AskDefine | Define bonsai

Dictionary Definition

bonsai n : a dwarfed ornamental tree or shrub grown in a tray or shallow pot

User Contributed Dictionary



From Japanese 盆栽 (ぼんさい, bonsai).



bonsai (Plural: bonsai or bonsais)
  1. A tree or plant that has been miniaturized by restriction of its roots and by careful pruning.


a tree or plant that has been miniaturized by restriction of it's roots and careful pruning.

Extensive Definition

Bonsai listen (, , literally "potted plant") is the art of aesthetic miniaturization of trees by growing them in containers. Cultivation includes techniques for shaping, watering, and repotting in various styles of containers.
Originating in China during the Han Dynasty, 'bonsai' is a Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word penzai (盆栽). The word bonsai has been used in the West as an umbrella term for all miniature trees.


The origins of bonsai are believed to have begun at least 4000 years ago during the Han Dynasty in China. It has since developed into new forms in parts of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
At first, the Japanese used miniaturized trees grown in containers to decorate their homes and gardens. During the Tokugawa period, landscape gardening attained new importance. Cultivation of plants such as azalea and maples became a pastime of the wealthy. Growing dwarf plants in containers was also popular. At this time, the term for dwarf potted trees was .
The c.1300 rhymed prose essay, Rhymeprose on a Miniature Landscape Garden, by the Japanese Zen monk Kokan Shiren, outlines the aesthetic principles for bonsai, bonseki and garden architecture itself.
The oldest known living bonsai trees are in the collection at Happo-en (a private garden and exclusive restaurant) in Tokyo, Japan, where bonsais are between 400 to 800 years old.


Bonsai are not genetically dwarfed plants. They can be created from nearly any tree or shrub species and remain small through pot confinement and crown or root pruning. Some specific species are more sought after for use as bonsai material because they have characteristics that make them appropriate for the smaller design arrangements of bonsai.


The small size of the tree and the dwarfing of foliage result from pruning of both the leaves and the roots. Most trees require a dormancy period and do not grow roots or leaves at that time. Improper pruning can weaken or kill trees.
Copper or aluminium wire wrapped around branches and trunks holds the branches in place until they lignify (convert into wood), usually 6-9 months or one growing season. Some species do not lignify strongly, or are already too stiff/brittle to be shaped and are not conducive to wiring, in which case shaping is accomplished primarily through pruning. often a base mixture of coarse sand or gravel, fired clay pellets or expanded shale combined with an organic component such as peat or bark. In Japan, volcanic soils based on clay are preferred, such as akadama, or "red ball" soil, and kanuma, a type of yellow pumice used for azaleas and other calcifuges.

Location and overwintering

Most traditional bonsai are temperate climate trees and are kept outside all year. They require full sun in summer and usually a near-freezing dormancy period in winter. Depending on how hardy the tree species is, protection from very low temperatures may be required. Certain tropical species can survive winter without a dormancy period, and can therefore be kept indoors all year.


Bonsai pots have drainage holes typically covered with a plastic screen or mesh to prevent soil from escaping.
Containers come in a variety of shapes and colors and can be glazed or unglazed. Containers with straight sides and sharp corners are generally better suited to formally presented plants, while oval or round containers might be used for plants with informal shapes. Most evergreen bonsai are placed in unglazed pots, while deciduous trees are planted in glazed pots. It is important in design that the color of the pot compliments the tree. Some pots are highly collectible, such as ancient Chinese or Japanese pots made in regions with experienced pot makers such as Tokoname, Japan or Yixing, China. Today many western potters throughout Europe and the United States produce fine quality pots for Bonsai.

Common styles

In English, the most common styles include: formal upright, slant, informal upright, cascade, semi-cascade, raft, literati, and group/forest.
  • The formal upright style, or Chokkan, is characterized by a straight, upright, tapering trunk. The trunk and branches of the informal upright style, or Moyogi, may incorporate pronounced bends and curves, but the apex of the informal upright is always located directly over where the trunk begins at the soil line.
  • Slant-style, or Shakan, bonsai possess straight trunks like those of bonsai grown in the formal upright style. However, the slant style trunk emerges from the soil at an angle, and the apex of the bonsai will be located to the left or right of the root base.
  • Cascade-style, or Kengai, bonsai are modeled after trees which grow over water or on the sides of mountains. The apex, or tip of the tree in the Semi-cascade-style, or Han Kengai, bonsai extend just at or beneath the lip of the bonsai pot; the apex of a (full) cascade style falls below the base of the pot.
  • Raft-style, or Netsuranari, bonsai mimic a natural phenomenon that occurs when a tree topples onto its side (typically due to erosion or another natural force) and branches along the exposed side of the trunk, growing as if they are a group of new trunks. Sometimes, roots will develop from buried portions of the trunk. Raft-style bonsai can have sinuous, straight-line, or slanting trunks, all giving the illusion that they are a group of separate trees -- while actually being the branches of a tree planted on its side.
  • The literati style is characterized by a generally bare trunk line, with branches reduced to a minimum, and typically placed higher up on a long, often contorted trunk. This style derives its name from the Chinese literati, who were often artists, and some of whom painted Chinese brush paintings, like those found in the ancient text, The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, depicting pine trees that grew in harsh climates, struggling to reach sunlight. In Japan, the literati style is known as . (Bunjin is a translation of the Chinese phrase wenren meaning "scholars practiced in the arts" and gi is a derivative of the Japanese word, ki, for "tree").
  • The group or forest style, or Yose Ue, comprises a planting of more than one tree (typically an odd number if there are three or more trees, and essentially never 4 because of its significance in Japan) in a bonsai pot. The trees are usually the same species, with a variety of heights employed to add visual interest and to reflect the age differences encountered in mature forests.
  • The root-over-rock style, or Sekijoju, is a style in which the roots of a tree (typically a fig tree) are wrapped around a rock. The rock is at the base of the trunk, with the roots exposed to varying degrees.
  • The broom style, or Hokidachi is employed for trees with extensive, fine branching, often with species like elms. The trunk is straight and upright. It branches out in all directions about 1/3 of the way up the entire height of the tree. The branches and leaves form a ball-shaped crown which can also be very beautiful during the winter months.
  • The multi-trunk style, or Ikadabuki has all the trunks growing out of one root system, and it actually is one single tree. All the trunks form one crown of leaves, in which the thickest and most developed trunk forms the top.
  • The growing-in-a-rock, or Ishizuke style means the roots of the tree are growing in the cracks and holes of the rock. There is not much room for the roots to develop and take up nutrients. These trees are designed to visually represent that the tree has to struggle to survive.

Size classifications

Not all sources agree on exact range of size ranges. There are a number of specific techniques and styles associated with mame and shito sizes, the smallest bonsai.
The suitablity of any tree to being kept indoors is dictated by the plant's needs of light, temperature and humidity. The term indoor bonsai means that it is in a location outside its normal growing habitat, and would struggle to cope with its new location when outdoors. A tropical or sub-tropical species would be considered as indoor when located in a temperate climate area, just as a deciduous tree would be considered indoor in a tropical environment. This is because both would require artificial conditions to maintain good health.
Chinese Elm, Japanese black pine and Buddhist pine are common outdoor bonsai that can survive inside. Those who have successfully grown hardy specimens indoors have used a variety of techniques, such as having a cold room designated for bonsai and using the refrigerator. With indoor hardy bonsai, having proper lighting and the ability to give a cooling season are both necessary to ensuring survival.


Bonsai may be developed from material obtained at gardening centers, or from material collected from the wild or urban landscape. Some regions have plant material that is known for its suitability in form - for example the California Juniper and Sierra Juniper found in the Sierra Mountains and the Bald Cypress found in the swamps of the Everglades. Many people collect trees grown in different styles. They will have formal uprights, and root over rock. These collecter might also have different Deadwood Bonsai Techniques in use on the tree.


See also

sisterlinks Bonsai
bonsai in Afrikaans: Bonsai
bonsai in Arabic: بونساي
bonsai in Bulgarian: Бонсай
bonsai in Catalan: Bonsai
bonsai in Czech: Bonsaj
bonsai in Danish: Bonsai
bonsai in German: Bonsai
bonsai in Estonian: Bonsai
bonsai in Spanish: Bonsái
bonsai in Esperanto: Bonsajo
bonsai in Persian: بونسای
bonsai in French: Bonsaï
bonsai in Galician: Bonsai
bonsai in Croatian: Bonsai
bonsai in Indonesian: Bonsai
bonsai in Italian: Bonsai
bonsai in Hebrew: בונסאי
bonsai in Javanese: Bonsai
bonsai in Hungarian: Bonszai
bonsai in Macedonian: Бонсаи
bonsai in Malayalam: ബോണ്‍സായി
bonsai in Dutch: Bonsai
bonsai in Japanese: 盆栽
bonsai in Norwegian: Bonsai
bonsai in Polish: Bonsai
bonsai in Portuguese: Bonsai
bonsai in Romanian: Bonsai
bonsai in Russian: Бонсай
bonsai in Simple English: Bonsai
bonsai in Serbian: Бонсаи
bonsai in Serbo-Croatian: Bonsai
bonsai in Finnish: Bonsai
bonsai in Swedish: Bonsai
bonsai in Tamil: பொன்சாய்
bonsai in Vietnamese: Bonsai
bonsai in Turkish: Bonsai
bonsai in Chinese: 盆景
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1