Formal Upright and Informal Upright Styles

Gardening is generally a very personal hobby. Gardeners choose plant varieties and plant them in manners that suit their preference and taste. Tree and flower planting has become a form of self-expression for many people.

Bonsai enthusiasts have also been very adventurous and creative in pruning and shaping their plants. Bonsai trees are woody plants, making them perfect candidates when it comes to shaping and pruning.

Although there are no hard and fast rules as to how you should shape your bonsai, the Japanese (who have refined the art of planting bonsais) has developed several forms for “classical” bonsai styles. They are namely the formal upright, informal upright, slanting, and cascading styles. These styles are widely used by bonsai fans all over the world and serve as judging categories in bonsai exhibitions and competitions.

In this article, we shall explore two of the most common bonsai shapes; the formal and informal upright styles.

Formal Upright Style Bonsai

Bald Cypress Bonsai Tree
Bald Cypress Bonsai by Ragesoss [CC BY-SA 3.0]
A bonsai plant with a formal upright style (or Chokkan in Japanese) has a perfectly straight trunk with horizontal branches that tapers off at the tip (very much like a Christmas tree). The horizontal branch nearest to the base of the plant is the longest, with the length of the branches becoming shorter as they reach the top. Naturally conical plants like Pines, Junipers and Spruces are most well suited for this style.

This shape is deceivingly simple as it is quite challenging to achieve. Each of the branches must be shaped and pruned to specific configurations. The branches should only make up two third of the trunks height. One third (from the base) of the trunk must be visible when viewed from the front.

The first branch from the bottom is the longest and should be pruned to grow towards the left/right side of the pot. Ideally, the first branch should be at about a 90-degrees angle with the trunk of the plant. The length should be approximately one third of the height of the tree.

The second branch from the base is slightly shorter and grown towards the opposite direction of the first branch.

The third branch is higher and shorter than the second. It is grown towards the back to give a sense of depth.

This pattern is repeated all the way to the top. There should never be two horizontal branches at any one height.

Informal Upright Style Bonsai

Blue Atlas Cedar Bonsai Tree
Blue Atlas Cedar by Ragesoss [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Another popular form of bonsai style is the informal upright style (moyogi).

Here, the trunk of the bonsai bends to the right/left before returning to its original axis. Like the formal upright style, the longest branches are found at the bottom, tapering off as they reach the top.

The strict rules as to the branch configuration in formal upright styles do not apply here.

In informal up right styles, the branches on the tree should at least vaguely resemble a conical shape. Despite the curve of the trunk, the tip of the tree should grow till it reaches the same axis as the base of the tree. The curve and branches of the bonsai tree should never be pointed towards the viewer from the front.

This is one of my personal favorite styles, as it seems more natural compared to the formal upright style.

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