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  HOME AND GARDEN Far East Bonsai  

Bonsai-The art of Japan

A 300-year-old maple leaf bonsai tree.

The sculpted trunk and branches of the Japanese bonsai plants immediately capture one's eye; this is no typical potted plant. Similar to other types of art, the origin of bonsai was thought to have taken root in China and then transferred to Japan during the middle of the Heian period (794-1185). When the plant reached the Japanese island, however, regional gardening techniques influenced the development of bonsai in Japan, distinguishing it from the Chinese variety.

The term derived for this artistic practice became known as "bonsai" meaning "cultivation in a pot". The goal of bonsai is to create a plant, small in size, that would suggest a larger natural scene. The majority of cultivation techniques for bonsai were developed in the Endo period (1603-1868). These techniques are used by bonsai artists to shape the tree's branches and trunk. A variety of different trees are used for bonsai, including Japanese black pines, Japanese cedars, Japanese maples, and Japanese white pines. A bonsai also depends upon repotting for its survival. Some trees are repotted every two to three years, to ensure that old, dead roots are removed and the roots will be able to absorb air, water, and fertilizer more easily. If properly cared for, bonsai trees can live many years. Examples exist today of bonsai almost five hundred years old.

White pine bonsai.

Bonsai is viewed according to a predetermined criteria of beauty. One important quality is root spread, or the amount the roots of a bonsai appear above the earth. Bonsai trees usually do not attain a good root spread until they are much older. Another factor is the "rise" of the trunk. The "rise" is the way the tree rises off its base and also the shape of the base. The last important element is the arrangement of the bonsai's branches.

A great number of trunk and planting styles appear within the art of bonsai. The most basic of these forms is the straight trunk style. Other varieties include the curved-trunk, triple-trunk, Literati style (a simple unsophisticated style), "windswept" style, "raised roots" style, and cascade style (where bonsai grows outside and below the rim of the pot). The variety and complexity of bonsai underscores its position as a truely unique art form.




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