"If I couldn't remember the names of all the trees, I would have become a physicist."

A bonsai is a tree in a container. Bonsai are trained to present a natural appearance at a small size, often in a Japanese style. The term "bonsai" is both singular and plural.

A bonsai is not a houseplant. While there are some tropical trees that can survive indoors, bonsai are normally kept outdoors and brought inside only for short periods on special occasions. Keeping a bonsai indoors will usually kill it. Keep your bonsai outdoors and water daily in hot weather.

I trained this juniper in the cascade style with guidance from Penny Jensen.

Many different tree species are used for bonsai, especially deciduous and conifer trees. Conifers include pine, juniper, cedar, cypress, and redwood. Deciduous trees include maple, elm, ginkgo, and oak.

Bonsai are kept outdoors on shelves.

Bonsai trees can come from temperate or tropical regions. A tropical tree popular for bonsai is the banyan.

Fruit trees make good bonsai. These include cherry, plum, quince, olive, and pomegranate.

This is a deciduous bonsai, a cork oak forest with 11 trees.

Climate is especially important in caring for bonsai. A tree must be alive to be a bonsai. That's the first rule of bonsai: don't kill it. Failing to water your tree will cause its death. Rain is the best source of water for bonsai, but people live in places where it may not rain frequently, so they must water several times a week, even daily in hot and dry climates. Growing bonsai will give one an added appreciation for the seasons and the weather .

This is a California Juniper collected in 1992 from the high desert and styled by Harry Hirao.

This is another shot of the same tree with me posing beside it (photo taken December 28, 1995).

Knowledge of Bonsai is really about looking at trees. The most important feature of a tree is its root structure. A tree should not just disappear into the ground like a telephone pole. It should flair out and show the roots radiating from the trunk. This gives an appearance of age and stability. The next thing one should see in a tree is the trunk. The trunk should be thick at the base and taper continuously to its apex.

A seven-tree Japanese black pine forest by Jim Tatsukawa.

Every bonsai has a front. The tree should be viewed from the front with the eye-level at a point about two-thirds of the height of the tree.

This is a juniper informal upright style. Guidance by Leila Kusume.

A bonsai should have a prime number of trunks.

This is a a triple trunk juniper given to me as a graduation present by Bill Johnson.

Exposed dead wood on a tree is called "jin." Jin gives a tree a rugged, weathered appearance.

This juniper has a great amount of jin on the right side. Guidance by Jim Tatsukawa.

Trees exposed to strong wind develop a windswept style.

This is windswept juniper. Guidance by Leila Kusume.

I have prepared a bonsai demonstration to show how a partially trained tree is pruned, wired, and potted in a bonsai pot.

Image by Jim Gray.

Richard dot J dot Wagner at gmail dot com

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Updated April 8, 2002.