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The Different Types Of Bonsai Trees

Updated on March 6, 2012

Bonsai Tree

Bonsai by markb120
Bonsai by markb120

The Different Types Of Bonsai Trees

The Bonsai Tree is an art form. It began in China around 200 A.D. as a hobby, but quickly spread throughout the Asian mainland as a commercial enterprise. Do the math … Bonsais have been around for about 1,800 years.

Obviously, that’s a long history. And yet, Bonsais continue to grow in popularity, not just in Asia, but everywhere … especially in the United States.

How To Make A Bonsai

What Is A Bonsai?

Bonsais are “dwarf trees.” In fact, by definition, Bonsais are trees or plants that are grown in small trays or containers and developed in a manner different from trees that grow freely and outside of a container. Techniques, such as pruning, cutting and pinching are all used in the nurturing and growth of these “midget trees.” These techniques, used by a skilled horticulturist, can actually manipulate the tree’s growth pattern to produce a fully mature Bonsai tree that is truly magnificent to look at … very aesthetically pleasing.

There is a Japanese term for the art of growing and cultivating Bonsai trees. It is shin-zen-bi, which literally means truth, goodness and beauty. There is also a long-held belief about what it takes to successfully cultivate a Bonsai tree. Very simply, it is this: if you are the one who will grow the Bonsai, you require time and the admirable twin traits of patience and dedication.

It takes work and skill to successfully grow a Bonsai tree. For you – or for anyone – that means it needs to be a labor of love. In short, you have to want to see it as a project that you will stay with until it is completed.

Dancing Bonsai

Huntington Library Japanese Bonsai Garden 144 by DominusVobiscum
Huntington Library Japanese Bonsai Garden 144 by DominusVobiscum

Various Types Of Bonsai

Beautiful Bonsai Types

Many types of plants can be used to develop a Bonsai tree. However, there are six Bonsai tree types, each distinguishable by characteristics not shared by the other trees. The six tree types are as follows …

(1)    The Formal Upright (koten) … this is the most common and basic form of the Bonsai. It grows quickly and easily and, as a result, it is recommended as the tree to grow for Bonsai beginners. While it is certainly possible to make mistakes when growing this tree type, it is easier to nurture than the other Bonsais and it is the one that will grow the fastest. Here is what that means:  if you are a beginner, you can expect to enjoy heartening success on your very first try. When fully matured, The Formal Upright will be a dwarf tree that is somewhat rounded and has a nice balance and form. There are several plant species that are ideally-suited to this type of Bonsai tree. They are:  pine, spruce, juniper and larch.

(2)    The Informal Upright (bunjai) … this form of Bonsai tree is very similar to the more common Formal Upright, with this single, but noteworthy, difference. Its top branch doesn’t extend upright as is the case with the top branch in The Formal Upright. Instead, it simply bends forward, giving the finished tree a decidedly different, but still very interesting, look. The plant species that can be used to grow The Informal Upright are Japanese maple … Trident Maple … and Beech.

(3)    Slant …this member of the Bonsai family of midget trees has a unique look, one that is different from the other Bonsais. The interesting aspect of this tree is that it slants in one direction while its lower branch reaches out in the other direction. Picture it this way: a cartoon stick figure with arms stretched out in both directions. However, this is not a stick figure. It is a unique, attractive and interesting Bonsai tree. If you choose to grow this type of Bonsai, your goal will be clear: you will need to watch its growth closely to make sure that, when fully matured, it looks balanced and not lopsided. Virtually all plant species can be used to grow “the slant.”

(4)    Cascade … this is another very unique variation of the traditional Bonsai. In this manifestation, the tree has a sloping effect that occurs because the trunk grows vertically and then turns allowing the branches to extend below the surface of the tray or container, a result that creates a “cascading effect.” It’s distinctive, unique and very unusual. The best plant species to use for this type of Bonsai are flowering plants, such as jasmine, wisteria and juniper.

(5)    Semi Cascade … this near-twin to the Cascade-style Bonsai is different in only one way: its trunk slopes gradually so that when fully mature, it looks somewhat different from the Cascade. The best plant species to use in growing this tree are willow, jasmine and chrysanthemum.

(6)    Windswept … this may be the most unusual of all of the Bonsai tree variations. It has a unique windblown appearance and looks as if it had just resisted gale-force winds.

Those are the six Bonsai tree types, all related, but all very different. You may wish to grow a Bonsai plant in your home. They prosper indoors and, in general, grow rapidly. Remember: if you haven’t attempted to grow a Bonsai in the past, your best bet for starting is The Formal Upright. It is hardy … grows quickly … and will give you the initial success you crave.

Windswept Bonsai

Bonsai #16 by ortizmj12
Bonsai #16 by ortizmj12

Something To Remember

There is one more thing to know. When you go to your florist to purchase the supplies you will need, make sure you buy the appropriate container for the tree you intend to grow … and the correct plant species. Consult with your florist about daily care techniques, including watering. Learn as much as you can … it isn’t difficult, but it will help you to succeed in growing your Bonsai tree.


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    • profile image

      maple bonsai 

      9 years ago

      I decorated a quiet room in my house around my bonsai tree, but no matter how cute the decorations are, still the bonsai tree is the most pleasing of all.

      Help: Did you wire your bonsai? Just watch the growth of your bonsai tree closely so you will know what might be the problem. You can also research some information about bonsai on the net

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      my sister and i got bonsai trees and i have one that goes over to the side and i don't know what it is called write back

      -help please-


      -thank you-

    • profile image

      bonsai tree 

      10 years ago

      I love the analogy of the bonsai tree and career of course every bonsai tree I have had has never lasted too long but then I am also a contract worker and most of my contracts are short term and small.


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