Types of Bonsai



Think all bonsai trees are alike? Think again! A bonsai is as unique as a sculpture or a painting. No two bonsai trees are ever alike first, because nature never produces duplicates and second, because a bonsai is a reflection of its grower’s philosophy. A lot of care and thought goes into the growing of different types of bonsai.


Typically, there are five main types of bonsai trees. It might get tricky remembering each one so it pays to associate the types of bonsai with a persona. This tree-person association is a trick I learned over the years, as I grew different types of bonsai.


Formal Upright Bonsai.


Think of this variety as the young hotshot banker. It’s upright, formal, and groomed sleekly and in perfect symmetry to conform to the most rigid of guiding principles. What’s that, you ask? Think trunk that is straight and stout and branches that are conical. This bonsai type is best used as an ornament and for species such as maples, larches, junipers, and pines.


Informal Upright Bonsai.


If the formal upright bonsai is a young hotshot banker at his most business-like form, think of this bonsai type as that very same banker on vacation. This bonsai bends and tilts. In people, bending and lilting are sure signs of relaxation. In bonsai trees, trunk-bending and lilting is a result of a certain species’ tendency to avoid dark areas or strong gales. It’s perfectly normal for an informal upright bonsai to tilt towards the back or side. Bonsais, however, never tilt toward the front.


If you pick the informal upright bonsai over all the other types of bonsai, know that you can work best with maples, conifers, and trees of the ornamental variety.


Slanting Bonsai.


What’s suitable for the informal upright is suitable for the slanting bonsai. Similar to the informal upright, this bonsai tilts. However, the tilting takes place during the tree’s formative years. This tilt is emphasized with wiring to give the trunk a unique, sometimes even funny, form. Who does this type remind me of? A contortionist who can bend like a pretzel this way or that!


Cascading Bonsai.


This type is not called the cascading bonsai for nothing! It was named such because its branch grows sideways instead of upwards. And often, these branches lean so low they look like they are caressing the ground. In sharp and often beautiful contrast, the truck remains slender. Viewed from a distance, this bonsai creates the illusion of water rushing down ravines.


If you want to grow a cascading bonsai, choose species that are strong, stout, and upright.


Semi-cascading Bonsai. This could pass for the cascading bonsai, only the trunk does not bend any lower than the container’s base. Branches have a strongly horizontal orientation. the ideal species for this type are juniper, cedar, and other flowering trees.


Undoubtedly, cultivating any of the types of bonsai trees can be a huge challenge especially to the newbie who isn’t blessed with a green thumb and knows zero about bonsai growing. But with a quick phone call, read, or demonstration, even a bonsai virgin like you can learn not just the different types of bonsai but also how to develop each one from cuttings or young saplings. So go ahead, bonsai. At worst, you will discover what won’t work. At best, you will end up with an art work you can be proud of for years to come.

bonsai collection

A stunning collection of bonsai trees that illustrates the differents styles as decribed above

Slideshow of the bonsai collection at the Weyerhauser gardens located in Federal Way, Washington state.