If an alien came to Earth and asked you to describe trees, what would you say? What kinds of things about trees stick out to you…besides their branches, of course? In addition to talking about woody trunks and leafy branches, you’d probably talk about how TALL they can be.

But not all trees are tall. In fact, some trees are specifically grown and cultivated in a way to create beautiful, artistic, miniature versions of what would otherwise be large trees.

We call this practice the Japanese art form of bonsai. Bonsai comes from the Japanese words meaning “plantings in tray.” This accurately describes bonsai, which are trees and shrubs grown in small containers.

Some people misunderstand bonsai. Some believe that bonsai are one specific type of tree that only grows in a miniature form. Others believe that bonsai is a general term for any type of miniature tree.

According to Japanese tradition, though, bonsai is a specific art form with its own goals and methods. Bonsai is not meant to produce food or medicine or gardens. Instead, it is focused on the careful growth and shaping of individual trees in a container.

Bonsai has been around hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Picture scrolls from the 1300s have been found that feature bonsai.

Just about any perennial woody tree or shrub that has branches can be used for bonsai. Even though some of these trees or shrubs might usually grow to be quite large, bonsai techniques keep the tree in a miniature form through confinement to a small container.

Trees with small leaves or needles make particularly-good specimens for bonsai. Some of the most popular tree species used for bonsai include needle junipers, firs, birches, pomegranates and Japanese red pines and maples.

Careful and artful pruning is one of the key elements of bonsai. The upper branches must be pruned with care to create a miniature tree with natural beauty. Pruning of the roots is also often necessary to encourage plant health while still restricting growth.

Engaging in the art form of bonsai is much more complicated than growing your average potted flower. Artfully crafting bonsai takes commitment, as well as significant knowledge of the trees involved and an artistic eye for the tree’s natural beauty. The end goal is a miniature tree that expresses the beauty, shape and style of the full-size version of the tree.

Although bonsai comes from Japan, it has grown as an art form all around the world. You may even be able to find bonsai enthusiasts near where you live. Botanical gardens all over the world often feature bonsai exhibits. If you ever get the chance, be sure to check them out. You’ll be amazed by these miniature, living works of art!


42 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (7 votes, avg. 4.86 out of 5)
    • That’s a GREAT question, Caelah! We think they can be any color that taller trees can be, but we’re not positive about that. We’ll both have to WONDER a bit more about colorful bonsai trees! :-)

    • Hi, Faith! You can learn AWESOME things about bonsai trees by exploring today’s Wonder of the Day®! We hope you have FUN in Wonderopolis today! :-)

  1. I think this wonder is cool because I have never heard of them. I think bonsais are cool now that I know about them. This is why I like to go to wonderopolis because I get to learn about new things. Some of the things that I learn about are very funny. My opinion is that wonderopolis is AWESOME!!!!!

    • What a SUPER nice comment you left for us today, Madison! We think it’s GREAT that you love learning new things in Wonderopolis because we do, too! Thank you for being a WONDERful Wonder Friend! :-)

    • We think YOU are an AMAZING Wonder Friend, Madison! Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful comment and thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing what you think tomorrow’s Wonder might be about, Missy! We appreciate all the AWESOME smiley faces, too! :-)

    • Two Wonder Friends who think tomorrow’s Wonder is about skunks…we think that’s WONDERful, Melanie! We can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s Wonder is…we think learning about skunks sounds like (smelly) FUN! :-)

  2. WOW!!!! This was a very interesting Wonder!! I have a botanical garden just 25 minutes from my house, so I’ll have to check out the bonsai exhibit. I LOVE this Wonder!!!!!!!!!!!

    • It’s super cool that you can visit the bonsai tree exhibit at your local botanical garden, Annie! We think that sounds like a WONDERful adventure! Thanks for letting us know you liked this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • We think bonsai trees are really cool, McKenzie! We know it takes a lot of patience and creative vision to craft such beautiful, little trees! They are tiny, living works of art! We think it would be AWESOME to see what the tree could look like in our “mind’s eye,” then be able to work hard over time to bring that vision to life! :-)

    • Those are both SUPER guesses, Annie! We’ll have to wait to see what WONDERful, stinky things we will all be learning about tomorrow…we can’t wait! :-)

    • Thanks for visiting today’s Wonder and asking such a GREAT question, Ivy! LOTS of ideas for future Wonders of the Day® come from the creative minds of Wonder Friends just like YOU! It’s true! You can share the awesome things you WONDER about anytime you want by leaving us a comment or by clicking on the “nominate” link at the top of every page in Wonderopolis and answering the quick questions! :-)

    • Well, we think YOU and your comment are really AWESOME, too, Dill! Thanks for hanging out in Wonderopolis with us today and WONDERing about bonsai trees! :-)

    • We’re glad you thought today’s Wonder about bonsai was COOL, Truckerbuddy! We appreciate your enthusiasm for WONDER! :-)

    • GREAT JOB, Rahul! Thanks for being such a SUPER Wonder Friend and visiting today’s Wonder…we’re glad your guess was correct! :-)

  3. I also agree with Missy on the skunk wonder. You said it was something stinky and skunks are very stinky if you upset them or you get to close to them.

    • You’re right about skunks being stinky if you upset them or get close to them, Caelah! That stinky smell is how they defend themselves from predators! Thanks for sharing that you also think tomorrow’s Wonder will be about skunks! We hope you have a GREAT weekend! :-)

    • Hi, Rey! We’re glad you think tomorrow’s Wonder is about skunks, too! We can’t wait to visit Wonderopolis in the a.m. to see if your guess was correct! :-)

    • Hello, Julia! Thanks so much for leaving us this GREAT comment! Bonsai is a Japanese art form. We think it’s super cool that your aunt gets to visit China a lot, though! There must be so many cool things to WONDER about there! :-)

      To make the smiley faces, you put a colon, a small dash and an ending parenthesis together without any spaces. So, : + – + ) = :-) !

  4. Wonder
    Open to awesome web page
    Doing nice comments
    Open to positive comments
    Posting awesome articles
    Open to new wonders
    Looking for comment that are nice
    Is amazing to visit
    Sends good comments

    • That is one AMAZING acrostic poem, Madison! We think it ROCKS! Thank you for sharing it with everyone in Wonderopolis today, and THANK you for the WONDERful things you said! :-)

    • We think so, too, Firestar! It takes great pruning skills and lots of time and patience to create such a tiny, living work of art! Thank you for visiting this Wonder of the Day® today! :-)

  5. I like bonsai trees. Actually, I like Japan itself. Mostly the samurai (I may do a wonder on them). Back to topic, bonsai trees are great to have if you want (I sure do).

    • WOW, Tyler J, you’ve been doing a great job researching different types of trees and their origins! WAY TO GO! We Wonder what the best part of having a bonsai tree in your backyard would be, in your opinion? We’d love to hear about it! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do you grow bonsai?
  • What does bonsai mean?
  • Do bonsai grow that way naturally?

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Try It Out

Want to grow your own bonsai trees? As you learned today, growing bonsai trees is an art form that takes lots of time and patience. If you’re interested in getting started, though, check out How To Grow and Care for Bonsai Trees online for all sorts of tips and advice.

If you want to start a gardening project that’s easier for a beginner, ask a friend or family member to help you Grow Your Own Indoor Herb Garden. Herb gardens give you the freedom to choose how many and what types of herbs you might want to grow. Not only is it fun to watch your own indoor herb garden grow, but it’s even more satisfying to use those herbs for cooking at home!


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In National Geographic Xpeditions’ If a Tree Falls in the Forest… lesson, children explore the role that forests play in their own lives by listing everyday products made from trees.


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