Bonsai Trees Care

Bonsai Tree Care is an informational resource on how to buy, grow, and care for your bonsai trees.

Archive for November, 2009

The Japanese Art of Bonsai

The art of Bonsai is a rather famously Japanese style of miniature tree cultivation known around the world today. The name “Bonsai”, though exotic it may sound, actually translates literally as “tree in a tray”. It is to notably be pronounced “Bone-sah-ee” rather than “Banzai!” meaning “Hurray!”, as many non-native Japanese speakers may occasionally do. There are many Bonsai tree collections and organizations in Japan and the pieces are often truly marvelous. Sometimes gazing upon a Bonsai is as though looking at a miniaturized sculpture of an entire Japanese mountain scene, replete with trees and rocks to scale. Bonsai are, in a way, like a small Zen garden.

Bonsai is yet another Chinese import that has been given a significant Japanese stylization and refinement over the many years since it was introduced. The word Bonsai is even a Japanese version of the imported Chinese word “Penzai”. It was originally a form of deeper potted plant cultivation and the term for the style of cultivation so popular today, involving a shallow tray, was only adopted around the year 1800. Regardless of the relatively recent linguistic change, one of the longest surviving Japanese Bonsai trees today in the Imperial Palace’s collection in Tokyo is reportedly around 500 years old and is first documented as being cultivated as a Bonsai around the year 1600.

Cultivation of a true Japanese Bonsai can be started with almost any type of lasting tree or shrub as long as it grows proper branches and can adapt to a miniaturized Bonsai style pruning and root growing techniques. There are certainly certain species which have particularly good attributes for depicting a more microcosmic landscape. This includes such qualities as small leaves, needles, or flowers. Again, the concept is essentially to give the feeling of a full sized tree upon gazing at a Bonsai, and the art is basically yet another example of how important being compact is in Japan.

Let’s take a look at how Bonsai are started. One of the primary ways most Bonsai are started is by taking a cutting of a branch from a mature tree or shrub. The more mature the branch and the more properly its child branches are laid out, the more convincing the Bonsai is as a tree with a full trunk from the start. However, more mature branches can occasionally be more difficult to convince to begin growing roots. For this reason, younger branches are often chosen years in advance and potted for later training as Bonsai. There are ways to convince a tree branch to begin growing roots while still on a tree and this is a way of cultivation which can yield roots on a mature branch more easily. In addition to pruning the small trees, wrapping of wire around branches allows a grower to sculpt a Bonsai into various shapes by guiding its growth.

Bonsai are a wonderful way to enjoy a Japanese garden in a compact way. It is like having an ancient tree in a small tray.