To put it in a nutshell, bonsai is a miniaturized tree grown from the sapling of a particular tree species. These miniature trees are not genetically engineered nor produced through selective cultivation. When a healthy sapling is planted, it is prevented from growing to its full size through the limitation of space (a small pot) and nutrients.
Although the bonsai trees that you see in the nurseries today are most likely cultivated and miniaturized by people, bonsai trees do grow in the wild. When a tree sapling falls in an area in the forest where there is limited amount of light and soil, it will grow into a mini version of an adult tree. In fact, some of the first bonsai trees were those that were collected from the wild (by the Japanese about 700 years ago).
Many people associate the hobby of planting bonsai tees with Japanese culture. Although the Japanese have greatly refined the art of planting bonsai trees in modern history, the roots of this hobby can be traced back to early Chinese and Egyptian civilizations. The word ‘bonsai’ originates from the word ‘pen zai’ in Chinese, which literally means ‘tray plant’. The word ‘pen zai’ has been trace back to 265AD during the Jin Dynasty in China. This hobby was later developed in other parts Asia, such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
Bonsai trees are very popular in the gardening arena due to its pleasing aesthetics. There is just something wonderful and intriguing about having a living, mini model of a real tree on your desk.
Not all tree species are suitable for miniaturization. There are some tree species that grow huge leaves, even when they are just saplings. Tree species like juniper and maple are examples of some of the more suitable tree species for bonsai cultivation. They produce very small leaves, which create the right visual effects for the purpose miniaturization.
Bonsai trees come in a variety of sizes. The smallest variety can be as small as 3 inches and the biggest may grow up to 4 feet tall. Depending on the variety of bonsai, some can even be kept indoors.
Although bonsai trees do grow in the wild, this does not mean that the bonsai in your garden will grow to its full glory on its own. More likely than not, it will have to a whole lot of pruning, trimming, and shaping to achieve the desired look.
With the right care, bonsai trees can live as long as normal sized adult trees, if not longer. It is not uncommon for Chinese and Japanese families to have bonsai trees that were passed down from many generations.