Bonsai

Bonsai is a Japanese art form where small trees and plants are cultivated in containers to mimic the shape and scale of mature full-size trees. In Japanese, the word bonsai means tray planting.

Bonsai growing typically requires careful long-term pruning and training. Bonsai does not rely on genetically dwarfed plants. Most bonsai specimens are grown from parts of regular trees that are kept looking like miniature trees through pruning, training, root reduction, defoliation, etc.

According to the old bonsai tradition, the main purpose of bonsai to give the viewer something to contemplate.

The Japanese bonsai developed out of the Chinese tradition penjing, also known as penzai. Similar traditions exist in other East-Asian countries, such as the Vietnamese Hòn Non Bộ.

bonsai tree

Source material

The bonsai grower starts by selecting a source material, the pant they want to turn into a bonsai. It can, for instance, be a cutting or a small tree. Many different perennial woody-stemmed tree and shrub species can be successfully turned into bonsai. Species that produce small leaves or needles are especially popular since this tininess makes the miniature more believable.

It is unusual for bonsai growers to grow their own source material from seed. Instead, the typical source material will be a specimen (or part of a specimen) that is already mature. The appearance of high age is desirable for bonsai, and this is a factor when the source material is selected.

Often, a source material is selected for already possessing certain aesthetic characteristics that are desirable to the grower, such as looking old, being tapered, or having an interesting scar. Naturally, other factors will play a role as well, such as the ability to grow in a shallow container and the plant’s suitability for the environment in which it will live as a bonsai.

Aesthetics

Many of the traditional aesthetic ideals ascribed to by bonsai growers are influenced by Zen Buddhism and the expression of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is a worldview centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

Mono no aware is also frequently cited as an important factor in the development of the bonsai tradition. Mono no aware literally means “the pathos of things” but can be more loosely translated into “an empathy toward things”. It is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of the impermanence of things, and both a transient gentle sadness or wistfulness at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.

Below, you will find a few guidelines (not strict rules) that can be helpful when growing bonsai.

  • Asymmetry Generally speaking, strict radial and/or bilateral symmetry is not considered desirable for bonsai.
  • Proportions It is desirable for the bonsai plant’s proportions to mimic that of a full-grown specimen.
  • No trace of the artist The interventions of the human bonsai grower should not be overly apparent when viewing a bonsai specimen.Examples: If the human removes a branch from the tree, the scar should be concealed or made to look as if the branch has fallen off naturally and the tree has healed as is would in the wild.If wiring is used to train the tree, the wiring should be either removed or concealed very well before the bonsai is shown, and there should be no marks left from the wiring.

Price of Bonsai trees

Decorative bonsai trees can be purchased cheaply in your local flower shop.  These are created using fast-growing plants that look like high-quality bonsai trees to the casual observer but there are large differences to a trained eye.  High-quality old bonsai trees can be very expensive. The most expensive publicly sold bonsai sold for 1.3 million dollars.   That bonsai is believed to be 800 years old.  Older bonsai trees are generally more expensive than your ones.  The quality of the tree also affects the price.

I am regularly asked if you can earn money by growing bonsai trees.  The simple answer to this is no. The more detailed answer is that you can make money growing bonsai trees but it will take a very long time before you see the profit.  Your children or grandchildren will see the profits of the seeds you plant today.  It is also possible to make money by trading bonsai trees.  Trading bonsai trees is a lot like being an art dealer and require you to be a bonsai expert.

Investing in bonsai trees can be a low-risk investment similar to an investment in art.  It is an investment you should make to diversify your investments away from the financial markets and give you a recession-proof asset.  It is not an investment you should make if you are looking to make a lot of money.  If you want to make a lot of money then you should invest in things like stock,  binary over/under options, FX certificates or other financial instruments.

Size classifications

If you look through a bonsai catalog or visit a bonsai seller online, you are likely to see bonsai specimens classified by size. There isn’t any consensus within the hobby about the size classes, so take it with a pinch of salt and confirm the exact size of the specimen prior to purchase if exact size is important for you.

Important: When a size class is one-handed, two-handed, six-handed, etc it is a reference to how many hands that are needed to comfortably move the container with the bonsai in it. So, a one-handed bonsai can be picked up with just one hand, while a four-handed requires two people working together to carry it, and so on.

Examples of commonly used bonsai size classes

MINIATURE BONSAI

Common name Size class Tree Height
Keshitsubo Poppy-seed size 3–8 cm

(1–3 in)

Shito Fingertip size 5–10 cm

(2–4 in)

Mame Palm size 5–15 cm

(2–6 in)

Shohin One-handed 13–20 cm

(5–8 in)

Komono One-handed 15–25 cm

(6–10 in)

MEDIUM-SIZED BONSAI

Common name Size class Tree Height

Katade-mochi

One-handed 25–46 cm

(10–18 in)

Chumono

Two-handed 41–91 cm

(16–36 in)

LARGE BONSAI

Common name Size class Tree Height

Omono

Four-handed 76–122 cm

(30–48 in)

Dai

Four-handed 76–122 cm

(30–48 in)

Hachi-uye

Six-handed 102–152 cm

(40–60 in)

Imperial bonsai

Eight-handed 152–203 cm

(60–80 in)

The imperial size is named after the big potted bonsai specimens kept in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.