Symbolism and Meaning of Bonsai Trees: What Do They Represent?

What is Bonsai?

The word bonsai consists of two words “Bon” which means pot or container and “Sai” which means plants. Though literally, a plant that is raised in a container a bonsai any plant in a pot is not a bonsai. 

A Bonsai is  a miniature form of the large fully grown trees that you find in nature. While growing bonsai its habitat, aesthetics and total structure are given proper attention.

What Do Bonsai Trees Represent?

Bonsai trees represent: 

  • peace, 
  • wealth
  • harmony, 
  • balance. 

They symbolize: 

  • wisdom, 
  • strength,  
  • order of thought etc.

It shows the struggle of a tree against the hostile natural forces. Bonsai also gives us a glimpse of Zen Buddhism and inspires us to make our life clatter free.

Bonsai can be an amazing gift to your near and dear ones. Any variety of bonsai represents something different. There are many varieties of bonsai, each has some aura to it.

Bonsai Symbolises Wealth: 

A bonsai tree is a symbol of wealth. Because of this bonsai is very popular among rich and wealthy peoples. 

People sometimes consider bonsai to be very expensive. But the person who owns one knows the real value of a bonsai

Bonsai is considered a sign of wealth because of the amount of care and attention it receives. Once you understand the amount of work, time and money invested in one bonsai you will be sure to consider it as a wealthy possession.

Bonsai Symbolises Balance and Harmony:

If you watch a bonsai closely you will understand why a bonsai symbolises balance and harmony. A good bonsai perfectly mimics a large fully grown tree in nature physically and morphologically. 

In nature, everything is in perfect harmony. So when you mimic that in a bonsai it has to be consistent. 

The whole bonsai structure has to be in a balanced state to be stable.

Bonsai Symbolises Growth: 

The growth in bonsai is slow but steady. It might not be visible but you are always sure of it. 

A bonsai plant always reminds you to grow in your life every day, no matter how small the growth is.

Bonsai Symbolises Success:

A bonsai also represents success and achievement because making a bonsai is a very time-consuming art. It goes through many failures before achieving the desired result. 

A bonsai will always remind you of all the failed efforts and struggle and gives you the strength and courage to continue in your effort to achieve anything in life.

Bonsai Symbolises Simplicity: 

Simplicity is one of the greatest features of Japanese culture, and it is evident in bonsai too. A bonsai emphasises aesthetics without clattering the plant with unwanted ornaments. The main focus of bonsai is the plant itself.

The key to bonsai is doing all your artwork on the plant itself without sacrificing its simplicity. Even the pots are in a natural tone and without any extravagant color.

The Symbolism of Bonsai Trees According to Their Styles and Types:

The styles and types of bonsai can be endless. It also varies from grower to grower. Here are some of the most common bonsai styles.

Chokkan or Formal Upright Type Bonsai:

This is a very common design for bonsai trees. The common features of a chokkan or formal upright bonsai are:

  • The growing trunk is upright and is clearly visible.
  • The trunk is tapper at the base and grows thinner with the height of the tree.
  • The branches should start after ¼th of the total length from the base.
  • At the top, there will be a single branch.

Moyogi or Informal Upright Type of Bonsai:

This Bonsai style is the most common type of bonsai in nature. Moyogi is also an upright type of bonsai but it has some difference with the chokkan. 

  • The trunk looks somewhat close to the letter “S”. 
  • The tapering should be clearly visible.

Hokidachi or Broom Style Bonsai:

Broom style bonsai or hokidachi is very popular among people. This form is best suited for deciduous trees. 

  • It has many branches in all directions.
  • It is straight and upright.
  • The branches should start at ⅓ of the height of the tree.
  • This style looks best in fall and winter.

Shakan or Slanting Style Bonsai:

Slanting style bonsai represents the effect of blowing wind in a particular direction or the tree has grown in shade and it tries to reach out towards the sun. 

  • The tree grows at an angle of 60 to 80 degrees to the horizon.
  • Shakan also shows a very well developed root system on one side for giving support to the tree.
  • The side where the tree is leaning, the roots are not very developed.
  • The initial branches grow in the opposite direction. 

Kengai or Cascade Style Bonsai :

Cascade style bonsai or Kengai represents the tree that grows in nature on a steep cliff. The style is a difficult one to master because you have to go against the tree’s instinct to go upright.

  • It resembles the effect of falling snow or rocks.
  • They are generally planted in taller pots. 
  • First, the tree will go upwards for a small height and then it bends downwards.
  • The branches go alternatively on the left and right sides. 

Han-Kengai or Semi-Cascade Style Bonsai:

The semi-cascade style is just like the cascade style with a little difference.

  • Like in cascade style the trunk first goes a little upwards and then comes downwards. 
  • But unlike the cascade style, the trunk never goes below the bottom level of the pot.

Bunjingi or Literati Style Bonsai:

  • This bonsai style represents a tree that is born in an area that is densely populated with many other trees.
  • As the competition for the resource are severe these trees very tall before they branch out.
  • They can only receive sunlight if they can beat other trees and go on top of others.
  • These trees also look very tough. 
  • There are no branches at the lower ends of the tree.
  • This form of bonsai symbolises the struggle for existence.

Fukinagashi Or Windswept Style Bonsai:

The characteristics of this bonsai style are

  • The tree grows in one side as a result of the blowing wind.
  • The branches also bend to the side.

Sokan or Double Trunk Style:

Sokan or double trunk style bonsai is not very popular among bonsai artists. The main feature of this type of bonsai is:

  • They have two main trunks.
  • Both the trunk grow out from the main root system.
  • The trunks may not be of the same thickness.
  • Both the trunk will create a single canopy of leaves.
  • The thicker trunk is nearly upright whereas the thinner one grows a bit slanted.

Kabudachi or Multitrunk Style Bonsai: 

  • As the name suggests, this bonsai style will have 3 or more trunks.
  • All the trunks will grow from a single root system.
  • The trunks will have various thicknesses. 

Yose-ue or Forest Type Bonsai: 

  • This looks quite similar to that of multi-trunk style bonsai. But the trees will grow from different trunks. 
  • Many trees that have their individual trunks and all forms a forest-like structure.
  • The best-grown trees are planted in the middle. 
  • The smaller trees are planted on the sides in a particular pattern.

Sekijoju or Bonsai On Rocks: 

  • Bonsai on rocks style mimics a tree that has grown on a rocky area. 
  • The roots grew into the cracks and holes of rocks in search of scarce nutrients.
  • The roots are also covered with special bark to protect themselves against sunlight.
  • They tend to grow around and over the obstacles.
  • In this form of bonsai, you need to take special care for the roots.