Bonsai Guide

You must be quite familiar with this word if you happen to be a nature lover. Bonsai plants are considered as one of the finest creations of nature. There is not a single nursery or a gallery which goes without these plants. They are well known for the artistic shape they obtain on growth which also makes them as expensive as they are.

You might be curious to know why these plants are named as bonsai. Well, bonsai is a beautiful art-form which depicts various horticultural techniques and also reflects Asian traditions. This art-form has a long story behind it which describes its origin and history. It’s not as boring as it sounds, so read along to know more about your favourite plants.

Definition & Meaning

The word “bonsai “has a literal meaning attached to it. “Planted in a container” is what the word stands for. It is a combination of two syllables: “Bon” which means a dish or bowl and “ Si” which is a tree or plant. This is indeed justified as all bonsai pants are always planted in proper pots or containers.

There are various meanings associated with a bonsai tree. Some people gift bonsai trees to their honourable guests as these trees are of high regard to them. Some people attach a philosophical meaning, referring to the sense of naturalness this tree has brought, indifferent to the human intervention. While some compare it with other trees due to its small size and easy transport, others think of it to be a valuable possession requiring care and nurturing every day.

The bottom line is that you can interpret bonsai trees in whichever way you think is suitable to describe your personal connection with them. These were just a few demonstrations to let you know that bonsai trees are not just mere species of plant life, they have a significance of their own.

Bonsai History

Initially, the Chinese practiced the bonsai art-form which was later adapted by the Japanese who gave the art a proper identity. Moving away from the miniature landscapes which the Chinese created, the Japanese started growing individual trees which are known as Bonsai plants in the present day.

History of Bonsai in the China

Originally ,the high class society of china introduced the art of pun-tsai. This as a practice of growing dwarf plants in containers which were given as luxurious gifts.

Chronologically speaking, the order of events which led to the development of this art-form is quite interesting.

  • About 5000 years ago, the Chinese made earthenware basins and flat bowls which were among the shapes to be remade in bronze for religious ceremonies a thousand years later that is, during the Chinese bronze age.
  • Then, 2300 years ago, the Chinese five agents theory came up with idea of potency of replicas in miniature which meant that the student could focus and gain magical properties related to the object drawn on a reduced scale.
  • Two hundred years later, incense burners in the shape of mountain peaks were introduced by the Han Emperor which symbolized the abode of the immortals.
  • The year 706AD brought along tomb paintings for Crown Prince Zhang Huai. These paintings included rockery landscapes with two ladies in waiting and small plants in shallow dishes.
  • The art progressed to plants being planted in containers. These plants were sacred and could not be used for ordinary purposes. Porclain containers were replaced by earthenware or ceramic ones and varius techniques were attempted to shape the trees with bamboo frames and brass/lead strips. These art pieces wre called tray planting after the 16th

History of Bonsai in the Japan

  • The tray landscapes discussed earlier were brought to japan as a token of religious appreciation. These were further carried on by the Zen Buddhism monks. Their belief was that a single tree in a pot could replicate the entire universe.
  • Around the year 1800, a group of scholars decided to rename these dwarf plants as ” bonsai”. From military soldiers to ordinary peasants, everybody followed the practice of growing a plant in a pot.
  • Different styles of bonsai trees were talked about, catalogues and books were written, making the bonsai trees more important and exquisite.
  • A group of thirty families settled in Omiyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake which washed away Tokyo in 1923. Omiyo was turned into a Japanese bonsai centre.
  • The Pacific War was another significant event responsible for the widespread of the bonsai. The detailed knowledge of plant physiology was mastered and further communicated by intellectuals.

Bonsai Styles

Bonsai trees have undergone many transformations over the years. These styles are majorly focused on resembling natural circumstances and their interpretation is to be left to the discretion of the individual. Here are some of the famous bonsai styles which would enthrall you

  1. Broom Style ( Hokidachi)

Trees of this style have a upright trunk which splits into fine branches towards the top end. The branches spread out in the shape of a circular crown. This is the usual look of deciduous trees which are a winter attraction.

  1. Formal Upright Bonsai Style( Chokkan)

These trees have a long, straight trunk, narrowing as we go up. The branches and leaves are distributed all over the length of the tree starting from 1/4th part above the root level. This style is a result of exposure to a lot of sunlight.

  1. Informal Upright Bonsai Style( Moyogi)

This style is similar to the former one with the exception that the trunk is not straight. It is aligned in a s shape with twists and turns.

  1. Slanting Bonsai Style( Shakan)

The tree is bent at an angle of about 60-80 degrees. The first branch grows in the opposite side of slant to create a clear visual effect. This slant is a result of wind blowing in one particular direction forcefully and for a prolonged period.

  1. Cascade Bonsai Style( Kengal)

This is a very interesting style. The base of the trunk is wide and narrows with increasing length. Amazingly, it grows downward towards the base of the pot. This downward growth is seen in trees on a steep cliff which bear weight of snow or heavy rocks resulting in the bending phenomena.

  1. Multi Trunk Bonsai Style

This bonsai style is featured with multiple trunks growing out of a single base. All the trunks together give a crown look.

  1. Windswept Bonsai Style ( Fukinagashi)

This style is categorized by all the branches growing on one side of the trunk. It looks as if the wind has blown the tree in one constant direction, turning the branches towards one side.

  1. Literati Bonsai Style( Bumjingi)

The trunk of this tree grows crookedly upwards with no branching.

Such trees are found in densely populated forests where sunlight doesn’t reach evenly. As the sunlight reaches only the topmost apex, leaves are present in this area only.

So What is it: A Horticultural Practice or an Art-Form?

The best thing about a bonsai tree is that it is a perfect combination of both horticultural knowledge and art. Often, the concern towards plant health and nourishment is neglected due to more focus on its artistic outlook.  Or horticulture dominates leading to the disgraceful appearance of the plant. In the case of bonsai, both the issues are resolved.

These trees live longer than the full sized ones owing to the extra care given to them. An old bonsai plant can be designed in whatever way you wish and any number of times. The high quality and long life of bonsai trees makes horticulture an easy practice thus paving way for artistic developments.

The containers used to plant bonsai trees are again an element of interest. For an jaw dropping tree, you need jaw dropping accessories to complement it. Therefore, pot designing is also in highly in practice.

Related Arts

Along with bonsai, the Chinese and Japanese have introduced many   other art-forms which are closely related to bonsai. Shohin Bonsai, Japanese koi, bonsai pottery, ikebana, suiseki and Japanese gardens are some of these.


Sometimes, it feels strange after acknowledging the fact that a small plant kept in the window panes of our house has so much to it. A simple Chinese art work gave birth to what constitutes most of the plant exhibitions across the globe. You would be in awe to know that 1200 books in 26 languages have been written on these plants. A number of periodicals and magazines have also been published which take us into the unknown world of Bonsai.

So now as you know that simply twisting a branch or repotting your tree can associate you to a tradition of a millennium, you must be proud the next time you step into your garden. After all ,you are going to plant the universe in your pot.