15 bonsai styles and shapes that will inspire you

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15 bonsai styles and shapes that will inspire you

Bonsai styles and shapes have changed over the years. As the bonsai artist ages with the tree, so too does the shape of the bonsai tree.

Many bonsai styles lean into a tree’s natural design while also mimicking harsh environmental factors that might drastically shape a tree trunk and its branches. While there are five basic styles that we often see in the art of bonsai, there are many more bonsai styles with dramatic shapes and effects.

I’ll go through my favorites here.

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    Basic Bonsai Styles And Designs

    There are five basic styles of bonsai that bonsai enthusiasts love exploring. While there are indeed many styles for your bonsai tree, the five different bonsai styles shared here are a great place to start.

    Bonsai Formal Upright Style (Chokkan)

    The formal upright style is the most popular bonsai style. It is probably the easiest style to learn, and is the style that is most often seen in the bonsai world.

    The formal upright bonsai tree represents trees in nature that have a straight, upright trunk with branches growing evenly around it. The branches grow vertically, tapering slightly as they reach the top.

    The first branch should be about one third of the way up the trunk, and the second and third branches should be about two thirds of the way up the trunk.

    The branches should be evenly spaced out around the tree, growing at different heights to create a sense of depth. The top of the tree should be narrower than the bottom, tapering off to create a pyramid-like shape.

    Start with a young tree that has a straight trunk. Allow the tree to grow for a few years until it is tall enough to start shaping. Cut off any branches that are growing vertically, and trim back any branches that are growing horizontally. When the tree is the desired height, begin trimming the branches to create the desired shape.

    Informal Upright Bonsai Style (Moyogi)

    The informal upright style is similar to the formal upright style, but with more of an ‘S’ shape. The trunk of the tree is thicker than the top of the tree and generally has a tapered effect. The branches are also less evenly spaced, and may grow at different angles at each curve. The top of the tree is also less symmetrical than the formal upright bonsai style.

    Slanting Bonsai Tree Style (Shakan)

    The slanting bonsai style is exactly as it sounds, with the tree slanting to one side at a drastic angle. This style looks best with a tree that has a twist in the trunk, or a branch that is growing at a slanted angle. The branches should be pruned so that they are shorter on the side that the tree is slanting towards.

    Cascade Bonsai Style (Kengai)

    The cascade bonsai style is designed to look like a tree that is growing over a cliff or waterfall. The trunk of the tree should be created so that it curves downwards, and the branches should be pruned to cascade downwards like a waterfall. The tree should be planted in a pot that is tall and narrow, so that the cascade effect is more pronounced.

    Photo source: Reddit

    The dramatic look of the cascade style is somewhat difficult to achieve as nature’s tendency is to grow upward toward light. A tall bonsai pot helps push the thin trunk up and over the lip of the pot. 

    Semi Cascade Bonsai Style (Han-Kengai)

    The semi cascade style is similar to the cascade style, but with the trunk and branches growing at a less drastic angle. This style looks best with a tree that has a natural curve to the trunk, as opposed to a tree that has been artificially bent. The branches should be pruned to cascade downwards, but not as severely as in the cascade style.

    More Bonsai Shapes And Styles

    If you’re an aspiring bonsai artist and you’re looking for bonsai tree styles with a little more punch, then these bonsai tree styles are right up your alley.

    Broom Style Bonsai (Hokidachi)

    The broom style bonsai is similar to the formal upright style, but with a rounder, bushier shape. The branches are pruned so that they curve upwards and outwards, giving the tree a ‘broom’-like appearance. This style looks best with deciduous trees that have multiple branches growing from the same point.

    Double Trunk Style Bonsai (Sokan)

    The double trunk style is exactly as it sounds, with two trees growing from the same pot. The two trees should be different sizes, with the smaller tree growing in front of the larger tree. The branches of the smaller tree should be pruned so that they do not obscure the view of the larger tree.

    Forest Bonsai Style (Yose-Ue)

    The forest style is designed to look like a group of trees growing close together in the wild. The trees should be different sizes, with the smaller trees in front and the larger trees in back. The branches of the smaller trees should be pruned so that they do not obscure the view of the larger trees.

    Start with a group of young trees that are the same species. Plant the trees close together in a bonsai pot.

    Growing On A Rock Bonsai Style (Seki-Joju)

    The rock style is designed to look like a tree that is growing on top of a rock. The roots of the tree should be wrapped around the rock, and the branches should be pruned to cascade over the sides of the rock.

    Growing In A Rock Bonsai Style (Ishisuki)

    The rock-in style is designed to look like a tree that is growing out of a rock. The roots of the tree should be visible on the surface of the rock, and the branches should be pruned to cascade over the sides of the rock.

    Literati Bonsai Style (Bunjingi)

    The literati style is designed to look like a tree that has been shaped by the elements. The trunk is usually long and thin, with the branches growing at random angles. There is usually only one branch growing from each node, and the leaves are usually small and sparse. This style is often seen with trees that have been exposed to harsh conditions, such as wind or snow.

    Multitrunk Bonsai Style (Kabudachi)

    The multitrunk style is similar to the double trunk style, but with more than two trees. The trees should be different sizes, with the smaller trees growing in front of the larger trees. The branches of the smaller trees should be pruned so that they do not obscure the view of the larger trees.

    Raft Bonsai Style (Ikadabuki)

    The raft style is designed to look like a group of trees that are growing on top of a log. The roots of the trees should be visible on the surface of the log, and the branches should be pruned to cascade over the sides of the log.

    Shari Bonsai Style (Sharimiki)

    The shari style is designed to look like a tree that has been damaged by the elements. The trunk of the tree should be bare, with the bark peeled away to reveal the wood beneath. The branches should be pruned so that they are short and stubby, and the leaves should be small and sparse.

    Windswept Bonsai Style (Fukinagashi)

    The windswept style is designed to look like a tree that has been shaped by the wind. The trunk and branches should curve in the same direction, as if they have been blown over by the wind. The windswept bonsai style looks best with a tree that has a natural curve to the trunk, as opposed to a tree that has been artificially bent.

    learn more about bonsai plants

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