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The epitome of patience being golden

Statesman News Service |

There&’s this anonymous quip on the net that goes: My wife said I had to give up bonsai or she was going to leave me. God, am I going to miss her. Well, bonsai is a Japanese art form that creates miniature trees grown in containers, and its purpose is primarily contemplation (for the viewer) and a pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity (for the grower). But as much as you might have heard about this practice, most of us are only aware of a few types of bonsai tree, when there are actually hundreds of varieties.

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. And wonders can be created from nearly any perennial woody-stemmed tree or shrub species.

Small trees grown in containers require specialised care. Unlike house plants or other flora used for container gardening, tree species in the wild generally grow roots that are several metres long, as well as root structures encompassing several thousand litres of soil. In contrast, a typical bonsai container is under 25 centimetres at its largest dimension and two to 10 litres in volume.

One of the oldest bonsai trees in history is a Japanese White Pine. It&’s estimated that its birthday was in 1625 — nearly 400 years ago.

Branch and leaf (or needle) growth in these trees are also larger in nature. Wild trees typically grow five metres or taller when mature, whereas the largest bonsai rarely exceeds one metre. Most specimens are significantly smaller. These size differences affect maturation, transpiration, nutrition, pest resistance and many other aspects of tree biology. Maintaining the long-term health of a tree in a container requires some specialised care techniques.

The source specimen is chosen for its relatively small size 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 the few accepted shapes and proportions. From that point forward, its growth is restricted to the size of the pot. 

Bonsai now has a worldwide audience and there are more than 1,200 books on this subject and the related arts in at least 26 languages available in over 90 countries and territories. So if you fancy trying to grow some of these beautiful examples of bonsai art and create something that will last a lifetime, there are many online blogs and videos to walk you through the process. Bonsai is occasionally confused with dwarfing, but they’re actually two different things. While dwarfing refers to the creation of permanent genetic miniatures of existing species, bonsai simply concerns growing small trees from regular stock and seeds. Bonsai also uses cultivation techniques, namely pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation and grafting. These techniques are designed to produce small trees mimicking the shape and style of their full-sized counterparts. What you see here are a great example of how diverse this art form can be.