What Is the Meaning of a Bonsai Tree?

Bonsai can live to be hundreds of years old, if cared for correctly.
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The ancient Asian art form known as bonsai -- the creation of miniaturized trees -- is commonly thought to be a Japanese cultural phenomenon. Yet the concept of bonsai -- which translates literally to "plant tray" -- originated more than 1,000 years ago in China, where it is called penjing, or "pot landscape." The Japanese adapted this living art some time after the Chinese and named it bonsai.

1 Meaning of Bonsai

Bonsai refers to any tree or shrub that has been miniaturized by careful pruning and tying of branches. Bonsai is not a species of tree but an art form that reflects the connectedness of life and a respect for the beauty of nature. These tiny trees, displayed in ceramic containers their artists choose especially for them, mimic the mature trees found in nature. The shape of the bonsai is as meaningful as its size. Different shapes have different meanings: "Formal upright" means tranquil and strong; "informal upright" – a curved trunk -- means steadiness through change; "slanting" – an angled trunk – means stable under stress; "semi-cascade" – a trunk that bends horizontally -- means staying strong in a time of hardship and "cascade" – trunk curving down, with branches below the container -- means change through challenges.

Betsy Beacom is a writer and editor with experience in education, marketing, Internet content, social media, the performing and visual arts, literature and more. She holds bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in literature, has taught English at Yale University and has more than 20 years' experience writing and editing.