The Different Bonsai Styles
Bonsais come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are big, some are small, some are super-tiny, some are massive.
Some look natural, some look… weird.
The how of how they look is defined as a style. And knowing which styles you like and don’t can save you some time when figuring out which bonsais to buy, and how to shape and experiment with your own collection.
What we’re about to show are the different types of bonsai styles. Before we dig in, you need to remember something:
Bonsai is a mix of landscaping and art.
Keep that in mind. These are the “official styles” — but it’s not written in stone.
If you want to mix one with another, you’re allowed. The bonsai police won’t come get you.
It’s art. Do what makes you happy 😃
When you think of a formal upright, think of nature at it’s most perfect. A professionally planted tree in an arboretum or estate gardens.
Or better yet, it’s that one perfect tree in the forest.
This is a formal upright, and when done right, it’s stunning.
An informal upright is remarkably similar to a formal upright except… wait for it… it’s not formal.
It’s upright, but not perfect. It has flaws.
If you ask me, it’s much more natural since I’d estimate 4 out of every 5 trees in the wild aren’t “perfect.”
When done right, this is my favorite.
When you think of a cascading bonsai, think of a tree on a hill or cliff with it’s branches hanging down toward the earth below.
Some are dramatic (full cascade,) some are more subtle (semi-cascade.) All are elegant (especially when they flower!)
The boom style is pretty self explanatory. Think of a tree, that is shaped like a broom…
Straight up trunk with branches straight up to match. All branches are about the same length.
It really looks like a broom, especially over the winter when the leaves are long gone.
Personally, my favorite tree to style like a broom is the mighty ficus (though this Maple looks wonderful too.)
Slanting Or Wind Swept
This is a pretty self explanatory style. Have you ever seen a tree that looked like it was slanting? Or perhaps like the wind has been constantly blowing at it for 30 years?
That’s a bonsai style too.
Have you ever seen a tree with more than one trunk? Maybe it’s a “sucker” branch that grew and thickened over time to look like a second trunk.
Some look weird, some look natural.
Some are 100% artificial with a second tree grafted to a new parent (like some sort of Franken-bonsai.)
Root Over Rock
For years I didn’t think this was a true style, but my views have changed.
Now, I see it as more of a “root style” with whatever “trunk and branch style” you want on top.
Root over rock is a total pain in the ass to make, but man, it can be epic.
I’ve seen some of these trees that look like they’ve been part of a landscape for a thousand years.
Seriously. If you have a tree that takes well to this, if you have a really cool looking rock and if you have the time to care for it, you could have some bonsai beauty on your hands.
Group Planting Or Forest
As simple as it sounds, yet as complicated to create, comes the group or forest styles.
This is where bonsai turns into a nature-scape. You have 2, 3, 5, 10 or however many trees you want in a single bosnai.
One pot, multiple trees.
It’s as if you were looking at an entire chunk of nature from far away, but it’s right in your yard.
The famous Goshin (this is Goshin III) is a superb example. It’s also my favorite bonsai on the planet.
Here’s where things get weird. Being an art style, you can really do whatever you imagine. Some bonsai artisans and hobbies take this as a challenge.
Whatever else you can think of, it probably fits in here.
Like this crazy masterpiece.
You may be saying to your self: “Multi-trunk isn’t a true style!” Or “What about this style you missed?!?”
Well, these are my thoughts on the styles. If you have your own opinions, that’s fine. Besides formal vs informal and root over rock, I don’t believe this stuff is written in stone.
The bottom line is to find what you like, and do more of it. And if you want to experiment, do it!