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Choosing the Right Variety of Bonsai Tree

Before you decide on the kind of bonsai tree you are going to buy and maintain, decide what kind of design you prefer. Many types of trees are used in the art of bonsai, but each one is suitable for a different kind of style. If you try to train the wrong kind of tree into an unsuitable shape, you’ll end up killing the tree or growing an unattractive specimen.

Thankfully, at Down to Earth Living, we know our bonsai inside and out. After all, they’re smaller versions of the types of trees we plant in landscaping the custom water gardens we create.Each of these different styles has a different symbolism, as you can tell simply from looking at the bonsai itself. The straight trunk, for example, is based on the ideal, healthy tree growing in an open field without crowding. The slanting style, on the other hand, is meant to evoke a natural tree that is leaning or toppling because of strong winds, or a storm. The windswept style is meant to evoke thoughts of a tree on a mountain peak, withstanding strong winds, etc.

Types of Bonsai Trees


Some of the information below was developed by Bonsai Empire. Copyright © Bonsai Empire. All Rights Reserved. Special thanks to Bonsai Empire for providing this content on their website.

Straight Trunk or Formal Upright Bonsai “Chokkan” Style

Trees suitable for this style – perhaps the easiest of all styles – are evergreens such as the Japanese white and the Japanese black pine, juniper, and hemlock. On the deciduous side you can try gingko, beech, or r larch.

Curved Trunk or Informal Upright Bonsai “Moyogi” Style

This style is suitable for practically all evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. The most popular include pine, spruce, cherry and azalea.

Slanting Bonsai “Shakkan” Style

As a result of the wind blowing in one dominant direction or when a tree is in the shadow and must bend toward the sun, the tree will lean in one direction. Experts suggest the pines, junipers and larches fit this style well.

Windswept Bonsai “Fukinagashi” Style

The branches as well as the trunk grow to one side as though the wind has been blowing the tree constantly in one direction. Experts suggest pines and junipers for this style.

Cascade Bonsai “Kengai” Style

A tree living in the nature on a steep cliff can bend downward as a result of several factors, like snow or falling rocks. These factors cause the tree to grow downward. With Bonsai it can be difficult to maintain a downward-growing tree because the direction of growth opposes the tree’s natural tendency to grow upright. Cascade Bonsai are planted in tall pots.

Semi-cascade Bonsai “Han-kengai” Style

The semi-cascade style, just like the cascade style, is found in nature on cliffs and on the banks of rivers and lakes. The trunk grows upright for a small distance and then bends downward. Unlike the cascade style, the semi-cascade trunk will never grow below the bottom of the pot. The crown is usually above the rim of the pot while subsequent branching occurs below the rim.

Literati Bonsai “Bunjingi” Style

Traditionally, juniper, spruce and pine are used in this elegant style.

Broom Bonsai “Hokidachi” Style

The broom style is suited for deciduous trees with extensive, fine branching. This bonsai style is best suited to deciduous trees such as ginkgos, Japanese gray-bark elms and Japanese maple.

Double Trunk Bonsai “Sokani” Style

The double trunk style is common in nature, but is not actually that common in the art of Bonsai. Usually both trunks will grow out of one root system, but it is also possible that the smaller trunk grows out of the larger trunk just above the ground.

Multitrunk Bonsai “Kabudachi” Style

In theory the multi trunk style is the same as the double trunk style, but with 3 or more trunks. All the trunks grow out of one root system, and it truly is one single tree.

Forest Bonsai “Yose-ue” Style

The forest style looks a lot like the multi-trunk style, but the difference is that it is comprised of several trees rather than one tree with several trunks. The most developed trees are planted in the middle of a large and shallow pot.

Growing On a Rock Bonsai “Seki-joju” Style

On rocky terrain, trees must search for nurient rich soil with their roots, which can often be found in cracks and holes. The roots are unprotected before they reach the ground so they must protect themselves from the sun: a special bark grows around them.

Growing In a Rock Bonsai “Ishisuki” Style

In this style the roots of the tree are growing in the cracks and holes of the rock. This means that there is not much room for the roots to develop and absorb nutrients. Trees growing in rocks will never look really healthy, thus it should be visible that the tree has to struggle to survive. It is important to fertilize and water this style often, because there is not much space available to store water and nutrients.

Raft Bonsai “Ikadabuki” Style

Sometimes a cracked tree can survive by pointing its branches upward. The old root system can provide the branches with enough nutrients. After a while new roots will start growing, eventually taking over the function of the old root system. The old branches, which now point into the air, develop into trunks with multiple branchings as a result of the increased influx of nutrients.

Shari Bonsai “Sharimiki” Style

As time passes, some trees develop bald or barkless places on their trunks as a result of harsh weather conditions. The barkless portion usually begins at the place where the roots emerge from the ground, and grows increasingly thinner as it continues up the trunk. Intense sunlight will bleach these parts, forming a very characteristic portion of the tree. With Bonsai the bark is removed with a very sharp knife and the barkless spot is treated with calcium sulfate in order to speed up the bleaching process.