bonsai (bōnˈsĪ) [key], art of cultivating dwarf trees. Bonsai, developed by the Japanese more than a thousand years ago, is derived from the Chinese practice of growing miniature plants. In bonsai cultivation, woody plants are kept small and in true proportion to their natural models by growing them in small containers, feeding and watering them only enough for healthy growth, pruning, and training branches in the desired shape by the application of wire coils; the term bonsai also refers to the plants dwarfed by this method. Weathered trees in harsh climates serve as natural models for aged-looking, gnarled, bent, and overhanging miniature trees. The selection of containers, the position of the plant in the container, and the choice of single plants or plant groupings are important aesthetic considerations. In Japan, various native evergreens, i.e., junipers, spruces, and pines, as well as many flowering deciduous trees, are cultivated; in America many native species have been found suitable. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City houses an extensive bonsai collection.
See Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Handbook on Dwarfed Potted Trees: The Bonsai of Japan (1974).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.