The Art of Bonsai: Beautiful, but is it Brutal?


The Japanese word “bonsai” can be literally translated into “planted in a container.” Its long history stretches back over a thousand years and takes root in the ancient Chinese horticulture tradition called penjing.

Aspects of this art form were later reshaped in the light of Japanese Zen Buddhism, creating a new aesthetically refined piece with deep levels of life teachings.

Although being a passion that calls for a great deal of time and dedication, the art of bonsai has been growing in popularity ever since its debut.

What’s so special about them?

You don’t just look at the price of bonsai trees and consider them as anything exceptional or different from any others.

A bonsai tree, while beautiful, isn’t as extraordinary as many may think. Bonsai trees are neither a rare plant species, a unique cultivar, nor genetically modified dwarf trees.

The truth is, bonsai are just regular trees, and any tree can be made into a bonsai.

They are the same as those found in nature everywhere: pine, maple, oak, juniper, cedar, hazel, and birch… 

bonsai tree

For years or even decades, dedicated culturists have carefully curated, researched, sculpted, trimmed, watered, fed, carved, and passionately nurtured these bonsai.

They have received this kind of loving care and attention basically every day of their lives. Some are hundreds of years old and have been passed down through generations of bonsai caregivers.

The goal of bonsai is to use these methods to create a miniature tree that is a faithful reflection of nature in all its glory.

Is it a form of torture?

For a while, there had been huge misconceptions regarding the techniques required to shape these miniature trees.

Many view bonsai as a form of torture as we are interfering with the plant’s natural cycle and, more specifically, restricting the plant’s natural growth.

Bonsai, however, is not in any way a kind of torture.

While most plants that are considered “tortured” are actually the result of severe neglect or inadequate care, bonsai plants are entirely the opposite. 

bonsai plant

Bonsai demands daily maintenance, seasonal care with strict protocols, and considerable passion and patience.

In fact, bonsai trees often receive exceptional horticultural care along with meticulous trimming and pruning. Creating bonsai artwork is much like having a deep and meaningful conversation with the tree, in which the caretaker pays close attention to the tree’s needs and gives it what it asks for.

Its curator then gives suggestions for the tree’s growth, and the tree either accepts or shows an alternative way.

So, it’s clear that the bonsai tree’s modest size results from meticulous shaping and trimming of the roots and branches (a common practice for most gardeners) rather than any deliberate attempt to restrict the tree’s growth.

And, since they are more manageable and protected from environmental stresses, bonsai trees thrive better and outlive their full-sized friends.

Though trees can’t talk, they have unique ways of conveying their needs and reflecting their conditions. They wouldn’t look so happy if they were in excruciating pain, don’t you think?

Little (no pun intended) do we know about bonsai.

Bonsai trees are works of beauty, a fusion of nature and art.

They not only help people learn about botany science but also provide inner peace to their culturists and aesthetic appeal to their surroundings.

Each bonsai has its own personality and will to flourish in its own unique way. They are silent companions that are always willing to collab with the bonsai culturists, opening the door to the creation of amazing living art.

Thus, cultivating your Bonsai masterpiece might eventually inspire your inner artist.

beautiful scenery

Not only that, but as time passes, you’ll come to appreciate a more profound and meaningful life lesson buried within the ancient art of bonsai.

During bonsai practice, especially for beginners, there will inevitably be times when the tree is subjected to stress or mild shock.

However, despite its many scars and wounds, a bonsai tree will still flourish and blossom even more. In the same way that trees will continue to steadily grow in nature despite their harsh environment.

Not only is this encouraging, especially if you’re just starting out in bonsai art, but it’s also another valuable lesson: it’s the beauty of imperfections that makes us distinctive and unique. And perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of caring for bonsai trees is that they offer regular personal growth and development opportunities.

Another profound lesson you may learn from a bonsai tree is that your character is created during your entire existence, including how you respond to setbacks and challenges along the fragile journey we call life.

lake and trees

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