Flowers and Plants – The Bonsai Tree

The Bonsai Tree is truly man-made nature’s gift. Bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh) is one of the oldest oriental horticultural art medium. Emanating from the Orient, the word Bonsai in Chinese and Japanese languages means tree-in- a-pot. Created in the Orient more than 2000 years ago, this celestial art is renowned all over the world.

Small potted tree is not yet a bonsai for it has to be pruned, shaped, and designed into the desired form. To keep its diminutive size, the plant’s growing conditions are carefully controlled. Any unwanted branches are pruned, roots are kept in the tiny pot and leaves are regularly trimmed. Bonsai may be given a particular style or unusual shape but it still has to conform to nature. The smaller and older the bonsai is the higher is the value. Although these wonderful small trees may live for centuries, they required lots of pruning, trimming and training all throughout their lifetime … and the more beautiful they appear.

To create a bonsai, there are no specific rules as each species has its own special needs. Even location and environment are important factors to consider. Should you decide to go into this art, read as much as you can and join local bonsai associations.

History

The Chinese gave birth to bonsai but the Japanese nurtured the art. In the year 700 AD, the Chinese empire started what they termed aspun- sai using special methods in growing dwarf trees in containers. In the beginning, only the affluent members of society were delving into the art by making use of native-collected specimens. They gave these dwarf trees throughout China as luxurious gifts. During the Kamakura period, Japan adopted most of China’s culture especially the art of growing trees in containers. However, the innovative Japanese restructured some Bonsai features due to the influence of Zen Buddhism. Since the size of Japan was only four percent as that of mainland China, the development of the art was constrained. Japan was able to develop new techniques, styles and tools to perfect the art.  For the next three hundred years, Bonsai was limited only to Asia, but recently, it has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Styles

Many styles of Bonsai trees are becoming more and more identical with nature as many bonsai enthusiasts are creating their own designs and interpreting personally their masterpieces. Familiarity with the styles is important to acquire basic understanding of shapes and following guidelines to successfully create miniature trees.

1. Broom style Bonsai – Hokidachi

Deciduous trees with extensive and fine branches are the best materials to create a broom style bonsai. Its straight and erect trunk branches out in all directions after it reaches 1/3 of the entire length of the tree. The branches and leaves are shaped like a ball crown which is a good adornment for Christmas holidays.

2. Formal upright Bonsai style – Chokkan

This is the most common style in bonsai, as well as nature since this tree is fully exposed to sunlight due to the absence of other trees. Since the tapering of the upright growing trunk is emphasized, it has thicker bottom and grows thinner as its height increases. When the trunk reaches ¼ of its total length, branches start growing. The crown of the tree is formed from a single branch while the trunk does not reach the entire length of the tree.

3. Slanting Bonsai style – Shakkan

In the forest, the wind and the source of sunlight determine the direction where trees lean. In Bonsai, the leaning style has an angle of about 60 – 80 degrees relative to the ground. The roots are well-developed on one side to keep the tree standing. On one side of the tree, the roots are clearly not as well-developed. The first branch grows opposite the direction of the tree, in order to balance it. The trunk is slightly bent or completely straight, but is thicker at the bottom than at the top.

4. Cascade Bonsai style -Kengai

Trees growing on a steep cliff are likely to bend downward as a result of several factors, like snow or falling rocks. These factors cause the tree to grow downward. With Bonsai, maintaining the growth of a tree downward is difficult since the growth’s direction is against the nature of trees to grow upright. Use tall pots to plant Cascade Bonsai. The tree is allowed to grow erect at a short distance then is bent downward. Let the crown of the tree grow above the rim of the pot, but the rest of the branches are alternately arranged left and right on the outermost curves of the S-shaped trunk. Each branch grows out in a horizontal direction to keep the balance of the tree.

5. Semi cascade Bonsai style -Han-kengai

The semi-cascade style, like the cascade style, is formed similar to the trees growing on cliffs and banks of rivers and lakes. The trunk is allowed to grow upright for a few distance then bent downward. The difference between the cascade and semi-cascade style is that the semi- cascade trunk is not allowed to grow below the bottom of the pot. The crown grows over the rim with the other branches below.

6. Literati Bonsai style -Bunjingi

This style shows the form of trees in areas highly populated by other trees where each one has to compete for survival. Trees tend to grow crookedly upward even without branches to get at the sun. Some of the branches do not even have barks to get the most out of the sunlight. The idea is to demonstrate how a tree really has to struggle to survive. Bunjingi trees are often placed in small, round pots.

7. Windswept Bonsai style – Fukinagashi

The efforts of the tree for survival are depicted by this style. The branches and trunk are growing only from one side as if the wind is blowing in one direction. All the branches are growing only from one side but will eventually lean to one side.

8. Double trunk style Bonsai -Sokan

Double trunk trees are common in nature but not so in the art of Bonsai. Commonly, the two trunks grow out of a single root system or a smaller trunk emerges from the larger trunk just above the ground. They differ in both thickness and length. The thicker trunk which is more developed grows upright while the smaller one is slanted. However, a single crown of leaves grow from the double trunks.

For more information on Bonsai Trees, refer to these links:

What is Bonsai? – All the basic information you need to know is found in this link.

History of Bonsai – Originally from China but it was Japan who developed bonsai in the form that it is known today.

Bonsai Tree Care – Bonsai trees live for decades but they need the best of care.

Tips in Caring for Bonsai Trees – These are useful tips on growing bonsai trees.

Bonsai Tree Species – Before growing a bonsai tree, learn more about the different types of trees.

Guide to Everything Bonsai – This site contains everything you need to know about bonsai.

How to Grow Bonsai – Video presentations showing how to grow bonsai.

Types of Bonsai Trees – View the different styles of bonsai trees.

The Beginner’s Bonsai – Don’t buy bonsai, learn to grow one. There are many resources available.

The Joy of Growing Bonsai – Bonsai is a celestial art in horticulture that’s why people love to raise bonsai.’

Bonsai – Crafty Tips – This site is a great help to bonsai lovers.

Bonsai Links – Collection of resources in the website.

Bonsai Clubs and Association –  A complete list of bonsai Clubs and Association world- wide.

Ann Arbor Bonsai Society – This is only one of other bonsai society to promote the art of Bonsai.

Author: Lily Calyx

Flower expert, gardening enthusiast and creative mind behind our blog.

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