Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
For other meanings, see Bonsai (disambigaution)
Bonsai (盆栽, "tray gardening", in Japanese) is the art of growing trees and plants, kept small by being grown in a pot and by the use of skilled pruning, formed to create an aesthetic shape and the illusion of age. The Chinese art of penjing is very similar to and is the precursor of the Japanese art of bonsai.
Sketches of trees grown in pots, apparently used for decorative purposes, occur in Egyptian tombs, dated over 4,000 years old. Subsequently, caravans were known to transport trees in containers of various kinds throughout Asia. The trees were sources of chemicals used medicinally by healers in the caravans and places visited along the way. The modern-day art of bonsai originates from China over two thousand years ago, where it has been called penzai and written in the same Hanzi that gave rise to the Kanji above. It was brought to Japan 700 years ago. Bonsai spread to Korea during the Tang or Song Dynasty (the 7th - 13th century), and is now called Bunjae (분재). The art is still practiced in China today, often under the name of penjing. As the Chinese art is intended for outdoor display the plants tend to be some what larger than seen in Japanese bonsai.
A bonsai is not a genetically dwarfed plant. It is kept small by shaping and root pruning. It is claimed that a properly maintained bonsai can outlive a full size tree of the same species. However, a bonsai needs much care, and an improperly maintained bonsai will probably die.
In the art of bonsai a sense of aesthetics, care, and patience come together. The plant, the shaping and surface of the soil and the selected container come together to express "heaven and earth in one container" as the Japanese cliché has it. Three forces come together in a good bonsai: shin-zen-bi or truth, essence and beauty.
The usual plants used in Japan are varieties of pine, azalea, camellia, maple, beech, bamboo and plum. The plants are grown outdoors and brought in to the tokonoma at special occasions when they most evoke the current season.
The Japanese bonsai are meant to evoke the essential spirit of the plant being used: in all cases they must look natural and never show the intervention of human hands. Chinese penjing may more literally depict images of dragons or even be guided to resemble highly intricate Chinese characters, such as 壽, "longevity", in various styles, but usually cursive.
There are many different styles of bonsai, but some are more common than others. These include formal upright, informal upright, cascade, semi-cascade, raft and literati.
The formal upright is just as the name suggests, and is characterized by a tapering trunk and balanced branches. The informal upright is much like the formal, but may bend and curve slightly, although for aesthetic quality the tree should never bend toward the viewer.
Cascade and semi-cascade are modelled after trees that grow over water or on the sides of mountains. Semi-cascade do not lean as far downward as the cascade style.
Raft style bonsai are those that are planted on their side, and can include many other styles such as sinuous, straight-line, and group planting styles. These all give the illusion of a group of trees, but are actually the branches of a tree planted on its side.
The literati style is the hardest to define, but is seen fairly often. The word literati is used in place of the Japanese bunjin which is a translation of the Chinese word wenjen meaning "scholars practiced in the arts". The literati style is usually characterized by a small number of branches and a contorted trunk. Their style is inspired by the Chinese paintings of pine trees that grew in harsh climates, struggling to reach the light of the sun.
- Bonsai Care Helpful Gardener.
- Bonsaibasics.com for beginners.
- The Internet Bonsai Club.
- Bonsai Club International.
- US National Bonsai Foundation.
- National Bonsai and Penjing Museum - U.S. National Arboretum.
- bonsaiTALK Wiki.
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