An Introduction to Bonsai: History, Cultivation and Size Classifications.

Bonsai is the art of aesthetic miniaturization of trees by growing them in containers.

Originating in Chinese pen-zai, Japanese bonsai developed its localization of techniques and aesthetics after its introduction to Japan by imperial embassiesKorean it is called bunjae. returning from China in the ninth century.

In Western culture, the word "bonsai" is commonly used as an umbrella term for all miniature trees.


At first, the Japanese used miniaturized container-grown trees for decorating 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. 

Read also: Coussin's Guide Forms A Lovely And Thorough Introduction To The Ancient Art Of Bonsai.
Growing dwarf plants in containers was also popular, but by modern bonsai standards the container plants of this period were inappropriately large.The then-term for dwarf potted trees was "a tree in a pot" (鉢の木 hachi-no-ki).


Bonsai are not genetically dwarfed plants. They are created from nearly any tree or shrub species and remain small through pot confinement and crown and root pruning. Some specific species are more sought after for use as bonsai material. This is because they have characteristics that make them appropriate for the smaller design arrangements of bonsai. [citation needed] There are many different ways to acquire, cultivate and grow bonsai. Several of the most common include:
  • Growing from seed
  • Cuttings
  • Air layering
  • Grafting


Many different styles of bonsai exist. In English, the most common styles include: formal upright, slant, informal upright, cascade, semi-cascade, raft, literati, and group/forest.
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  • 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 Netsunari, 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-gi (文人木?). (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.

    Additionally, bonsai are classed by size. Sizes of bonsai include:
    Class Size
    cm in
    tiny Mame Keshi-tsubu up to 2.5 up to 1
    Shito 2.5 – 7.5 1–3
    small Shohin Gafu 13 – 20 5–8
    Komono up to 18 up to 7.2
    Myabi 15–25 6–10
    medium Kifu Katade-mochi up to 40 16
    medium to large Chu/Chuhin 40–60 16–24
    large Dai/Daiza Omono up to 120 up to 48
    Bonju over 100 over 40
    *Note: 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. These are often small enough to be grown in thimble-sized pots,and due to their minuscule size, require special care and adhere to different design conventions.

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