Bonsai Society
of Miami

Miami, Florida USA

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Bonsai Styles

Bonsai, as a Japanese form, is more regulated than it's Chinese counterpart, the penjing. Bonsai attempts to achieve the ideal tree, while penjing attempts to reproduce nature. This is why 
perfect styling exists in bonsai if you obey the "rules", while penjing leaves you free 
to your creation. As a result these are basic styles.

Formal Upright
( Chokkan )

The formal upright style is a very common
form of Bonsai. This style occurs often in nature, especially when the tree is exposed
to lots of light and doesn’t face the problem
of competing trees. For this style, tapering
of the upright-growing trunk must be clearly visible. 
The trunk must therefore be thicker at the bottom 
and must grow increasingly thinner with the height. 
At about 1/4 of the total length of the trunk, branching should begin. The top of the tree should be formed by a single branch; the trunk should not
span the entire height of the tree.
Informal Upright
( Moyogi )

The informal upright style is common in both nature and in the art of Bonsai. The trunk grows upright in the shape of a letter ‘S’ and at every turn branching occurs. Tapering of the trunk must be clearly visible, with the base of the trunk thicker than the higher portions.

( Chakkan )

As a result of the wind blowing in one dominant direction or when a tree is in the shadow and must bend toward the sun, the tree will lean in one direction. With Bonsai, the leaning style must grow at an angle of 60 - 80 degrees relative to the ground. The roots are well developed on one side to keep the tree standing. On the side toward which the tree is leaning, the roots are clearly not as
well developed. The first branch grows opposite the direction of the tree is leaning, in order to balance the tree. The trunk can be slightly bent or completely straight, but still be thicker at the 
bottom than at the top.

( Han-Kengai )

The semi-cascade style, just like the cascade style, is found in nature on cliff and on the banks of rivers and lakes. The trunk grows upright for a small distance and then bends downward. Unlike the cascade style, the semi-cascade trunk will never grow below the bottom of the pot. The crown is usually above the rim of the pot while subsequent branching occurs below the rim.

( Kengai )

A tree living in the nature on a steep cliff can bend downward as a result of several factors, like snow or falling rocks, for example. These factors cause the tree to grow downward. With Bonsai it can be difficult to maintain a downward-growing tree because the direction of growth opposes the tree’s natural tendency to grow upright. Cascade Bonsai are planted in tall pots. The tree should grow upright for a small distance but then bend downward. The crown of the tree usually grows above the rim of the pot, but the subsequent branches alternate left and right on the outermost curves of the S-shaped trunk. These branches should grow out horizontally in order to maintain
the balance of the tree

( Bujingi )

The literati style is the prime example of trees 
that must struggle to survive. In nature this
style of tree grows in areas densely populated by many other trees and competition is so fierce that the tree can only survive by growing taller then all others around it. The trunk grows crookedly upward and is completely without branching because the sun only hits the top of the tree. To make sure that it looks even tougher, some branches are “Jinned” (without bark). When the bark has been removed from one side of the trunk, the trunk is referred to as a “Shari”. The idea is to demonstrate that the tree really has to struggle to survive. These trees are normally placed in small, round pots.

( Fukinagashi )

The windswept style is also a good example
of trees that must struggle to survive. All the branches and also the trunk grow to one side as though the wind has been blowing the tree constantly in one direction. The branches
grow out on all sides of the trunk but will all eventually be bent to one side.

Double Trunk
( Sokan )

The double trunk style is common in nature, but 
is not actually that common in the art of Bonsai. Usually both trunks will grow out of
one root system, but it is also possible that the smaller trunk grows out of the larger trunk just above the ground. The two trunks will vary in 
both thickness and length, the thicker and
more developed trunk grows nearly upright, while the smaller trunk will grow out a bit slanted. Both trunks will contribute to a single crown of leaves.

( Kabudachi )

In theory the multi trunk style is the same as the double trunk style, but with 3 or more trunks. All the trunks grow out of one root system, and it truly is one single tree. All the trunks form one crown of leaves, in which the thickest and most developed trunk forms the top. It is preferred, by Japanese bonsai, to have an odd number of trunks.

Forest / Group
( Yose-Ue )

The forest style looks a lot like the multi-trunk style, but the difference is that it is comprised of several trees rather than one tree with several trunks. The most developed trees are planted in the middle of a large and shallow pot. On the sides of the pot a few smaller trees are planted to contribute to one single crown. The trees are planted not in a straight line but in a staggered pattern, because this way the forest looks natural

Roots over Rock
( Seki-Joju )

On rocky terrain, trees must search for good soil with their roots, and good soil is often found in cracks and holes. The roots are naked and unprotected before they reach the ground so they must be protect themselves from the sun: a special bark grows around them. With Bonsai the roots grow over a rock into the pot, so caring for this tree isn’t really different from caring for any other style. The tree over the rock can also have a style of 
its own, although the broom style for example looks unnatural.

Growing in a Rock
( Ishisuki )

In this style the roots of the tree are growing in the cracks and holes of the rock. This means that there is just not much room for the roots to develop and take up nutrients. Trees which grow in rocks will never look really healthy, thus it should be visible that the tree has to struggle to survive. It is important to fertilize and water this style often, because there is not much space available to store water and nutrients. The rock in which the Bonsai grows is often placed in a very shallow dish, which is sometimes filled with water of very fine stones.

( Ikadabuki )

Sometimes a cracked tree can survive by pointing its branches upward. The old root system is then just capable of providing the branches with enough nutrients. After a while new roots start growing out of the side of the fallen tree, and these roots will eventually take over the function of the old root system. The old branches which now point into the air develop as a result of this increasing influx of nutrients: The raft style has been created! The new trunks form one single crown of leaves; just like the Yose-Ue style. The difference between the Yose-Ue style and the Ikadabuki styles lies in the fact that in the Ikadabuki style it is clearly visible that the new trunks emerge from the older, fallen trunk.

( Sharimiki )

As time passes, some trees develop bald or barkless places on their trunks as a result of harsh weather conditions. The barkless portion usually begins at the place where the roots emerge from the ground, and grows increasingly thinner as it travels up the trunk. Intense sunlight can bleach these parts, forming a very characteristic portion of the tree. With Bonsai the bark is removed with a very sharp knife and the barkless spot is treated with calcium sulfate in order to expedite the bleaching process.

( Hokidachi )

The broom style is suited for deciduous trees with extensive, fine branching. The trunk is straight and upright and does not continue to the top of the tree; it branches out in all directions about 1/3 of the way up the entire height of the tree. In this manner the branches and leaves form a ball-shaped crown which can also be very beautiful during the winter months.



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