Symbolism of Bonsai Trees


Through bonsai, the centuries-old Japanese art of miniature gardening, gardeners prune their small trees to symbolize a full-size tree flourishing in the wild. By careful shaping and training over years, a bonsai gardener turns tiny trees into portraits of a natural ideal.

Upright Bonsai

The chokkan, or upright style of bonsai tree, is trained to grow with a straight trunk and outspread branches, symbolizing a lone tree growing in a field. Good varieties for the upright bonsai style include evergreens such as juniper and pine, and deciduous trees such as beech and ginkgo.

Windswept Bonsai

The fukinagashi, or windswept style of bonsai, symbolizes a tree growing on a cliff or a rocky shore, perpetually bent over by strong winds. Bonsai gardeners use pines and junipers to create this effect.

Cascade Bonsai

Kengai, or cascade-style bonsai trees, are trained so that the branches lean to the side and hang lower than the bonsai tray, like a tree hanging far over a cliff. Evergreens and especially junipers are appropriate for this style.

Exposed-Root Bonsai

Exposed-root, or neagari, bonsai trees have roots that raise above the bonsai container, as though the soil around the tree has been washed away by time and rain. Maples and conifers are good choices for this style.

Fun Fact

Bonsai trees, like their full-size counterparts, can live for hundreds of years with proper care and pruning.


  • "The Secret Techniqes of Bonsai: A Guide to Starting, Raising, and Shaping Bonsai"; Masakuni Kawasumi III et. al.; 2006
  • Bonsai Symbolism

Who Can Help

  • The American Bonsai Society
Keywords: bonsai symbolism, bonsai trees, trimming bonsai, growing bonsai, Japanese trees

About this Author

Helene Wecker lives and writes in California's sunny East Bay. Her work has appeared in numerous trade magazines, websites, and newspapers including the Chicago Tribune. A professional writer for 14 years, Helene holds a Master's in Creative Writing from Columbia University.

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