Less Usual Plants as Bonsai

This Page Last Updated: September 18, 2017

         "Any woody-stemmed perennial plant that produces true branches, has relatively small leaves, and whose roots can be successfully confined in a fairly shallow container, can be made into a bonsai, an artistic dwarf potted tree."

         This definition obviously includes all historically reported types -- please see, for example, Earliest Western Reports of Various Kinds of Trees/Shrubs as Dwarfed Potted Trees -- as well as, say, the 340 types of plants in Yoshimura and Halford's 1957 "Bible of Bonsai," The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscapes (Charles E. Tuttle Publishing Co., Inc., pp. 185-205).  (Granted, at least 68 of the latter specimens are not perennials but are actually suitable for accent plantings, and the "Western Reports" listings are mostly also presented by some 149 plants there, leaving up to 123 more unique species.)  We need to add the scores of tropical species used in China and southeast Asia, especially Ficus representatives other than the common fig (F. carrica, Yoshimura and Halford, pg. 192), and numerous American, European, African, and Australian indigenous plants.  Note that Rhapis palm (Rhapis excelsa) and Sago palm (Cycas revoluta, Yoshimura and Halford, pg. 201) are the most important exceptions to the "true branches" requirement.

         As more and more local specimens are experimented with, we offer the following modest gallery of less usual plants as bonsai from around the world.  RJB admits that there is a certain amount of arbitrary decision-making in putting specimens in this gallery.  Generally, if a type of plant has not been [remembered as having been] seen in the pages of the English-language specialty magazines during the past four decades or so, then there is a good chance it will included here.

Baobab, photo by Bernard Decaudin
African Baobab (Adansonia digitata, family Malvaceae), Burkina Faso
Source: "Le Baobab, de la graine au millénaire" by Bernard Decaudin, http://bonsaiafrica.chez.com/baobab/baob02.htm et al.

Please see these more recent examples.

Fruiting Bombacopsis, 10 years old, photo by Chaddad
Fruiting Bombacopsis (Bombacopsis glabra, family Bombacaceae), Brazil
Source: "Bombacopsis," Chaddadbonsai's Blog, http://chaddadbonsai.wordpress.com/pseudobombax/

Photoshopped Cannabis bonsai, Art of Bonsai project Halloween 2007
Shaped Marijuana plant in a Bonsai pot, photo by THCtalk.
Widely-seen but Photoshopped Cannabis, "Blueberry," Germany.
Source: Art of Bonsai project Halloween 2007, http://artofbonsai.org/galleries/halloween07.php, 22nd image.
Shaped Marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa, family Cannabaceae), in a Bonsai pot, photo by THCtalk.
Source: "Marijuana Bonsai?," Bonsai Empire blog, May 20, 2015, https://www.bonsaiempire.com/blog/marijuana-bonsai.

We only learned today (09/18/17) that the widely-seen tree on the left above which we have long had on this page was actually a Photoshopped picture.  In the interest of the accuracy of this website, we have immediately corrected the error.  See also the first video on this page.

Chili Bonsai
Capsicum, after wiring but before pinching, (Capsicum sp., family Solanaceae), Finland
Source: "Creating and growing your own Bonchi's," Fatalii's Growing Guide, http://fatalii.net/growing/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=95&Itemid=105

Negozio Bonsai
Papaya (Carica papaya, family Caricaceae), Italy?
Source: Negozio Bonsai, http://eshop.zr-giardinaggio.it/store/product_info.php?cPath=143&products_id=1292.

NOTE: We do notice that this specimen is not as mature as the others on this page.
Even younger and less developed plants as coffee and avocado have been seen as bonsai-in-training.
When more developed versions of these are seen, then we will place them here.

Vaughn Banting with coca bonsai
Coca (Erythroxylum coca, family Erythroxylaceae), Columbia
Source: http://webzoom.freewebs.com/banting/ImagesA1/A%20cocaine%20bonsai.jpg,
per Internet Bonsai Forum posting by Russell Coker 04/20/2010, picture is of Vaughn Banting (Louisiana, USA) during visit to Columbia in late 1980s or 90s.

NOTE: See also this forest-collected False coca (Erythroxylum deciduum) in Brazil,

Max Miller's creosote bonsai Feb. 2002
Creosote / Greasewood (Larrea tridentata, family Zygophyllaceae), Arizona, USA
Source: http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/Display/Creosote.html et al.

Jim Lewis' fetterbush bonsai
Shining Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida, family Ericaceae), Florida, USA
Source: personal e-mail to RJB from Jim Lewis on 25 Apr 2010, "This was dug from a swamp on my Florida property."

Mango bonsai, photo taken from Flower show 2007 at Marine Drive, Cochin
Mango (Mangifera indica, family Anacardiaceae), Cochin, India
Source: "Mango Bonsai Tree" http://www.flickr.com/photos/shajis/394927589/

Osage orange per Jim Lewis
Osage orange (Maclura pomifera, family Moraceae), Florida, USA
Source: personal e-mail to RJB from Jim Lewis on 20 Apr 2010,
"growing this one since 1999. It came from a root sprout from a large one I had grown from seed and planted along my drive..."

Gooseberry from Bay Island Bonsai 2010 exhibit in Pleasanton, CA
Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa, family Grossulariaceae), California, USA
Source: Bay Island Bonsai exhibit in Pleasanton, CA, http://dupuich.smugmug.com/Bonsai/Exhibits/BIB-11th-annual-exhibit/11016957_i9bz2/1/#774514130_gF3jP-A-LB.

Blaze Rose bonsai, International Bonsai, 1991/No 4, pg. 27, photo by James Effinger
Blaze Rose (Rosa x 'Blaze') (Rosa sp., family Rosaceae), North Carolina, USA
Source: "The Beauty of Rose Bonsai," International Bonsai, IBA, 1991/No 4, pg. 27, photo by James Effinger.

Poison Ivy bonsai, Art of Bonsai project Halloween 2007
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans, family Anacardiaceae), North East, USA.
Source: http://www.artofbonsai.org/galleries/halloween07.php, 7th image.

Blueberry bonsai from collected material by Jay Wilson, IBC posting 02 Feb 2010
Blueberry (Vaccinium sp., family Ericaceae) from collected material, Florida, USA.
See pictures and video of a different specimen of a blueberry bonsai in bloom, Florida, USA.

[Somewhat an honorable mention, since Yoshimura and Halford have Dwarf mossberry (V. vitis-idaea, pg. 194) and Mossberry (V. oxycoccus, pg. 203),
and there is an obscure historical reference to a dwarf whortleberry (V. caespitosum) being collected in New York state by Chinese visitors in the mid-1840s.]
(Source: Internet Bonsai Club Forum posting 02 Feb 2010, http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/bonsai-f1/a-blueberry-t2213.htm)

Cary Sullivan's potato vine bonsai exhibited at the 2015 GSBF Convention,
								Facebook posting 28 Jan 2016
Potato (Solanum tuberosum, family Solanaceae), Cary Sullivan's potato vine bonsai exhibited at the 2015 GSBF Convention in California.

See also this thread on the Internet Bonsai Club Forum.

     Anyone who knows of additional less common plants made into bonsai is asked to please contact rjb@magiminiland.org.  Contributor acknowledgment will be posted.  Please include as many details as possible.  Thank you!  (Potato bonsai -- which result in shaped plants vastly different than the above -- and banana bonsai will not be considered here for now.)

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