dryness, others require near-constant moisture. Watering too frequently, or allowing the soil to remain soggy can promote fungal infections and "root rot". Sun, heat and wind exposure can quickly dry a bonsai tree to the point of drought, so the soil moisture should be monitored daily and water given copiously when needed. The soil should not be allowed to become "bone dry" even for brief periods. The foliage of some plants cultivated for bonsai, including the common Juniper, do not display signs of drying and damage until long after the damage is done, and may even appear green and healthy despite having an entirely dead root system.

In cooler climates, soil must not be allowed to become waterlogged as this may lead to root rot. In warmer climates, bonsai should be sat in a shallow watertight tray when not in use, and allowed to absorb water through the bottom of the pot throughout the day to prevent dehydration.


Bonsai are generally repotted and root-pruned around spring time just before they break dormancy. Bonsai are generally repotted every two years while in development, and less often as they become more mature. This prevents them from becoming pot-bound and encourages the growth of new feeder roots, allowing the tree to absorb moisture more efficiently.


Bonsai wiring is one of the most powerful tools to control the shape of the tree. The best time to wire a tree is in spring or fall when there is not as much foliage and the tree will not be too stiff. (Trees become stiff in winter while dormant because the sap pressure of the trunk and branches is much lower.)

To wire the tree, wrap the trunk. Then each branch in spirals of bonsai wire so that the branch may be bent. The tree will then train the branch to grow in the desired direction. Another method of wiring involves attaching we ights to the branches, causing them to sag and creating the impression of age.

Generally, wire is left on for one growing season. The tree should not be allowed to outgrow the wire, since this could cause the bark to become bound to the wire, making removal traumatic. When the time comes to remove the wire, it should be cut away in small pieces (rather than winding it off) as this will cause less damage to the foliage.

The thickness of the wire used should match the size of the branch— larger branches will require lower gauge wire. Two pieces of thinner wire paired together can be used in lieu of heavier wire. It is bad form to let any wires cross; this is most readily accomplished by starting from the base of trunk and working up.

When bending the branches, one should listen and feel for any sign of splitting. When bending a branch near the trunk extra caution should be used, as the branch is generally most brittle near the trunk. It is possible to gradually bend a branch little by little over the course of several months.

When working with the branches, consideration should be given to the style desired.


Special tools are available for the maintenance of bonsai. The most common tool is the concave cutter, a tool designed to prune flush, without leaving a stub. Other tools include branch bending jacks, wire pliers and shears of different proportions for performing detail and rough shaping. Aluminum or anodized copper wire is used to shape branches and hold them until they take a set.

Fertilization and soil

Opinions about soil mixes and fertilization vary widely among practitioners. Some promote the use of organic fertilizers to augment an essentially inorganic soil mix, while others will use chemical fertilizers freely. Bonsai soils are constructed to optimize drainage. Bonsai soil is primarily a loose, fast-draining mix of components, often a base mixture of coarse sand or gravel, fired clay pellets or expanded shale combined with an organic component such as peat or bark. In Japan, volcanic soils based on clay (akadama, or "red ball" soil, and kanuma, a type of yellow pumice) are preferred.


Every bonsai pot is equipped with drainage holes to enable the excess water to drain out. Each hole is typically covered with a plastic screen or mesh to prevent soil from escaping. Containers come in a variety of shapes. The ones with straight sides and sharp corners are generally better suited to formally presented plants, while oval or round containers might be used for plants with informal shapes. Quality bonsai containers are ceramic, and are high-fired so that they can withstand exposure to freezing temperatures. The most common containers are unglazed and brown in color. Glazed containers are also used, typically for deciduous and flowering trees. Economical containers of molded plastic or "mica" are available for developing bonsai, but most any container that provides good drainage can be used for developing bonsai material. Some enthusiasts construct their own "growing boxes" from scraps of fenceboard or wood slats.


Contrary to popular belief, bonsai are not suited for indoor culture, and if kept indoors will most likely die. While certain tropical plants (Ficus, Schefflera, etc.) may flourish indoors, most bonsai are developed from species of shrubs or trees that are adapted to temperate climates (conifers, maples, larch, etc) and require a period of dormancy. Most trees require several hours of direct or slightly filtered sun every day.


Some trees require protection from the elements in winter and the techniques used will depend on how well the tree is adapted to the climate. During overwintering, temperate species are allowed to enter dormancy but care must be taken with deciduous plants to prevent them from breaking dormancy too early. In-ground cold frames, unheated garages, porches, and the like are commonly used, or by mulching the plant in its container up to the depth of the first branch or b urying them with the root system below the frost line.


Inexpensive bonsai trees often sold in chain stores and gift shops are derisively referred to as "mallsai" by experienced bonsai growers, and are usually weak or dead trees by the time they are sold. Often these bonsai are mass produced and are rooted in thick clay from a field in China. This clay is very detrimental to the bonsai, as it literally suffocates the roots and promotes root-rot. Very little if any shaping is done on mallsai, and often the foliage is crudely pruned with little finesse to resemble a tree. Due to the conditions under which they are transported and sold, they are often inadequately watered and are kept in poor soil, usually a clump of sphagnum moss or the aforementioned clay with a layer of gravel glued to the top, which leaves them susceptible to both drying and fungal infections. Some "mallsai" can be resuscitated with proper care and immediate repotting, although this is reportedly rare. This top layer of glued-on gravel should be immediately removed once the bonsai is purchased, and the plant should be repotted in a good bonsai soil such as akadama.


Bonsai may be developed from material obtained at the local garden center, or from suitable materials collected from the wild or urban landscape. Some regions have plant material that is known for its suitability in form - for example the California Juniper and Sierra Juniper found in the American West, and Bald Cypress found in the swamps of Louisiana and Florida.

Collected trees are highly prized and often exhibit the characteristics of age when they are first harvested from nature. Great care must be taken when collecting, as it is very easy to damage the tree's root system (often irreparably) by digging it up. Potential material must be analyzed carefully to determine whether it can be removed safely. Trees with a shallow or partially exposed root system are ideal candidates for extraction. There is a legal aspect to removing trees, so the enthusiast should take all steps necessary to ensure permission from the owner of the land before attempting to harvest. If not, consider the right of the plant to stay where it is undisturbed.

Bonsai tourism

A collection of bonsai at Florida's Melbourne Zoo.

Bonsai collections are open for public viewing in many cities around the world. For example:

  • Australia: Admission is free at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, where the Bonsai House displays hundreds of trees, some 80 years old. [1].
  • Belgium: The Belgian Bonsai Museum hosted by the Bonsai Centre Gingko at Laarne organizes international competitions and workshops [2].
  • Canada: The Montreal Botanical Garden has an amazing indoor bonsai facility that can be viewed year round [3].
  • China: View the bonsai at the Botanical Gardens in Beijing [4], Shanghai [5] and Suzhou [6].
  • Germany: The Grugapark in Essen has a permanent bonsai exhibition [7].
  • Indonesia: Pluit Bonsai Centre in Jakarta is an enormous sales and trading centre for growers and collectors [8].
  • Italy: The firm Crespi Bonsai hosts an international competition, the Crespi Cup, every year at the Bonsai Museum in Milan [9].
  • Japan: Near Tokyo, the city of Omiya has an artisanal village of bonsai growers and stylists grow and maintain their stock. In Omiya Bonsai Village, more than a half dozen large bonsai nurseries allow visitors to view trees most days during growing season. By one estimate, more than 10,000 trees of world-cl

ass quality can be seen in a single day [10].

  • Singapore: Thousands on bonsai are on display at the Chinese and Japanese Gardens on two islands in Jurong Lake [11].
  • Spain: Visitors to Marbella can enjoy the collection at the Museo de Bonsai [12].
  • Taiwan:Taiwan is part of the Chinese culture. And yet, bonsai from Taiwan look different from the ones we see in Chinese penjing books.

[13] [14] [15]

  • United Kingdom: The Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses hosts a rotating collection of about 25 trees at a time, and occasionally gives bonsai care workshops [16]. Herons Bonsai Nursery in Surrey amasses 7 acres of a wide range of bonsai trees. Also on show are examples from the owners personal collection alongside Japanese gardens. Regular bonsai classes are available, with a bonsai clinic on the first Sunday of every month [17].
  • United States: The National Arboretum in Washington, DC contains the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, an impressive collection of trees, some of them gifts from the Nation of Japan or foreign heads of state [18]. The Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts is home to the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection. On the West Coast: the Weyerhaeuser Corporation maintains a collection open to the public at its headquarters near Seattle, and in Southern California the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino has a fine collection. Lastly, the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC also has an excellent display of Bonsai[19].

Pop Culture

Bonsly the Pokémon


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Early American Bonsai: The Larz Anderson Collection of the Arnold Arboretum" by Peter Del Tredici, published in Arnoldia (Summer 1989) by Harvard University
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lewis, Colin (2003). The Bonsai Handbook. Advanced Marketing Ltd.. ISBN 1-903938-30-9. 


See also


blog comments powered by Disqus
Personal tools
Bookmark and Share