10 Types of Bonsai Tree Symbolism and Meaning


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If someone has gifted you a Bonsai tree, or you’ve taken the plunge and acquired one, know that the Art of Bonsai is not simply limited to the growing and care of a Bonsai tree. Bonsai tree symbolism and meaning is a big factor of which trees people decide to grow.

Bonsai enthusiasts and aficionados are artists that use pruning and the training of branches to create a work of art. They are a living and growing “meditation” about life. The cultivation of a Bonsai is a study in the balancing of contrasting elements.

The aesthetic development of each Bonsai tree denotes engagement that can last for many years as they are gradually crafted with deep thought dedicated to every aspect of the tree’s form.

What Does “Bonsai” Mean?

Bonsai is a word from Japanese that can be translated as “tree in a pot”.

The term originates from the Chinese “penjing” which means landscape (jing) and pot (pen).

Bonsai History

It is a common belief that the art of the Bonsai dates to 200 B.C. and finds its beginnings in ancient China, where it was referred to as “Penjing” or “Penzai” andwas reserved for the elite.

To create artificial forests similar to the natural trees they discovered in the mountains, the people from China invented methods for twisting and bending plants into unnatural shapes.

China and Bonsai Origins

It is thought that miniature trees were discovered at high mountain altitudes and that they were dwarf trees due to harsh climates.  As early as the 4th century BC, Taoists recreated natural landscapes in the belief that magical properties would be accessible through their unusual, decorative shapes.

Chinese artists developed techniques for binding and pruning to reproduce the gnarled and twisted appearances found naturally at high altitudes.

Some scholars believe that these techniques were employed to reproduce yoga positions or Chinese mythological creatures such as serpents or dragons to bring good fortune.

Japan and Bonsai Origins

Through travel and trade, Buddhist monks discovered the art as early as the sixth century. The Bonsai arrived in Japan as early as the 13-century during the Kamakura period, establishing itself as a form of art.

We have Japan to thank for the continued practice and development of Bonsai art, and was cultivated by Buddhist monks who developed many of the original core principles associated with this art form. 

At the Paris World Exhibition in 1878, the Bonsai tree was introduced to an international audience and the rest is history. Their popularity took off. After WWII, accessibility increased, and the cost diminished allowing for even more growth in popularity.

Bonsai Tree Symbolism and Meaning

Bonsai Tree Symbolic Meanings

Bonsai trees are often considered symbols of peace, tranquility, patience, or good fortune by people from different cultures.

Some people use Bonsai trees in their home as decorative objects; some Buddhist monks think they’re good for meditating or contemplating.

Common symbols and meanings connected to the cultivation of Bonsai trees include:

  • Abundance
  • Balance
  • Challenge
  • Endurance
  • Energy
  • Harmony
  • Healing and Health
  • Life Cycles
  • Patience
  • Positivity
  • Protection
  • Resilience
  • Simplicity
  • Spirituality
  • Stability
  • Strength

10 Types of Bonsai Trees and Their Symbolism

1. Azalea Bonsai Tree

Gentility, beauty, and vulnerability are all evoked by the Azalea Bonsai tree. Even if in miniature form, like its full-sized parent tree, the Azalea Bonsai will explode with white, red, or pink blossoms representing feminine beauty.

It offers striking beauty and symbolizes love, intelligence, abundance, and passion. They are considered to bring harmony to any space and a symbol of femininity. 

Read the Guide to Bonsai Sizes.

2. Cedar Bonsai Tree

A Cedar Bonsai tree is often revered as a plant known to have physical healing properties and is often used in ceremonies as a purifying herb.

These trees are long-lived and can survive more than 300 years. In Bonsai art, they symbolize strength, protection, and immortality. 

A Cedar Bonsai is associated with spirituality, prayer, and meditation. It makes a lovely gift for someone having a rough or difficult time with things.

3. Cherry Blossom Bonsai Tree

Symbolizing the existence of the Divine, the Bonsai Cherry Tree also symbolizes femininity and beauty.

The Cherry Blossom Bonsai tree will bloom to offer elegant, cheerful pink flowers that begin a cycle of growth and abundance. The Cherry Blossom is even Japan’s national flower. 

When summer arrives, blooms will fade and drop, signifying that while all living things bloom and fade, life in its various forms will still continue.

4. Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree

The Chinese Elm is known as a “tree of harmony,” symbolic of love, inner strength, and wisdom. It is associated with protection and protective powers.

Some even believe it to be capable of predicting the future. It is considered to represent a good omen for those who receive them as gifts.

5. Ficus Bonsai Tree

The Ficus Bonsai Tree is the ideal tree species for beginners to the art of Bonsai. Known as a cheerful tree, they symbolize simplicity and a new beginning. 

It is a low-maintenance tree species that will grow rapidly. Because this tree is a quick grower, it is viewed as forward-reaching, joyful, cheerful, and positive.

6. Gingko Bonsai Tree

The Ginko Biloba Bonsai Tree is the last member of the Gingko family to survive. As such, it is the ideal symbol of perseverance, endurance, and longevity.

Boasting several medicinal benefits, this species of tree managed to survive the Hiroshima nuclear blast, demonstrating the species’ hardiness and persevering nature.

7. Jade Bonsai Tree

The Crassula ovata or Jade Bonsai Tree is very popular in feng shui, a Japanese philosophy. They are believed to bring many positive vibrations. 

Often referred to as the Lucky Money Tree and Money Plant, it is believed to bring good luck financially and wealth to its owner or to the location where it is cultivated.

An appreciated gift at commercial openings and house-warming get-togethers, it symbolizes abundance with its vibrant green leaves. 

8. Juniper Bonsai Tree

Some Juniper trees have been known to live for as much as 700 years. They are a symbol of power, strength, cleansing, purification, protection, and keeping at bay evil spirits.

Juniper trees have the capability to survive and overcome challenges. Juniper berries are utilized in healing and holistic medicine. A Juniper Bonsai is considered a protector from evil and negativity.

9. Maple Bonsai Tree

Admired for changing colors, the Maple Bonsai Tree symbolizes beauty, serenity, calm, peace, and elegance.

In Japanese works of art, maple trees emanate serene beauty. Autumn brings out their bright yellow, red, and orange foliage. 

10. Oak Bonsai Tree

The Oak tree is known to live for 250 years or longer, so Oak Bonsai Trees symbolize longevity, wisdom, loyalty, strength, and eternal life.

In older, more mature oak trees, their strong trunks and aged bark covering them symbolize knowledge and spirituality.

Bonsai Tree Shapes and Symbolism

Bonsai Tree Symbolism and Meaning

In Japanese culture, the shape of the Bonsai tree is just as symbolic as the species of the tree itself.

Four basic shapes offer some kind of significance to your living sculpture.

  • Cascading
  • Informal upright
  • Slanting
  • Upright

A Bonsai with a cascading profile will be cultivated in a deeper pot. As they hint at swaying over a high cliff, they symbolize challenges and changes to come.

Bonsai trees with trunks that appear thicker at the bottom and slim out toward branches are often referred to as informal upright shapes because they appear to be a bit like an “S.” This shape signifies strength, stability, and endurance.

A slanting Bonsai tree will gently lean to one or the other side. Despite its slant, it will still feature balance and will nonetheless be strong. As a result, they represent strength and resilience together with the capability to overcome life challenges.

An upright Bonsai will feature a thick trunk that appears straight. The straight trunk will be thick at the base and taper toward the branches. This Bonsai shape represents stamina, strength, and good health.

Bonsai Tree Symbolism Final Thoughts

Bonsai trees are beautiful, and that alone is appealing. However, if you consider the symbolism attached to the Bonsai species and the shape of the tree, you will find them even more fascinating, especially if you cultivate one by yourself.

Many cultures find that Mother Nature and plants offer spiritual wisdom, guidance and positive energy. The harmony of nature, balance, and meditation are all concepts that are integral to the art of Bonsai.

Pruning, wiring, and small containers for growth restriction help maintain your tree as a miniature plant. The Bonsai tree represents a small “living” sculpture – how many works of art can make that claim!

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Written by:

Amy Walsh
I love to grow houseplants and herbs at home! Growing plants has always been a hobby of mine, but it turned into an obsession when I moved out on my own. My apartment is now full of shelves of various plants and stacks of pots waiting for new life. It’s not uncommon to find me checking out the latest indoor plant trends online.