The art of Bonsai exists for over a thousand years and continues to impress today, despite a millennium of changing aesthetics. Derived from the similar Chinese art of penjing, the practice of painstakingly growing miniature flora, trees in particular, in containers has blossomed in Japan for centuries, before becoming one of the country’s most instantly recognizable cultural exports. Associated with an old-world approach to detail and finesse, the bonsai manages to offer a sense of timelessness to a rapidly-changing world, with select individual being hundreds of years old and better-documented histories than most families. Check out these 7 amazing bonsai trees!
1. The Hobbit Hole
A bonsai that comes with its own popular culture reference. While many bonsai already instil a feeling of fantastic and ethereal worlds through their design, this one goes a step forward and enters the territory of high-fantasy imagery, having built in the shade of the miniature tree, the miniature version of an already small hobbit dwelling from The Shire, featured in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
2. The Hiroshima Survivor
This Japanese white pine bonsai has been in training since 1625 and, while almost 400 years of existence is proof of resilience for any organism, this bonsai has even more to its credit, having survived the atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. It is sometimes called “The Hiroshima Survivor” and is on display at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the United States National Arboretum.
3. Bolivian Rainbow Chilli Bonsai
Since expanding beyond Japan’s borders the bonsai has constantly evolved, offering new and eccentric deviation from the traditional idiosyncrasies of the ancient art and one would be hard pressed to find a better example than this bonsai shaped from a Bolivian rainbow chilli shrub, an explosion of colour, shape and, uncharacteristically, taste that both goes against the classic rules of the bonsai and expand them to accommodate a global love of the art.
Considered Japanese-American bonsai master John Naka’s masterpiece and , accordingly, now on display at the United States National Arboretum, “Goshin”, meaning “protector of the spirit”, based on the forest shrine that inspired it, is a complex of eleven foemina junipers, each meant to represent each one of his eleven grandchildren. One of the most recognizable bonsais in the world, work on Goshin began in 1948 and remained under constant care by its creator even decades after donating it to the National bonsai Federation in 1984. At Naka’s death in 2004, a French magazine wrote “John Naka has gone. A whisper of astonishment wanders in between the branches of Goshin.”
5. Chinzan Azalea Forest
A pristine example for the bonsai school that doesn’t focus on individual trees, an entire forest of cypress trees with an undergrowth of Chinzan azaleas and moss springs forth from the stone slab that it inhabits, creating an illusion of wilderness that makes easy to forget the incredible amount of work that goes in such a project.
6. Scots Pine
The Scots Pine is among the most widespread conifers in the world, covering Eurasia’s mountain ranges from Spain to the Chinese East Coast, but even it can be made to look alien and otherworldly when it seems to be a background-floating prop in a science-fiction movie, as it sits nestled into the crater of a crumbled world.
7. Japanese Bonsai
Despite drawing much of its appeal from somewhat of an obsession with order and tidiness, the bonsai is at its most impressive in moments of disorder. Instead of being a perfectly manicured bundle of symmetry, this tree is dominated by the ivory-coloured irregular trunk that stretches out wildly into the air, in shapes that more easily remind of bone, tendons and flames than the highly regular tree bark of most trees.