History of Bonsai Trees
With an early name of pun-sai, Bonsai first appeared in China over a thousand years ago on a very basic scale. The early practice was growing single specimen trees in pots. The basic goals was to create rugged, gnarled trunks with little foilage which looked like animals, dragons and birds. The mythology and legend runs deep about Chinese Bonsai, and the grotesque or animal-like trunks and root formations are still highly prized today. Chinese bonsai is derived from the landscape of the imagination and images of fiery dragons and coiled serpents and takes far greater precedence over images of trees - so the early pun-sai form is very different from today's Bonsai.
during the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333) and with Japan's adoption of many cultural trademarks of China - bonsai was also taken up by means of Zen Buddhism - which at this time was rapidly spreading around Asia. Once bonsai was introduced into Japan, the art was refined to an extent not yet approached in China. Over time, the simple trees were not just confined to the Buddhist monks and their monasteries, but also later were introduced to be representative of the aristocracy - a symbol of prestige and honour. The ideals and philosophy of bonsai were greatly changed over the years. For the Japanese, bonsai represents a fusion of strong ancient beliefs with the Eastern philosophies of the harmony between man, the soul and nature.
These complex plants were no longer permanently reserved for outdoor display, although the practices of training and pruning did not develop until later - the small trees at this time still being taken from the wild. Bonsai were brought indoors for display at special times by the 'Japanese elite' and became an important part of Japanese life by being displayed on specially designed shelves. In the 17th and 18th century, the Japanese arts reached their peak and were regarded very highly. Bonsai again evolved to a much higher understanding and refinement of nature - although the containers used seemed to be slightly deeper than those used today. The main factor in maintaining bonsai was now the removal of all but the most important parts of the plant. The reduction of everything just to the essential elements and ultimate refinement was very symbolic of the Japanese philosophy of this time - shown by the very simple Japanese gardens such as those in the famous temple - Roan-ji.
The Modern Bonsai Tree Movement
Japan had gone into a period of deep isolation for more than 230 years and finally in the mid-19th century opened itself up to the rest of the world. Word soon spread from travelers who visited Japan of the miniature trees in ceramic containers which mimicked aged, mature, tall trees in nature. Further exhibitions in London, Vienna and Paris in the latter part of the century - especially the Paris World Exhibition in 1900 opened the world's eyes up to bonsai.
Due to this phenomenal upsurge in the demand for bonsai, the now widely expanding industry and lack of naturally-forming, stunted plants led to the commercial production of bonsai by artists through training young plants to grow to look like bonsai. Several basic styles were adopted, and artists made use of wire, bamboo skewers and growing techniques to do this - allowing the art to evolve even further. The Japanese capitalized on the interest in this artform very quickly - opening up nurseries dedicated solely to grow, train and then export bonsai trees. Different plants were now being used to cater for worldwide climates and to produce neater foliage and more suitable growth habits. Bonsai techniques such as raising trees from seed or cuttings and the styling and grafting of unusual, different or tender material onto hardy root stock were further developed. Bonsai has now evolved to reflect changing tastes and times - with a great variety of countries, cultures and conditions in which it is now practiced.