The bonsai is not a species but a practice. Almost all species can be bonsai.
Credit: Norio Nakayama
A print showing women with blossoming bonsai trees
Size, appearance, shape, number of trunk, there are many criteria to qualify a beautiful bonsai.
Bonsai are not necessarily dwarf trees.
Small is beautiful
In 2014, the centenary of the first bonsai exhibition was celebrated in Tokyo. A 1500 year old practice is now considered inseparable from the Japanese aesthetic.
By definition, a bonsai is a potted tree. It originated in Egypt, but it was the Chinese who added aesthetics to it during the Han Dynasty (206-220). The idea of bonsai recreates a miniature natural landscape in a pot.
Adopted by Buddhist monks, the practice was introduced to Japan during the Heian period (794 - 1185), a time of development of religion in the archipelago. The Zen spirit and Taoist purify and refine the practice in the spirit of simple beauty. This link between spirituality and aesthetics give wabi-sabi, an idea that combines harmony and the beauty of imperfection.
A popular practice
The art of bonsai had long been reserved for nobility and clergy, yet this practice became more popular in the fourteenth century. There were stories and objects in Noh theater that referred to these growing potted trees. They were raised to the rank of works of art, and their achievement is codified from the Meiji era to become the bonsai as we know today. Despite its popularity, this practice was truly considered an art in 1934.
Maintaining a bonsai is like following the path of Zen. This requires daily effort. Leaves should be sprayed every day, branches cut smoothly, the right substrate chosen, and bonsai should be repotted every 2-3 years to cut the roots. Contrary to popular belief, almost all trees can be bonsai. Some, such as ficus, privet or tea trees are easy to care for indoors. Others thrive best outdoors, like maple, azalea or oak.
The main criterion for beauty and classification of bonsai is its shape. According to the appearance, position, tilt of the trunk and the branches, the presence of a stone or other trees, there are twenty different styles.
Panorama styles by bonsai Bonsai Empire.
Beyond the form, a bonsai can also be characterized by its size.
- Mame and Shohin: trees can be held in one's hand and are 23 cm high, the most difficult type and require the most attention.
- Shushin, Kotate-mochi and Komono: these need two hands to hold, and are 16cm to 60cm in height, the most popular among fans.
- Omoño: these bonsai need two people to hold, and can measure between 60cm and 1.40m, once a symbol of power and wealth.