This was at one time, the most commonly ask of all questions, but, since the Karate Kid was first shown, the frequency with which this question gets asked has decreased a little bit..Bonsai is literally a plant, (usually a tree or shrub) grown in a tray, or dish. The first plants grown in pots were in Egypt about 4000 years ago, mostly for practical reasons, mobility, and convenience. The Greeks, Babylonians, Persians, and Hindus copied the technique. The Chinese were the first to plant trees in pots for aesthetic purposes about 200 AD. It then moved to Japan with the monks that also brought Buddhism in the 6th and 7th centuries. This data is supported in essence by a scroll from Japan's Kamakura period (1192-1333), in a scroll describing life in the Heian period (794-1191).
Bonsai as we now know it was perfected in Japan. The original bonsai trees were usually collected, dwarfed by nature. Today, however, it is probably better to allow such specimens to stay where they are. In many locations collecting them in the wild is against the law. In others the chance of finding a suitable specimen is almost zero. Over the years, techniques have evolved which allow the grower to change the height and direction of growth, and in some cases to dwarf the foliage as well as the plant. Today, bonsai is an art form, a living sculpture. There are certain classic or traditional forms that can be found and followed, but the basic rule of thumb for personal bonsai is 'If you like the way it looks, it's a good bonsai'.
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