Bonsai is an art form that stems from ancient Asian cultures. Bonsai is now known as a horticultural art in which trees are used in pots and shaped to mimic their natural counterparts in miniature replicas. The word "bonsai" literally means "a tree in a pot." A wide variety of trees can be used to create bonsai specimen. However, some trees are better suited for the stunted life. According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, plants chosen for bonsai should have small leaves, attractive bark and a mature-looking trunk.
Boxwoods are a favorite amongst landscape gardeners. However, they are also an easy and effective bonsai specimen for beginners, adaptable to a variety of soil and lighting conditions. According to North Carolina State University the smallest boxwood variety, Buxus microphylla, grows to approximately 1 foot tall, with leaves that are ½ inch long and ¼ inch wide. These are attractive qualities for a bonsai specimen.
Elm trees tolerate a variety of extreme conditions. The most common form of elm tree available is the American elm. However, the Chinese elm, or Ulmus parvifolia, is the best specimen for bonsai because the leaves are less than 2 inches in length. In addition it has a showy trunk. Chinese elm will grow in a variety of environmental conditions. However, they prefer moist, well-drained, fertile soil.
Azaleas are a well-known species of landscaping plants. These shrubs feature an abundance of flowers as well as leaf sizes and textures. The most common Azalea variety for bonsais is Satsuki azalea. This evergreen shrub grows in the wild up to 6 feet tall. However, as a bonsai, Satsuki is a rewarding choice for beginners because they produce small multi-colored flowers. Satsuki azaleas prefer filtered sun and moist soil conditions.
English Ivy, Hedera sp., is a well known houseplant and groundcover. The hardy evergreen vine is easy to care for and train into topiary or bonsai shapes. Bonsais are not traditionally cultivated from vine plants. However, with training and proper care, English Ivy will develop a thick woody base that is attractive as a bonsai specimen. This plant will tolerate almost all growing conditions but prefers cool and moist environments.