Bonsai Plants and Trees: Styles and Traditions
A large part of the art of bonsai consists of imitating nature, by shaping the trees grown in trays to look like those found in the countryside or forest. This is why the most widely used shapes have been given names, which make up an official catalogue of some of the characteristic forms from which the bonsai enthusiast can choose. The tree must conform to the type chosen, the whole art consisting of cutting,and wiring the plant to the chosen shape. These ‘official’ shapes, the formation of which will be described. All originate from Japan.
To obtain these characteristic shapes requires a degree of skill, adaptable material, and above all, a great deal of patience. For a tree, unlike a man, has eternity before it – particularly when it benefits from careful tending.
The following are single trees with one trunk grown in containers.
CHOKKAN: this is an upright tree, which has a vertical trunk and progressively smaller branches. The branches are arranged symmetrically, forming the pyramidal shape which is characteristic of the giant conifers.
MO YOGI: an almost upright tree, with spiral development of the trunk, which decreases towards the crown.
SHAKAN: a tree whose single trunk leans sharply to the right or left. Its branches are fairly uniformly arranged, and are positioned on opposite sides of the trunk.
BAN KAN: a tree whose trunk is curved and twisted and even, in some cases, really knotted.
HAN-KENGAI: a ‘semi-cascading’ form, characteristic of plants whose branches grow out of one side of the trunk, while not really weeping. This shape is frequently associated with the Shakan style.
KENGAI: a cascading tree, with a strongly bent trunk, whose branches hang right over the container.
FUKINAGASHI: a form also described as ‘windblown’. The trunk leans to a greater or lesser extent and the branches all face the same direction (the same way the trunk leans), as if battered by the wind.
HOKIDACHI: an upright tree, whose branches begin to sprout out at a certain height, giving it its characteristic, broom-like appearance. The elm is particularly suited to this very symmetrical shape.
BUNJINGI: a ‘literati’ form of tree, imitating calligraphy. An elegant form with a slightly slanting trunk, whose branches and foliage develop only at the crown.
ISHITZUKI: a very specific form for plants grown on or in the crevices of rock-like stones or boulders. A ‘rock-dweller’, this is a very effective form, some plants developing a spectacular arrangement of knotty aerial roots.
Trees with several trunks
These are literally trees which have several trunks growing from a single root. The following are examples.
SOKAN: the simplest form, a double trunk growing from a forked base.
SANKAN: not two, but three trunks growing out of one stock.
In these two cases, the size of the trunks growing out of the base should not be identical. In the Sokan style one of the trunks is thicker than the other: this is the ‘father’, the other trunk being the ‘son’. In the Sankan style two trunks are larger than the other, and these are the ‘mother” and ‘father’, with the smaller trunk the ‘son’.
KADUSHI: a series of trunks with multiple branches growing from a single root, branched like the types described above, but usually with an odd number of trunks.
IKADA BUKI: a variation of the above known as ‘raft’ bonsai, but with the trunk lying just below the surface of theand the branches, which rise vertically, giving the illusion of a group of trees planted side by side.
NETSURANARI: this is a spreading. ‘rambling” shape, obtained by growing various trunks from a single, connected root base lying on the surface of the soil, again giving the impression of several trees planted side by side.
Groups of trees or forests
The desire to imitate nature provides the incentive for planting several trees in a container, to form groups of trees that recall a forest.
This effect results from planting several trees of the same species or variety, though often of differing ages and subsequently differing sizes. The way they are arranged can suggest a simple glade or a veritable forest. In the latter case, different trees may be used, with various combinations of evergreens to provide contrast.
The Yose Ue style (two or more trees in one container), uses a flat tray, or flat, moss-covered stone base. The trees making up a forest may, themselves, be different styles of the single or multiple trunk tree just described.
The most popular single trunk shapes to create this effect are the Hokidachi, Fukinagashi, Bunjinki and Ishitsuki bonsai, as well as some multiple trunk forms.
These forests, always spectacular even when the trees are young, are extremely popular today. It should be said that they require special, sometimes very exacting care. Do not imagine that a forest will hide the imperfection of a single tree. . . .
Particular attention should be paid to watering during warm weather, since a number of trees sharing the same container will need a considerable amount.