Bonsai, kudasai!

After the universe deciding that I needed to have a crazy day, two old friends that I haven’t seen in 8+ months randomly decided to show up at my house, unannounced. One of them informed me that she had her child and we discussed how the mom life had changed her life (which was not much, she’s a teacher for young children.) The other friend showed up shortly after and decided to take me to her new house and catch me up on her life.


She informed me that her room mate had a bonsai garden in the back yard and with her permission, I took photos of them all. Once I got home and looked at the photos I had taken, I was prompted to do a little research of my own to try to understand the nature of these gnarled beauties.  (I don’t know the species or age of any of these unique plants, but they sure are amazing looking!)


According to, bonsai can both be a verb (the art of cultivating a dwarf tree) and a noun (a tree pruned/potted so it never reaches its full size), talk about confusing! The art of cultivating these miniature trees was started by the Chinese, who called it pensai. There’s documentation of the art being popular in China as early as the fourth century (301AD –400AD). The art was then spread to Korea; then around the twelfth century, Japan, who changed the word to bonsai, literally translating to pot + cultivated in.


Contrary to what I had always believed, bonsai are not special species of tiny tree. They are ordinary, regular sized trees, like a Japanese Maple, for example, that are grown for up to five years, then placed in a tiny ceramic pot. The branches are pruned and the roots are then trimmed to stunt the trees growth and maintain the trees small size. Also, it is common to see things like bricks, wires, string, and other obstructions used to shape and bend the branches according to the desired design of tree.


The trees, though tiny in statute, are supposed to represent the lives of their larger-scaled friends. Imagine how a hundred year old tree, who has faced many snowy Japanese winters, howling winds, treacherous rainstorms, and days of beating heat would look: bent, curved, curled, leafy, patchy, and overall pretty rough- but that is the point. What I find most interesting about bonsai trees is that the most homely and knotty looking trees are considered the most beautiful.


If you would like to check out more bonsai, check out Bonsai Empire’s top 10 greatest trees, International Bonsai’s Bonsai Gallery, or grow your own using the Plant Theatre Bonsai Trio Kit. (It’s extremely cool because it’s under $20 and comes with 3 different types of trees!) If you do opt for this route, please be sure to submit your photos because I personally am very interested in seeing them!


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