Growing a bonsai is both an artistic and a horticultural practice, and the artistic and aesthetic components of this hobby are most seen in the styles used by bonsai growers.
The Importance of Bonsai Styles
At the very basic, the aesthetics of a bonsai plant is easily seen in the styles. The style that a bonsai plant exhibits determines its shape and form. But more than an evidence of the artistry of the bonsai grower, the style is the easiest form of identification of the bonsai plant. In exhibitions, the bonsai specimen is categorized and described using the style.
A bonsai grower working on a pre-bonsai tree is also guided by any determined style manifested by the plant. Besides aesthetics, there are other internal factors to the plant that can affect the resulting bonsai specimen, including the pre-determined shape of the plant or the species. These and any predetermined style when bonsai training began may influence the resulting style of the bonsai specimen.
The Selection of a Bonsai Style
There are various styles that a bonsai can exhibit and it is also common to find a mix of styles used in one plant. For bonsai plants that manifest a mix of styles, the most distinct or prominent style is used to identify the specimen. Furthermore, these styles may be organized based on the following criteria: (a) trunk number and orientation; (b) trunk and bark surface; and (c) root placement (whether roots are found in the soil or over rocks).
The Different Bonsai Styles
There are five basic bonsai styles (first five), and many bonsai growers have added new styles and forms over the years.
- Formal upright style ? also known as Chokkan in Japanese, this style shows a straight trunk directly above the roots. It forms a triangular or circular shape with the thickest leaves at the bottom and tapering to finer ones at the top. There are no branches or leaves near the base. Besides the straight trunk, the branches are also balanced at both sides. The easiest and most basic of bonsai styles, the Chokkan style reflects balance and upward, steady growth. Coniferous plants are best for this kind of style.
- Informal Upright style ? also called Moyogi, this style shows an irregularly-shaped trunk, often forming the letter DzSdz with the tree?s trunk wider at the bottom than at the tip. At every curve of the trunk are the branches. Despite the shape, the tree?s tip is arranged perpendicular to the point where the trunk touches the soil. The curve gives the style an informal shape and also mimics the natural look of trees. This style is most suited to deciduous trees.
- Slanting style ? the Shakan style (Japanese name) follows the direct line of the formal upright style, but the trunk is slanted at an angle (60-80 degrees) from the soil so the overall effect is that the plant is leaning to the left or right side.The first branch from the base of the tree is arranged at the opposite direction to which the plant is leaning, giving the impression of balance. While any tree species are good for this style, coniferous trees are preferred.
- Cascade style ? also called Kengai, this style reflects trees growing down the side of the mountain or by the waterside. The tree grows upright at a certain height and then grows downward, with the branches at the tip falling over the pot. This kind of style is best displayed on a stand or on the edge of a table.
- Semi-cascade style – compared to the Kengai style, the tips of the tree of the Han-Kengai (semi-cascade) style do not fall far below the pot?s bottom although they grow below the level of the soil?s surface. Flowering plants are ideal for this kind of style.
Trunk and Root Orientation
6. Root over rock style ? the Sekijojo, the Japanese term for this style, has the roots of the tree positioned over the rock at the top of the soil. The roots often cover most of the rock?s surface and extend into the soil.
7. Clasped to rock style ? also called clinging to a rock or Ishitsuki in Japanese, this kind of style has the roots of the tree growing out from holes and cracks of a rock so that the tree eventually follows the shape of the rock. In both styles, the rock is placed on a shallow container.