Written by Kumiko Toya
You may think growing bonsai is intimidating, and It could be, especially when being absorbed in the intricate world of bonsai practice. Most bonsai today are hobbies limited to the enjoyment of growing beautiful small trees that actually mimic a large tree.
With time and patience, will this tiny guy be a family heirloom for years to come?
I am growing a small bonsai as the first-time bonsai parent. It is a Ficus ginseng tree with a thick, pot-bellied trunk and oval leaves. My tree is no more than 7 inches tall but brings me a tranquil, peaceful feeling of mother nature every time I look at it!
In this article, we are sharing 10 interesting facts about bonsai that you should know.
A Living Sculpture
Because the transformation continues as long as it is alive, bonsai is described as a never-ending project or a living sculpture. Bonsai is an art and hobby that is unique and quite unlike most others.
The Root of Bonsai
Bonsai from the Tang-dynasty , 706 and from the Nanboku-chõ period ,1351.
image left: public domain, image right: courtesy to National Diet Library
Although bonsai is a Japanese word for "planted in a shallow tray", bonsai originates in China in around 200 B.C. It then spread to Japan a thousand years later. Bonsai has greatly evolved since and it is now much more than a plant in a tray.
Bonsai in The U.S.
Japanese pavilion in Philadelphia Exposition (left) and an English bonsai catalog from 1901 (right)
image credit National Gallery of Art
Bonsai was officially introduced to the U.S. in 1876 in the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition where several bonsai were exhibited. According to the record, a small porcelain pot containing a cedar tree 60 years old and not more than 32 inches in height amazed its visitors.
Over the years, bonsai has become very popular in the U.S. and also in Europe. Each country has its experts and many have developed individual styles, a bit different from the original Japanese styles and they are recognized and accepted.
The Art of Patience
Bonsai demonstration by a bonsai master Image credit Mistral Bonsai
Not unlike other Japanese art, the classic bonsai practice requires deep knowledge and detailed technique, along with profound respect for nature. In Japan, to learn only the basics of bonsai is said to take at least 10 years of apprenticeship. Growing one bonsai tree takes years and years of calm patience. It is through calculated training and precise caring that the tree is very slowly shaped to give the appearance of the desired look.
Bonsai Is Not A Dwarf Tree Species
A bonsai nursery in Japan
The common misconception of bonsai is that they are specific dwarf tree species. In fact, they can be created from almost any trees and shrubs. They are contained in pots to keep them small. If a bonsai tree is left untouched for a few years, it would grow wild and spread out of its pot. Sometimes bonsai are hundreds of years old which are the result of many generations of patience and hard work.
Oldest Bonsai Trees in The World
The oldest bonsai tree in Japan. This impressive 1,000-year-old Juniper is owned by the Kato family in Omiya.
The oldest bonsai in the world can be found at a museum in Italy
One of the most interesting features of bonsai is the age of the trees. Some of the oldest Bonsai in the world are over 1,000 years old. They are the result of many generations of patience and hard work. The Ficus Linn in the Crespi Bonsai Museum in Italy is well over 1,000 years old and believed to be the oldest bonsai tree in the world. This invaluable bonsai was brought to the museum in 1986, after 10 years of negotiation with its original owner family in China.
Bonsai Comes in All Sizes
A tiny bonsai and the largest bonsai in the world
Average bonsai rarely exceed 4 feet but there are exceptions. The biggest bonsai in the world can be found in a garden in Atami, Japan. The 600-year-old red pine bonsai is 16 feet (5 m) tall and 32 feet (10 m) wide. On the contrary, this elm bonsai is small enough to fit in your hand!
Bonsai Comes in All Sizes, and… Prices!
This massive 400-year-old pine bonsai was sold for 1.3 million dollars, the world's highest record price, at the International Bonsai Convention in Takamatsu, Japan in 2017. The buyer was a famous bonsai collector in Fukushima, Japan.
Is It A Boy or A Girl?
You may be surprised to know that bonsai has gender. While they do not actually have a sex, they are considered to be masculine and feminine depending on how they look. Masculine bonsai is styled with tapered trunks, dense canopy, matured bark, and angular branching, and they are potted in rectangular pots. Feminine bonsai is with delicate trunk and canopy, smooth bark, and sleek branches. Circular and oval pots are usually chosen for them.
The Five Basic Styles
When you look at old trees in nature, you will see plenty of variation. Trees grow straight, leaning, clinging to the side of mountains, in groups, and alone. Bonsai artists observe what nature creates and work to emulate it when shaping a bonsai tree.
Formal Upright Style
Image credit Ragesoss
The classic proportion and the basis of all bonsai.
Informal Upright Style
Image credit Cliff
The most frequently seen bonsai style. A basic design that follows the natural structure of the tree.
Image credit Sage Ross
A very popular style. This style conveys the essence of the fight of the tree in withstanding the strong winds, gravity, and limited sunshine.
Cascade and Semi-Cascade Styles
Advanced but popular bonsai styles. The cascade and semi-cascade styles are found in nature on cliffs and on the banks of rivers and lakes.
Image credit Sage Ross
A style suited for deciduous trees with extensive, fine branching.
Image credit Cliff
A Style modeled after trees found in coastal areas where strong winds have shaped and sculpted them for years.
Twin Trunk Style
Image credit Dake
A style common in nature, but requiring advanced skills in the art of Bonsai. Usually both trunks will grow out of one root system.
Image credit Sage Ross
A style created using five or more trees to model a small or large forest.
Bonsai latte at a bonsai café in Tokyo
Bonsai, an old tradition, is somehow recognized as kawaii by the young generation in Japan. At bonsai café, you can drink bonsai latte while looking at bonsai!
Did you like the article? Check out the Chigiri-e Bonsai motif in our Chigiri-e Course! You can make this gorgeous bonsai with traditional Japanese art, Chigiri-e!
Image at the top of this article: credit Japanexperterna