BONSAI

A Japanese word meaning "tray-planted," bonsai refers either to dwarf trees or to the art of training and growing the miniaturized trees in containers. Bonsai may be either conifers with small needles or deciduous plants with small leaves. Some bonsai are small-flowered or small-fruit trees. Good bonsai can be kept outdoors all year long.

The overall artistic effect is of great significance in growing the trees. Everything must be proportional: the size of the tree, its leaves or needles, its flowers or fruit, and the container in which it grows. The containers, especially, must be chosen to harmonize in size, shape, and color with the tree.

There are four sizes of bonsai: miniature, small, medium, and average. Miniatures range up to only 2 inches (5 centimeters) in height. Started from seeds or cuttings, they mature in about five years. Small bonsai are from 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 centimeters) and take from five to ten years to train. Medium bonsai are from 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters), and average bonsai are up to 2 feet (0.6 meter); both sizes can be produced in as little as three years.

The bonsai are dwarfed by pruning roots and branches. Their shapes are controlled by wiring the trunk and branches. The wires must be removed before the bark becomes scarred.

Bonsai originated in China more than 1,000 years ago, but it has been pursued and developed by the Japanese. A bonsai industry of considerable size exists in certain sections of Japan. It has also become popular in many parts of the world.

The art of raising bonsai--dwarfed potted trees--has enabled the Japanese to admire nature in an indoor setting. Bonsai are able to bear fruit and to drop their leaves in season, thus reproducing nature in miniature. A skillful bonsai artist can prune, bend, and shape branches to suggest trees standing tall and upright in a field or bent and gnarled by age or weather. The beauty of a natural landscape is evoked in the viewer's imagination.

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