All about the Bonsai

Bonsai - Karuna Nursery

Bonsai is quite a fascinating art-form that combines horticultural techniques and Asian aesthetics in a very unique way. This peculiar art originates in the Chinese empire and was copied and adapted by the Japanese to what we know now as Bonsai trees. When literally translated “bon-sai” means “planted in a container”. This sure is an art form with a lot of rich history. To understand exactly what Bonsai is, we need to learn more about its meaning and history. Did you know that the Chinese started creating miniature landscapes over 2000 years ago? They believed that the further the reproduction was in size from the original, the more magically potent it was likely to be. It is said that a student could focus on its magical properties and gain access to them. During the Kamakura period (700 years ago) the Japanese copied the art-form and from that moment on, a distinctive Japanese style emerged prominently. Instead of entire landscapes, the Japanese started growing individual miniature trees. These trees evolved to what we know as Bonsai today.

The Origins

The art of bonsai growing includes techniques such as pinching buds, pruning and wiring branches, and carefully restricting but not abandoning fertilizers are used to limit and redirect healthy growth. These plants are most commonly kept under four feet (or about a meter) in height. The Bonsai is not genetically dwarfed plants. However, plants with smaller leaves do make these compositions even easier to design. Any plant species that has a woody stem or trunk grows true branches, can be successfully grown in a container to restrict its roots/food storage capability and has smaller or reducible-leaves can be used to create a Bonsai.

Around 200 years ago, a group of scholars of the Chinese arts gathered near the city of Osaka to discuss recent styles in miniature trees. Their dwarf trees were renamed as “Bonsai” (the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese term pun-tsai) in order to make them stand out from the ordinary hachi-no-ki which many persons cared for. The “bon” or “pen” should be shallower than the Hachi bowl. This shows that some growers had better success with the horticultural needs of dwarf potted trees in smaller containers than others. Bonsai, from this point onwards, was now seen as a matter of design – the craft approach replacing the religious/mythical approach of tradition.


A lot of time has passed since then and over the years many styles to classify Bonsai trees have been advanced, closely resembling circumstances in nature. All these styles are open to personal interpretation and creativity, meaning that trees do not necessarily need to conform to any form. Even then, the styles are important to gain a basic understanding of shapes and should serve as guidelines to successfully train miniature trees.

Here are some of the most prominent bonsai styles:

Broom style Bonsai (Hokidachi)

Formal upright Bonsai style (Chokkan)

Informal upright Bonsai style (Moyogi)

Slanting Bonsai style (Shakan)

Cascade Bonsai style (Kengai)

Semi cascade Bonsai style (Han-kengai)

Literati Bonsai style (Bunjingi)

Windswept Bonsai style (Fukinagashi)

Forest Bonsai style (Yose-ue)

Raft Bonsai style (Ikadabuki)

Shari Bonsai style (Sharimiki)

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