Bonsai Trees Explained

bonsai trees explained

Bonsai is a Japanese art form that dates back over a thousand years. Through careful pruning and training of branches, bonsai growers craft a miniature meditation on life’s important lessons.

While the art of bonsai may seem simple, it takes a lot of work and attention to detail to create an ideal bonsai tree. The trees can act as a metaphor for anything from the beauty of aging to the balance of contrast in life.

Chokkan Style

When it comes to bonsai trees, there are several different styles to choose from. Some styles are more common than others. For example, the formal upright style is very popular and can be found on many bonsai trees.

The formal upright style is the most classical of all styles, and it aims to replicate a full-sized tree’s natural form. The tree will have a straight trunk and branching that is symmetrical from the base to the top of the bonsai.

A very important feature of a formal upright bonsai is the taper, which indicates that the bottom of the trunk is thicker and the apex thinner as it grows up. This is achieved by cutting off the growing tip of the trunk or branch and wiring it into the desired position.

This style is a bit difficult to make, and it is best to start with naturally upright-growing trees that are already well established. The first step is to carefully trim off all the small twigs that are growing at the bottom one-third of the tree’s trunk. Next, wire up a new branch that will be the first to grow upwards and form the apex of the bonsai.

Once the branches have grown up to the desired height, you can begin trimming off smaller twigs at intervals. You can also use grafting to insert missing branches into the trunk or the crown.

Another very common style is the Shakan style, which aims to mimic a tree that has been slanted by the wind or by a strong sunlight source. This style is most commonly found on pines, but it can be applied to other tree types as well.

Lastly, the forest style is another popular and attractive type of bonsai. This style is similar to the multi-trunk style, but the trees are placed in a staggered pattern so that they appear more realistic and natural.

The forest style is one of the most popular bonsai styles because it combines a lot of different trees in one container. The trees in this style vary in size and age, but they all work together to create a beautiful, natural looking setting.

Two-Trunk Style

The double trunk style, sometimes called the Sokan Style, is a type of bonsai tree. It is typically found in oak trees and consists of two trunks that grow together at the base. No branches can grow between the trunks, so they must look like one tree.

This style has the same principles as the formal upright style, with the exception that the branches do not become progressively shorter towards the top. Instead, they extend out in all directions at the apex. This creates a crown-like appearance that is very attractive to the eye.

Another common style is the informal upright style, which also has a similar principle to the formal upright style. However, the trunks in this style do not grow straight up, but they do taper a little bit toward the apex. This style is more suitable for tree species that have a lot of thin, pliable branches.

These styles are based on the way trees grow naturally in nature, so you can expect some variations. These include the root-over-rock style, forest group style, and broom style.

In this style, the roots of the bonsai tree are exposed and traverse closely over a rock. This is a challenging style and can take a long time to achieve.

This style mimics plants that are found in high moisture areas near large bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, or ponds. It is a difficult style to train, but it is worth the effort.

The roots in this style must be trained to reach the rock at the base of the trunk. They should also be positioned close to the sides of the rock to mimic how plants might grow in nature.

Unlike the root over rock style, which can be achieved quickly and easily, the clinging to a rock style requires time. This can be an intimidating style, but it is also very beautiful and can enhance the overall aesthetics of your bonsai.

The slanting style is another of the five primary styles of bonsai. It is less commonly used than the other four, because of its inclining shape. Creating a slanting style that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye is difficult, and it is often a challenge for beginner bonsai hobbyists.


Aesthetics are an important aspect of bonsai cultivation. The Japanese culture of bonsai is known for their extensive catalogues of conventional tree shapes and styles that reflect a variety of aesthetic goals. Many of these characteristics are based on concepts such as Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of wabi sabi, which encourage the creation of trees that are visually balanced and pleasing to the eye.

A key goal in bonsai is to create a balance between the tree’s trunk, branches and pot. This balance is often referred to as “Wa” and is one of the most recognizable characteristics of bonsai art. The Japanese word Wa refers to a feeling of harmony between the tree and the pot and is something that all bonsai enthusiasts strive to achieve when cultivating their art.

Another important aspect of bonsai aesthetics is the avoidance of symmetry in the placement of branches and roots. This is done to encourage the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, which is the idea that beauty can be found in things that are not as perfect as they seem and are not always in their best form.

Dynamic tension also plays an important role in bonsai aesthetics. If a bonsai has a rightward defining branch that sits to the opposite side of the trunk it will appear to be in tension with itself and the viewer will feel an uneasy feeling. The dynamic tension will be exacerbated if the apex of the tree is sitting towards the left and this can give an even more uneasy feeling to the viewer.

Masculine and Feminine Styles in Bonsai

When creating a Masculine looking tree you want to make sure that the trunk and branches are large and heavy looking. Generally the apex of the tree will also be masculine looking and will be slightly over sized. The same goes for the matching Masculine pot that will be large and usually rectangular with sharp edges and corners.

Lastly, a Feminine looking tree will have smaller and lighter branches and the apex will be less rounded and over sized but still proportionally sized to the rest of the tree. The Feminine pot will be smaller and lighter in color and will have a more feminine design and will have smaller openings at the bottom and fewer on top of the apex.


Bonsai trees are cultivated and shaped in a container, creating miniature replicas of real trees. This practice dates back to China 2,000 years ago and was redeveloped in Japan under the influence of Zen Buddhism.

The process of shaping a bonsai tree involves many different techniques. Some are used to promote growth and some to create a pleasing aesthetic. Other methods are designed to control a tree’s movement, such as wireing.

Some techniques, like the air-layering method, are used to propagate a new tree from an existing plant. Grafting is another popular technique, in which branches from a scion are grafted onto a main trunk or rootstock.

Other techniques include pinching, where branches are pushed into each other to produce an even symmetrical shape. This style is most commonly used with deciduous trees, but it can also be applied to conifers.

Another technique is called Shari, which involves ripping bark off a small section of a tree’s trunk. This gives the tree a naturally ‘aged’ look and beautiful color contrasts.

Jin is a similar deadwood technique, which involves removing part of the tree’s trunk to reveal the inner wood. This can also give the tree a unique shape.

This style mimics the effect of trees that are blown over in a storm, with broken branches on the ground and new ones growing vertically from the undamaged trunk. The new branches are then rooted to the old one, forming a bonsai that looks as though it were originally a single tree.

When a tree is wired, the cambium layer on the underside of the trunk is exposed, and roots are encouraged to grow in the cracks. This process is aided by dusting the underside of the tree with rooting powder.

The process is best performed during the growing season, when the tree’s natural healing processes will speed up the new branch position and make the changes less painful. If it is done outside of the growing season, the branches may not heal properly and will take longer to solidify.

The final bonsai shape is determined by the grower’s preferences and the needs of the individual tree. In general, it is best to aim for a balance between form and function. It is also a good idea to consider how a tree’s shape will affect the way it is displayed, especially when it’s placed on display in a public place.