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Bonsai is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. Similar practices exist in other cultures, including the Chinese tradition of penjing from which the art originated, and the miniature living landscapes of Vietnamese hòn non bộ. The Japanese tradition dates back over a thousand years, and has evolved its own unique aesthetics and terminology.
"Bonsai" is a Japanese pronunciation of the earlier Chinese term penzai. A "bon" is a tray-like pot typically used in bonsai culture.
The word bonsai is often used in English as an umbrella term for all miniature trees in containers or pots, but this article focuses on bonsai as defined in the Japanese tradition.
The purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation (for the viewer) and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity (for the grower).By contrast with other plant cultivation practices, bonsai is not intended for production of food, for medicine, or for creating yard-size or park-size gardens or landscapes. Instead, bonsai practice focuses on long-term cultivation and shaping of one or more small trees growing in a container.
A bonsai is created beginning with a specimen of source material. This may be a cutting, seedling, or small tree of a species suitable for bonsai development. Bonsai can be created from nearly any perennial woody-stemmed tree or shrub species that produces true branches and can be cultivated to remain small through pot confinement with crown and root pruning. Some species are popular as bonsai material because they have characteristics, such as small leaves or needles, that make them appropriate for the compact visual scope of bonsai.
The source specimen is shaped to be relatively small and to meet the aesthetic standards of bonsai. When the candidate bonsai nears its planned final size it is planted in a display pot, usually one designed for bonsai display in one of a few accepted shapes and proportions. From that point forward, its growth is restricted by the pot environment. Throughout the year, the bonsai is shaped to limit growth, redistribute foliar vigor to areas requiring further development, and meet the artist's detailed design.
The practice of bonsai is sometimes confused with dwarfing, but dwarfing generally refers to research, discovery, or creation of plant cultivars that are permanent, genetic miniatures of existing species. Bonsai does not require genetically dwarfed trees, but rather depends on growing small trees from regular stock and seeds. Bonsai uses cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation, and grafting to produce small trees that mimic the shape and style of mature, full-size trees.
- layering - a method of propagating a tree by ring-girdling the trunk and inducing roots to grow from the wound.
- miyogi - Japanese term for informal upright style
- neagari - Japanese term for exposed root or octopus style
- nebari - Japanese term for the exposed root base of a tree
- overpotting - planting a bonsai in a container that is larger than necessary to maintain it.
- pH - measure of soil acidity. pH 7.0 is neutral. lower pH is acid, higher pH is alkaline.
- perlite - lightweight, porous, white granules that can hold water and air.
- pot - A growing container for bonsai, usually high-fired clay
- pumice - A white, hard volcanic product used as an agricultural amendment
- raffia - A dried shredded reed used to wrap branches and trunk before bending to cushion and reduce the likelihood of splitting.
- raft style - a bonsai style in which multiple trunks grow in a line from a connected base.
- ramification - the development of a twigging structure by a series of divisions of branches into twigs and twiglets
- sabamiki -A Japanese term for a tree with a wounded trunk tree that is hollow or split open
- saikei - tray plantings containing stones, trees, plants, but in the strict sense, without figurines - See bonkei.
- shari - Japanese term for exposed deadwood on a tree
- sokan - Japanese term for a twin trunk tree
- shakkan - Japanese term for slant style bonsai
- suiban - Japanese term for a shallow tray without drainage holes intended for the display of suiseki
- suiseki - Japanese term for viewing stone
- tachiagari - Japanese term for the lower portion of the trunk
- variegated - a tree with foliage spotted or striped in two or more colors.
- vermiculite - mica that has been expanded with heat into a lightweight granule. Useful in rooting seedlings.
- viewing stone - a stone appreciated for its natural characteristics, as a mountain or natural scene, including cliffs, waterfalls or an appearance reminiscent of a figure, animal, implement or structure, or perhaps an entirely abstract shape.
- yamadori - Japanese term for a tree collected from the wild mountain, or a tree with that appearance.
- yose-ue - Japanese term for forest or group planting
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