The bonsai tree first originated in China, a little over one thousand years ago. Pun-Sai was the term that described the practice of growing a single small tree within a potting system. These trees were grown because the warped trunks and branches had images parallel to that of: dragons, birds and other types of known animals. In the late 1800’s, the bonsai was introduced to Japan. Those of Eastern Buddhist religion grew the trees, representing the internal bond between human and nature. The notion was to bring the outside greenery into the monk temples, and close the gap between man and nature. At this time, only monasteries or monk philosophers owned such trees. As the bonsai tree began to grow into more of an art form in the fourteenth century, the ownership broadened to the artist and the elite societies.

These elite Japanese professionals took to growing the trees indoors also, as did the monks. To maintain the bonsai was to reduce the tree down to its essential portions. The idea was that the tree itself was just as sacred as the empty spaces between branches. The minimalist philosophy was very strong in Japan at this point in history.

By the early nineteenth century, artists, and the general public began to deem the surrounding soil and rock formations in a bonsai pot just as important as the tree itself. This miniature landscaping was to replicate that of a natural existence; artistically presenting the bonsai tree in its natural wilderness environment. Ceramicists also took interest in the bonsai, as the pots required for their planting and growth were additionally to be of such artistic background.

In 1921 Norio Kobayashi published the first ever issue of Bonsai magazine. The magazine production consisted of over five hundred issues. The articles described pruning techniques, history and potting strategy. Tree shaping also became very popular for nature hobbyists, after the first year’s publication.

At the end of the 19th century travelers and soldiers to and from Japan took notice of the bonsai, and began purchasing them from small Japanese shops. Exhibitions broke out through London and Paris, presenting the pruned, potted bonsai, as art. The Paris World Exhibition gave the public more of an understanding of these tiny mysteries, raising the purchase demand. The people of Japan capitalized on the highly requested piece of nature, trading them for goods and money. Tree nurseries were formed just to grow and house bonsai trees. By the 1970’s, there were over six hundred bonsai farmers, with over two hundred species of bonsai being sold.

Today the bonsai has reached a significantly diverse audience of: artists, hobbyists, naturists, tree farmers and historians. The tiny trees are sold nationwide, via internet, phone and mail. The cultural background of this tree is now meshed with the pop culture of today. Families have bonsai trees growing in their home offices, while greenhouse owners tend to their outdoor species. The bonsai: a tradition of ages continues to grow popular around the globe.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit

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