History of Bonsai Trees

Bonsai are dwarf trees planted in a pot or flowerpot. They are normal saplings, which have a tiny size through millenary techniques, even with their small fruits. We explain what it is, the history of bonsai, and much more.

What is Bonsai Tree

The bonsai is a growing art consisting of plants and trees, reducing or miniaturizing its size using pruning techniques, transplants, nipping, wiring, etc.

Its shape is artificially modeled to recreate a scene of a natural passage in a pot, pot, or tray with soil.

The final purpose of bonsai is to build a miniature representation of a scene that we can find in nature, in this case, a tree.

The incredible beauty of these natural representations varies depending on the care and dedication that the grower applies. Although, naturally, the smaller the size of the tree, the more respectable it is.

Contrary to what many people think, bonsai is not a genetically dwarf type of tree. Absolutely any species or type of tree can be miniaturized using bonsai art systems.

This discipline comes from an ancient horticultural custom from ancient China that later developed over hundreds of years under the influence of Japanese Buddhism.

The Etymology of The Word Bonsai

Bonsai is a word that has its origin in the Japanese language and means “cultivated tray.” It comes from bon  = “tray” and  sai  = “to cultivate”. However, it came from the Chinese word penzai, which means:  pen  = “tray” and Zai  = “to cultivate or plant.”

Although bonsai is initially a Chinese experience, the word is Japanese, whose language is equivalent to “planted tray” or “cultivated tray.”

History of Bonsai Tree in China

The origin of bonsai is found in ancient China. More than two thousand three hundred years ago, the Chinese emperors of the Qin Dynasty cultivated for their recreation some “dwarfed” trees that they called pun sai or pun-sai.

At first, the phenomenon was not manipulated by man. Then, however, the trees did not reach their natural development due to situations and conditions of the terrain, the climate, the irrigation, or the type of soil.

Imperial gardeners dedicated themselves to replanting these plant phenomena in decorated pots to serve as recreation for their lord and reproduce miniature landscapes.

It was a delicate and exquisite art but difficult, requiring great patience and great powers of observation.

The cultivation of the bonsai became a complex art in the seventh century. During the Tang Dynasty, which lasted until the 10th, its technique reached splendor. Although its cultivation was reserved for a long time for the nobility, it became widespread in China from the end of the 16th century.

History of Bonsai Tree in Japan

It arrived in Japan not before the 12th century, where the technique of “dwarfing” reached its most significant development. Then, for the first time, copies of five centimeters high and a century-old were obtained.

The perfection of their techniques allowed the creation of dwarf forests where hundreds of tree species reproduced.

The historical news allusive to these dwarf trees is scarce. However, during the Japanese period of the Kamakura, from the end of the twelfth to the middle of the fourteenth, the Chinese Zen sect spread throughout Japan, influencing their ideals of life and their art.

They brought the bonsai. There is a Japanese manuscript painted by the master Takakane Takashina, the Kasugagongengengi  (1309). He gives details and advice alluding to growing a bonsai to survive its owner in many years.

They were planted in all kinds of pots and pots made of wood or clay and even in decorated trays that reproduced the arboreal flora.

It also talks about the relationship between the orchard or garden where bonsai are grown and the inner life of the gardener.

The bonsai garden was connoted a mystical feeling that aspired to provide inner peace pledge of transcendental meditation. It was an art, a technique, and a way of life, all colored by noble aspirations, alien to materialism, bordering on divinity.

By the seventeenth century, Japan was already detached from its Chinese past in terms of bonsai technique and philosophy. However, during the Tokugawa period, it symbolized Japanese thought, and its presence in the decorative arts began to be massive.

Drawings, sketches, carved wood, bonsai were reproduced everywhere as an ornamental motif. It was a critical piece in the delicate Japanese poetry of haikus and was in tea ceremonies and floral groups’ arrangements.

The deep peace, the hidden beauty of lines and shapes that his presence inspired, made him an expression of supreme beauty and subtle aesthetics.

They delicately symbolized the deciduous world of what slowly dies, as manifested by the reproduction of the four seasons on the trays in which these dwarf trees identical to their natural species were presented.

After the fall of feudalism in 1860, a political system dominated by the Japanese nobility, its cultivation technique came to public knowledge.

History of Bonsai in The West

It arrived in Europe in 1870, but without capturing its philosophy and religious ramifications, the mystical aspirations behind bonsai.

They only saw miniature trees, simple dwarf plants that served as a topic of conversation at the table due to their exoticism and uniqueness. At first, they were used as centrepiece’s it was a curiosity.

The snobs or moderns took to it as a symbol of distinction and curious knowledge: it was necessary to become familiar with miniature trees to be fashionable.

After World War II, Europeans realized that it was much more than entertainment and part of the most deeply rooted oriental spirit.

Europe began to be filled with bonsai, and their technique became a subject of study for the departments and faculties of Botany.

The passion for bonsai took hold of Europe and the United States, where the collections of these ‘dwarfed’ trees were multiplying; also the exhibitions. The most distinguished and exclusive botanical gardens and horticultural observatories paid attention to it.

As a curiosity, in Spain, the interest shown by the former president of the government, Felipe González, towards this technique made the existence of the art and history of bonsai massively known.