The basic Japanese tree forms have evolved over the years as a way of categorising bonsai and also helping to establish basic guidelines for styling trees.
These form definitions are helpful to the beginner to help develop an eye for different tree shapes and to help define different trunk and branch patterns.
It is very useful for the beginner to start his or her bonsai styling education by learning these basic forms. However, once learnt, the enthusiast must not make the mistake of being bound by these definitions either.
Forms Vs Styles:
In many textbooks, the following forms are described as bonsai styles, however there is a strong movement, instigated by Walter Pall, to make a distinction between the form ( according to the predominant feature or direction of the trunk) and the style (the manner in which the form is displayed), and for this reason this article follows this re-categorisation by listing bonsai forms.
In summary: The form describes the basic shape of the tree as defined by trunk, the style describes the the way in which the tree has been styled (for instance windswept, near or far away from the viewer, naturalistic or abstract).
BONSAI FORMS DESCRIBED:
This is a list of the basic bonsai forms but is by no means a complete list of all bonsai forms or the many variations of the different forms that exist.
Chokkan (Formal Upright) :
A completely straight, upright and well tapered trunk with an even distribution of branches is necessary for this style. The first and main branch should be positioned at approximately one third of the trunk's height. Subsequent branches should form a spiral pattern, becoming shorter and closer together nearer the apex of the tree, thus giving the bonsai a regular outline in the shape of a triangle.
Well developed surface roots help give the tree a convincing, stable look and rectangular pots are normally used for this style. This is one of the more difficult styles to create well and often appears somewhat contrived. Pines and conifers tend to be the most suitable material, because of their natural tendency to grow in this form.
The classic formal upright bonsai style should be reminiscent of a strong specimen tree, where branches have been able to grow naturally with no restriction and perfection of form has been attained.
Informal upright, the style I feel suits most beginners
Moyogi (Informal Upright):
Many bonsai can be classified in this category and this is the most popular style of tree both in bonsai and in nature, with the possibilities for design being endless. The trunk is not straight and may contain several curves, with branches usually emerging from the outside of these curves. This is a suitable style for all varieties of trees and shrub and is perhaps the least difficult style to create.
The apex will in most cases be directly above and in line with the base of the tree and for best effect be slightly angled forward to give the tree added depth. It is also a style where most shapes and colours of pot can be used, depending on the variety and size of the tree.
Informal upright is a popular style of bonsai tree, which is also very wide spread in nature, with many differing branch structures.
Kengai (Cascade) Style:
Style With its trunk growing in a downward direction and being planted in a deep pot for stability, this style represents a tree which is growing from the side of a cliff or mountain. From this position in the wild, the tree reaches out for light and the trunk weakens. With the arrival of heavy snow and ice, perhaps a landslide, and together with its own branch weight, the trunk is bent downwards.
The base thus becomes the apex and the most vigorous part of the tree. In bonsai regular thinning of the apex is therefore necessary to allow more energy to flow to the lower branches.
A cascade tree can be trained to allow optimum viewing from either the side or front, and the bonsai normally grows down beyond the base of the pot.
Han-Kengai (Semi-Cascade Style) :
The tip of a semi-cascade, like the cascade, projects over the rim of the container, but does not drop below its base. The style occurs in nature when trees grow on clefs or overhang water. The angle of the trunk in this bonsai is not precise, as long as the effect is strongly horizontal, even if the plant grows well below the level of the pot rim. Any exposed roots should balance the trunk.
Bunjingi ( Literati ) :
This style was created by the scholars (literati) in ancient China and is often depicted by tall pines in old drawings and ink paintings. Literati trees frequently grow naturally in valleys or places where light has been restricted, resulting in a lack of lower branches.
A tall, slender trunk is necessary to create a graceful and elegant line. Although thought by many to be an easy style to create, a good, convincing and a pleasing literati bonsai is often hard to achieve and potential material should be selected carefully. Shallow, round or primitive (rough and irregular), unglazed pots are preferable.
Pines are often used to create the literati style. This bonsai style can be very natural and inspiration can be taken from many different trees in nature.
Hokidachi (Broom style):
A very natural style of tree that is often found growing in parklands and in form looks roughly like an upturned broom. The trunk should be straight with fine, twiggy branches. Deciduous trees are most suitable for this style enabling the branch ramification to be appreciated without leaves in the tree's winter state.
Branches should start from a point on the trunk that is about one third of the total height of the tree. They usually emerge from one area, although this is not always the case and variants are possible. A good broom bonsai will take several years to develop the necessary fine branch structure.
Zelkovas, elms and maples are ideal subjects and are shown to their best advantage in shallow, oval or rectangular pots.
Hawaiian Umbrella Tree (Arboricola) with Banyan Roots
"Banyan Roots" are remarkable and natural works of art that add realism to Bonsai tree settings. The results are always worth the wait as exposed roots and multiple trunks develop and make for great conversation about this tree you'll be proud to display. Hawaiian Umbrellas may be the easiest of all Bonsai trees to grow - they can be kept inside or outside as long as they don't get too much sun, or too cold.
This Bonsai tree's multiple trunks and palm-like canopy give it a great tropical feel. A few seashells and one of those drinks with an umbrella in it and you're at the beach. It has excellent realism like any good Bonsai should: a miniature version of an age-old group of trees. Planted in a traditional ceramic Bonsai pot, this bonsai tree stands 14 inches tall with a spread of 13 inches.
It's a bit difficult to get a sense of the actual size of this Bonsai tree from the picture, but if you look closely you will see that we have placed a pecan on the surface of the gravel as a size reference.
This Bonsai has the classic shape of an age-old tree and although it grows slowly, and looks great right now, it will continue to develop for years to come.
Like all joebonsai trees, satisfaction is guaranteed and help is always just an email away.
Shidare-Zukuri (Weeping willow):
The weeping willow bonsai tree is one of the most popular bonsai trees. It is a very fast growing tree that is deciduous, losing its leaves every winter. It is grown primarily as an outdoor bonsai tree, not indoor. Like all willow trees, it has the branches that bend downward towards the ground. There are several bonsai techniques which are used with the tree, such as cascading, slanting and upwards styles.
The weeping willow bonsai is an old world tree, with its origins in China. You can now find it throughout the United States. Because it grows fast, you will need to repot the weeping willow bonsai more than other bonsais when it is young, at least twice a year. The fast growth also means that it must be pruned back several times a year as well. It is necessary to pinch off new growth and to prune the branches so the downward flow is maintained. You need to know the difference between pinching off the new growth and trimming the branches of the bonsai tree.
Hanging branches . Ex: Honey locust.
Sokan (Twin Trunk style):
Often referred to as the mother and son style, a second smaller trunk grows alongside the main tree. When styling, to give added depth the secondary trunk should ideally be positioned slightly behind and not directly side-by-side to avoid a flat, two-dimensional image.
In classical twin trunks the secondary trunk emerges at the base of the main tree, forming an acute angle. The first major branch normally grows on the smaller trunk.
Pleasing variations can be achieved with the smaller trunk being either short or tall, and not growing from the base, but slightly higher up the tree. Rectangular and oval pots are most suited to this style. Natural trees with two trunks are quite common.’
Sankan (Three trunks Style):
Not two, but three trunks growing out of one stock. In these two cases, the size of the trunks growing out of the base should not be identical. In the Sankan style two trunks are larger than the other, and these are the ‘mother’ and ‘father’, with the smaller trunk the son.
Nejikan ( twisted trunk ):
Takzukuri Style, or Octopus, where even the branching is twisted on itself from a very distorted trunk.
Bankan Style :
The Twisted Style is probably closest to what came over from China; the Chinese are very fond of this style and often refer to them as “dragon” trees (In Feng Shui, the Green Dragon is an auspicious presence in the garden) especially in the East). The tree coils around itself like a Chinese dragon. The secondary styles for this one include Nejikan, or partially twisted style where the trunk does not make a complete turn on itself, and the little seen Takzukuri Style. A bonsai with a very coiled, curvy trunk, resembling a snake.
Kabudachi (Spiral trunks) :
Kabudachi style, where the different trunks all spring from a single root
Ex- Fukein tea .
a series of trunks with multiple branches growing from a single root, branched like the types described above , but usually with an odd number of trunks. Ex- punica granatum
Korabuki ( turtle back-clump ):
Raft Style copies that tree we’ve all seen that has fallen over and the branches on one side have all grown as individual trees. In this first style the trunk rest partially below the soil level.. Sea animal (with shell... )
Neagari (Roots visible trunk ):
Roots growing up out of the ground, suspending the trunk in the air characterize this rare style of bonsai. Exposed root, like a mangrove
Netsunagari Style is the Sinuous Style where the root twists and winds through the pot and the trunks are more twisted. this is spreading ‘rambling’ shape ,obtained by growing various trunks from a single, connected root base lying on the surface of the soil again giving the impressions of several trees planted side by side.
The Ikadabuki, or Straight Line Style keeps the trunk (at least the middle) wholly out of the soil and straight, as the name suggestsa variation of the above known s ‘raft’ bonsai, but with the trunk lying just below the surface of the soil and the branches, which rise vertically, giving the illusion of group of trees planted side by side.
yose –ue(Forest style):
Group plantings are denoted by how many trunks are in the planting. Sambon-Yôse (3 trunks), Gohon-Yôse (5), Nanahon-Yôse (7) and Kyuhon-Yôse (9) are the usual groupings. These groups are all done with roughly the same caliper plants Yôse-Ue Style is any group with more than nine trunks; Yomayose Style is a naturalistic grouping with different calipers and heights of trees. All these different styles have a corresponding Kabudachi style, where the different trunks all spring from a single root, and a Tsukami-Yôse style, where the different trunks all spring from the middle of the pot.
Separate trees of one variety are combined to create a natural looking group, such as the one pictured here growing in open countryside. The trees do not need to be individual specimens in their own right. One-sided trees that would not be suitable for other styles can be used and are often desirable, as branches in a group grow out towards the light and not into the centre where light is excluded.
Usually smaller, thinner trees are planted nearer the back and the outside, with larger, heavier trunked trees at the front to create the desired perspective and feeling of distance. Young or old trees can be utilised to create different effects. Small groups should not contain even numbers of trees as the resulting arrangement can look unnatural.
Convincing groups can be created very quickly by selecting suitable trees, such as hedging material, which is often sold bare-rooted in the autumn and is inexpensive. Large, shallow, oval or rectangular pots, slates or stone slabs can be used to good effect, to create a natural landscape.
Bonkei, or landscape trays, often include a small pruned tree, along with rock, mosses, grass and other perennials, water and little figurines. The Chinese still like the occasional figure or under-planting with their pen tsai, but the Japanese frown on it and relegate it to it’s own slot, a decidedly lower slot than bonsai (If you brought a tree to a judged show with a figure in it, they won’t throw you out, but you lose BIG points. And that’s internationally in the bonsai world…)
Kusamomo plantings are small tray plantings of grass or bulbs used as a compliment to bonsai displays.
Shakkan (Slanting Style):
Trees that slant naturally occur a result of buffeting winds or deep shade during early development. Whether curved or straight, the whole trunk leans at a definite angle. The stronger roots grow out on the side, away from the angle of the trunk lean, to support the weight.
Fukinagashi ( Windswept ):
Heavily exposed to the strong elements of nature, this style creates a tree where virtually every single branch and twig has been forced to grow in one direction by strong prevailing winds. The trunk should slope heavily and strong surface roots are needed to give the bonsai the appearance of stability, even though the tree has been trained to grow to one side.
Deadwood and jins are often created to further achieve the illusion of the struggle that the tree has experienced during its lifetime. Sometimes trees which would otherwise be poor subjects for bonsai can be transformed when trained in this style, which must always create a feeling of great movement. Most types of pot are suitable, particularly primitive pots, crescent pots or slabs of natural rock
Sharimiki (Driftwood) :
Exposed trunk, the bark is MOSTLY stripped off. A large part of the tree will be deadwood in this style, with the remaining branches being supported by living, narrow live strips which provide a lifeline. Trees can be collected with natural driftwood or the effect can be created by bark stripping and carving techniques.
It is vital to leave one or more lifelines to transport sap to the living branches. The style can emulate a tree struck by lightning, or one ravaged by disease, strong winds, frost, snow or even where animals have eaten the bark. It can also be simulated by attaching a young, whippy sapling to a piece of driftwood and this is usually referred to as a 'wrap-around' or 'Tanuki'.
The world's oldest tree is a bristle cone pine which is over 4,600 years old, with the major part of this ancient tree being driftwood.
Sabamiki (Grooming ):
Split Trunk, Cleft trunk (Grooming).
Sekijoju (Root Over Rock) :
Root over Rock; the plant is grown over a rock and into the soil of a pot .The upper roots of the tree grip the rock tightly and are exposed by erosion over a period of years, so that they end up growing above soil level. Trees selected for this style should first be encouraged to grow long roots by planting in deep containers. When the roots have attained sufficient length and a suitable, interesting rock has been obtained, all soil is washed from them.
The exposed roots are then tightly tied to the rock with soft string or raffia, following the grooves and contours where possible. At this stage the tree is then planted in either a container large enough to accommodate the rock and allow the tree space to grow, or directly into the ground
Ishitsuki (Root On Rock) :
Planted in crevices in a rock.This can be one or several trees planted directly on a rock, which then acts as the pot. In order for this procedure to be carried out the rock must contain a crevice or pocket large enough to retain the soil and roots of the bonsai.
The trees can be grown on the top or side of the rock depending on where the rock has the best planting positions. The arrangement is best displayed in shallow pots with no drainage holes (suibans), filled with water.
By using interesting rocks, it is possible to achieve a realistic scene of trees growing naturally on the top or sides of a sheer cliff or mountain.
Suiseki are miniature mountains, displayed on beautifully carved wooden stands called daiza. Rocks are selected for their appearance as a mountain, hill, a hut, island or even an animal. One cut is allowed to give a flat side to rest upon, and the daiza is custom fit to the stone. More cuts or polishing the stone demotes it to biseki, or pretty stones, with the same loss of prestige that bonkei suffer. These are not bonsai, but can definitely add to your enjoyment of the real thing. And that's the key to Bonsai, to enjoy.