A traditional Asian art
The art of growing miniature trees (penjings) in containers originated in China over 1,700 years ago. It became especially popular during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and made its way to Japan in the 11th century. It is thanks to Japan that growing miniature potted trees (bonsai in Japanese) enjoys such tremendous international popularity.
Why do bonsai stay so small?
Bonsai are ordinary trees, not hereditary dwarfs. These plants sometimes grow quite tall in the wild.
The first bonsai were plants collected in the mountains. They had been dwarfed and shaped over the years by severe weather and their harsh environment.
The bonsai grown by enthusiasts today are deliberately kept small.
Their roots and branches must be pruned repeatedly and new shoots pinched back frequently.
Bonsai are veritable living sculptures – the art of bonsai lies not only in dwarfing these trees, but also in training them into aesthetically pleasing shapes.
Unpruned, azaleas (Rhododendron) are bushy shrubs. The Japanese use azaleas to create magnificent bonsai after years of care, pruning, training and shaping.