"Some Bonsai Futures"

by Robert J. Baran

Originally published in the ABS Bonsai Journal, Vol. 25, No. 3, Fall 1991, pp. 20-21.
© 1991 American Bonsai Society, reprinted by permission

       Speculation about the future of any topic is an iffy business requiring observations of trends, educated guesses, and the simple ability to dream freely.  With this in mind let me share some modest and conservative meditations on future scenarios for our art/hobby.  My apologies for being short-sighted to those who are right now already working with some of these -- and more.
       The most basic projections say that there will be additional clubs and federations formed (with a few more newsletters and magazines) as larger groups diversify or interest grows in new areas of the globe.  More creative club promotions and displays are foreseen as our ideas and understanding of what is being displayed change.1  Regional, national and international conventions -- sometimes at less familiar sites -- will continue to be held, educating the public, amateur and professional alike.  New municipal, corporate, and regional collections will become established.2  There will be an increase in bonsai as an interest or therapy for entire families, the young, the elderly, the convalescing, and those with physical or psychological disabilities.  Books, movies, songs, artwork, TV programs, and commercials with bonsai as set decorations or pivotal elements will continue to bring our interest into the public eye.3  Outdoor courtyards of some museums and libraries will feature these "slow sculptures."  Businesses which rent and care for office or home plants may also offer quality bonsai, enlisting the assistance of local club members.
       We'll see the passing of older and sometimes not-so-old teachers and students, as well as the infrequent passing of well-known trees.4  Many of the trees we are training today will have become in their own ways more mature, a very special few even attaining masterpiece status.  More novices will try their hands at bonsai, losing plants along the way, trying different materials, on occasion discovering something that the long-timers weren't really aware of.  There will be a rise of new teachers and schools of bonsai, penjing, saikei, bonkei, and suiseki bringing additional visions and preferences as clubs around the world become larger and more experienced with native stock.  Advances in indoor/exotic bonsai will also stretch our capabilities as the definition of "bonsai" is further debated and refined.5  Will we also see micro-topiaries?
       Some of the older, less known varieties of plants will again become popular, and newer tree styles, sizes, and designs will come into fashion.  Regional and national styles from around the globe will become more distinct using native plants and portrayals of local geographic features.  More reflections will be presented of the various types of environments and settings; traditional hill, mountain, cliff, and forest, of course, but also wonderful jungle, rain forest, arid desert, rural farm, and urban styling and displays.6  Modified hydroponics will allow for swamp and coastal bonsai.
       Trees from outside of either Asia or North America will increasingly achieve masterpiece status.
       Horticultural science and practice can be expected to provide us with new varieties of existing plants and specimens from the wilds -- some with exquisitely small natural leaves or interesting colors or flowers.  Genetic engineering and backyard tinkering with plants will result in a number of materials to speed up the healing of treated branch cuts and wire marks or slow down the growth of treated buds on certain areas of the plant.7, 8  Techniques for tissue culture and propagation of newer varieties, improved care, pruning, watering and wiring will be refined.  Greater use of automation is also expected.  This will be used for watering, sun-tracking or simply for providing the illusion of a wind-swept tree swaying in the breeze.  Quality organic fertilizers will be in greater demand.  Recycled newsprint will become a component of our soil mixes.
       New materials including composites will be tried for containers.  These will provide improved drainage, durability, texture, heat-dispersion, or stain-resistance.  A greater range of subtle colors for containers will be available, some of which might change slightly with the seasons or weather.  Pots or simply pot inserts with built-in fertilizers, pesticides, or water reservoirs will be introduced, their contents slowly dispersing throughout the seasons.  Non-metallic methods for aesthetic and effective "wiring" using materials which will "grow" a little with the plant so as to not cause wire marks will be appreciated.  These materials would first be positioned around trunk and branches and then activated by heat, water, light, or sound.
       Plant growth patterns will be computer simulated (on a larger scale than currently present) to allow us to learn rapidly and with less emotional pain the effects of pruning on a tree's growth.  Perhaps a workshop teacher can have several students start with a single computer-generated tree and each of them "work" the tree in a different fashion through the growing cycles of several "years," as a supplement to actual soil-under-the-fingernails experience.  The students can also try several styles on the same starter tree, see what different container shapes look like with a given style, and discover the optimum cutting, grafting or layering parts of various plant species.  And how long, really, can a computer-generated tree "live and grow"?9
       Computer technology will be used to build large scale international databases, providing instant access to much of the accumulated information on the characteristics, growth and healing patterns, and care requirements of just about any specimen one can find.  Pictures of the plants during various ages, styles and seasons would also be readily available.  This would be to supplement one's own experiences since each plant is slightly different and each owner's microclimate unique.  Computers will also help growers of specific types of trees communicate worldwide and support the development of clubs whose members don't have to be geographically near to each other.10
       Records may be discovered of penjing or bonsai in out-of-the-way places around the globe, taken there long ago as souvenirs or religious objects by travellers from the Orient.  We'll also be reading in English and other languages new translations of bonsai and gardening works from the Orient, especially Chinese.  More contemporary thoughts and experiences will be translated from other languages into English and vice-versa.  Advanced graphic reproduction including holography will allow more lifelike pictures/scenes of bonsai -- and their caretakers.  "Magazines" and "books"11 will eventually be transmitted via computer modem instead of paper, with hard copies existing only for those who specifically desire to print their own.  Print and video as we know them will become fused into several new media forms.
       Our teachers in widely-spaced locations will interact via teleconferencing at conventions and meetings.  Many visitors will experience shows without being physically present.  Videos will be made of masterpieces on display which linger leisurely on each plant, the way we would like to view these bonsai if we were able to be there.12  How about cable TV series or classes (on a Horticulture or Home and Garden cable network)?13
       And more extensive recordings of the masters and our teachers at work will regularly be made.  These will include before, during and after views of the plants along with detailed commentary and follow-ups over several seasons...
       A return of and increase in some forms of "classical" training for bonsai students will include painting or sketching of trees and scenery, digs or non-invasive educational walks, basic botany and horticulture study, hands-on training in pot making, plant propagation practice and competition judging.  Oriental history and calligraphy will also be presented as well as poetry from around the world concerning our relationships with trees, mountains and nature.  Students will continue what is both an Eastern and Western tradition of copying a masterpiece painting down to the last brushstroke, learning technique, use of materials, and so forth.  In our case the students will be challenged to recreate famous bonsai and penjing down to the last branchlet and rock crevice.
       We'll continue to be challenged by emergencies and accidents: after the safety of self, family, pets, and some irreplaceable possessions, what can be done to protect bonsai from tornadoes or hurricanes or lightning, drought or floods, fires or earthquakes, theft or vandalism?14
       Biological pest management and companion planting will become more prevalent to reduce unwanted insect visitors.  But what about the long term effects from urban, industrial, and transportation development?  Will the air in some cities here and abroad become and remain too lethal for long-term outdoor bonsai?
       Clubs will find a variety of benefits in composting or propagating healthy plant cuttings/prunings, high heat sanitizing of soil leftovers from repottings, cleaning and crocking (for bottom of soil mix drainage) any broken pottery which cannot be acceptably repaired or reused, and recycling leftover wire and plastic nursery containers.  We'll see the establishment in places of club compost piles which would also take organic kitchen wastes.  Clubs will join forces to promote reforestation to maintain old growth, mature trees for our own and future generations to experience.
       What  will be the first bonsai in space,15 taken to or developed on another world, or admired by an alien race from another planet?
       How far can active interest in our art/hobby really grow?  These thoughts barely brush the surface of what we can initiate and/or experience with bonsai in the future.  What we do know for certain is that every spring our trees will greet us with fat new green or red buds.  Then every autumn we'll be warmed by fiery colors as some prepare to stand their graceful skeletons alongside the steadfast evergreens.  Regardless of advances or setbacks, the fundamentals will remain with us through the years.


as of 11/25/2017

1     For instance, Bonsai Societies of Florida's First Exhibit of Bonsai at the Walt Disney World's EPCOT near Orlando, Florida (04/1994), this Internet Bonsai Club thread about an experiment with video shitakusa (accent plants), shohin display, show presentations, and this recent one about bonsai display.
Also, see this and this.

2     For instance, The Bonsai Garden at the Jurong Garden in Jurong East, Singapore ( 06/1992 ), Bunjae Artpia, the world's largest bonsai park, on Cheju Island northwest of Cheju City, Korea ( 07/1992 ), Elandan Gardens of Bremerton, WA ( 11/1994 ), The Shanghai Botanical Gardens' new penjing display pavilion ( 11/1995 ), The Hungarian National Bonsai Collection (Nemzeti Bonsai Gyüjtemény) ( 05/1998 ), The Golden State Bonsai Collection-North in Oakland, CA ( 11/1999 ), The Bonsai House at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens ( 11/1999 ), The Hawai'i Bonsai Cultural Center in Waimanalo ( 07/2000 ), The Man Lung Garden at the main Li Promenade of the Shaw Campus of Hong Kong Baptist University ( 07/2000 ), Lalbagh Botanical Garden's bonsai park in Bagalore, India ( 08/2002 ), Japan's first government-sponsored bonsai garden at Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park ( 11/2004 ), and the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia ( 09/2008 ).  See also this new more comprehensive listing.

3     See BoldlyGrow3, BoldlyGrow4, and BoldlyGrow5.

4     For instance, Kyuzo Murata ( 09/1991 ), Robert "Bob" Watson ( 11/1991 ), Hugo Storer ( 06/1994 ), George Gray ( 07/1994 ), Kazuo Fujii ( 07/1994 ), Dr. George Sherman Avery, Jr. ( 08/1994 ), Arch Hawkins ( 04/1995 ), Father Paul Bourne ( 07/1995 ), Takeo Fukuda ( 07/1995 ), Toshio Saburomaru ( 04/1996 ), Kahn Komai ( 06/1996 ), Norman Nelson ( 07/1996 ), Max Leversha ( 06/1997 ), Alan Roger ( 07/1997 ), Max Mendel ( 11/1997 ), Yuji Yoshimura ( 12/1997 ), Lee Chul-ho ( 04/1998 ), Hideo "Leroy" Fujii ( 11/1998 ), Dr. Stephen K-M. Tim ( 11/1998 ), Giovanna Halford-MacLeod ( 01/1999 ), Mary Parker Case ( 07/1999 ), Melba Tucker ( 08/1999 ), William "Bill" E. Southworth ( 04/2000 ), Connie Hinds ( 10/2000 ), Ken Sugimoto ( 01/2001 ), Dorothy S. Young ( 03/2001 ), Frederic L. Ballard ( 03/2001 ), Sona Krishnan ( 10/2001 ), Hideo Kato ( 11/2001 ), Stanley Chinn ( 03/2002 ), Masakuni Kawasumi ( 07/2002 ), Hirosumi Ichihara ( 11/2002 ), Ken Sugawara ( 03/2003 ), Mary E. Mrose ( 03/2003 ), Gwen Skinner ( 03/2003 ), Kenichi Oguchi ( 04/2003 ), Marion Gyllenswan ( 05/2003 ), Kazuya Morita ( 09/2003 ), Masaharu "Mas" Imazumi ( 12/2003 ), Kihachiro Kamiya ( 01/2004 ), Wilma Swain ( 05/2004 ), John Yoshio Naka ( 05/2004 ), Jerome "Jerry" Meyer ( 07/2004 ), Max Braverman ( 09/2004 ), Daniel Chiplis ( 09/2004 ), Leo Cunningham ( 10/2004 ), George Yamaguchi ( 01/2005 ), Yee-Sun Wu ( 05/2005 ), Ernesta Drinker Ballard ( 08/2005 ), Arthur Douglas "Doug" Hall ( 09/2005 ), Max Candy ( 12/2005 ), Frank Okamura ( 01/2006 ), Don Gould ( 03/2006 ), Hideo Marushima ( 04/2006 ), Kiichi "Wayne" Takayasu ( 04/2006 ), Shinji Ogasawara ( 05/2006 ), Xu Xiaobai ( 05/2006 ), Philippe Mauviet ( 06/2006 ), Chris J. Yeapanis ( 04/2007 ), Dr. Gunther Lind ( 04/2007 ), Joe Samuels ( 04/2007 ), E. Felton Jones ( 08/2007 ), Saburo Kato ( 02/2008 ), Masao (Mas) Takanashi ( 05/2008 ), Lynn Perry Alstadt ( 07/2008 ), Jane Nelson ( 09/2008 ), Vaughn Banting ( 10/2008 ), H. Ismail Saleh ( 10/2008 ), Boh Chit Hee ( 01/2009 ), Michel Sacal ( 03/2009 ), Jean C. Smith ( 05/2009 ), Dr. John L. Creech ( 08/2009 ), Jerald P. Stowell ( 04/2010 ), Ruth Stafford-Jones ( 07/2010 ), Gloria Stuart ( 09/2010 ), Hiroshi Suzuki ( 10/2010 ), Momcilo Peter Voynovich ( 01/2011 ), Louis Nel ( 04/2011 ), Keith Scott ( 05/2011 ), Daizo Iwasaki ( 05/2011 ), Alice Naka ( 08/2011 ), Willi Benz ( 12/2011 ), Alison Copperfield ( 06/2013 ), Mary Holmes Bloomer ( 10/2013 ), Jorge Lucero ( 11/2013 ), Peter D. Adams ( 11/2013 ), Harry Tomlinson ( 03/2014 ), Thierry Font ( 04/2014 ), Doris W. Froning ( 08/2014 ), Paul Goff ( 11/2014 ), Sharon M. Muth ( 04/2015 ), Harry Hirao ( 07/2015 ), Thorhammer "Thor" Beowulf ( 08/2015 ), Arthur Skolnik ( 01/2016 ), Jim Lewis ( 05/2016 ), Legard Duane "Pat" Patterson ( 05/2016 ), Jim Smith ( 06/2016 ), Charles Ceronio ( 09/2016 ), Frederick W. Boehringer ( 10/2016 ), Rudi Adam ( 01/2017 ), Naokichi Nozaki ( 01/2017 ), Cheryl Owens ( 04/2017 ), and Barry James Iles ( 07/2017 ).

5     See, for instance, http://artofbonsai.org/galleries/halloween09.php , "Seikei By Fire" by Dean Bull, Bonsai Journal, ABS, Spring 1995, Vol. 29, No. 1, pg. 38, this discussion of an extreme representation in the first Artisans Cup, and this article by Bonsai Mary on Unique Bonsai.

6     "Re-creating the Kulin Nation from the Way of Bonsai TV series," Lindsay farr, 2009, https://vimeo.com/3331465.

7     "Plant 'Dwarf' Gene Found By Salk Scientists," The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 12/22/99, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/12/991222081632.htm.

8     "Genetically Engineering Bonsai Trees," 2010, a recent discussion thread on the Internet Bonsai Club, http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t5043-genetically-engineering-bonsai-trees

9     "Bonsai Project" by Nick Gabchenko, 1999, http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.dream.com.ua/nick/3dprojects/bonsai/avi/Bonsai.avi (possibly a long load, but worth the wait.  Not sure if this link can be fixed nowadays -- not all early programs have been /can be upgraded.).  The concept was earliest mentioned in Bonsai Magazine, BCI, September 1982, pg. 228: a very early Michigan State University program with thirty different variables.  RJB had heard of a more advanced program demonstrated at a national convention around 1990.  And this topic was spontaneously discussed during July and August 1995 on the Usenet BBS rec.arts.bonsai, re: "Sim Bonsai."

10    On April 6, 1993 the Internet rec.arts.bonsai newsgroup was born with an initial posting.  It developed into and was later christened The Internet Bonsai Club.  See also these other Forums & Blogs, Online Club Newsletters, and Online Magazines.

11    See Online Books and Teacher and Artist Interviews.

12    For an attempt at an all-around-look, click on any of the choices at http://web.archive.org/web/20130818231053/http://www.bunjae.net/zboard.php?id=cyber_gall or http://www.ausbonsai.com.au/360//a>, or this tree http://www.sidiao.com/index_e.htm.  3-D printing is another new avenue: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.arts.bonsai/Xp49vmInrBo.

13    The Home and Garden TV network was actually launched in January 1995, http://www.hgtv.com.

14    Microchips and electronic security tags, Aug. 25, 1998, "Growth in garden thefts," http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/157490.stm.

15    NOT what we meant, July 15, 2014, "EXOBIOTANICA -BOTANICAL SPACE FLIGHT," http://azumamakoto.com/?p=5051.  And other locations to which this artist has taken similar trees.


"Whither Bonsai?" by Paul Sherbert, Bonsai Magazine, Bonsai Clubs International, Vol. XIV, No. 2, March 1975, pp. 42-43;
"The Future of Bonsai" by Jack Tetlow, Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XIV, No. 10, December 1975, pp. 322-323;
"Bonsai - 2001" by Dorothy S. Young, International Bonsai Digest Bicentennial Edition, 1976, pp. 88, 94-95;
"Bonsai in America -- Present and Future" by James Barrett, International Bonsai Digest Bicentennial Edition, 1976, pp. 89, 95; and
"BCI, Your Club and Bonsai in the 1980's" by Tom Heitkamp, Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XIX, No. 4, May 1980, pp. 124-126.


"Smoke and Mirrors -- The Future of Bonsai," 2 Dec 2004 (start date) posting, http://replay.web.archive.org/20090214050200/http://forum.bonsaitalk.com/f14/smoke-mirrors-future-bonsai-9320.html;
"The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension" by Will Heath, 29 Jan 2005 (start date) posting, http://artofbonsai.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=163;
"Bonsai -- Past and Present" by Will Heath, 27 May 2008 posting, http://shadysidemd.tripod.com/bonsaivaultarticlecontestsubmissions/id4.html; and
"Bonsai's Future," 24 Jun 2014 (start date) thread, in the Members-only Lounge portion of the Internet Bonsai Club Forum, http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t15660p30-bonsai-s-future.

And finally, this general subject article...  10 Big Mistakes People Make in Thinking About the Future by Sara Robinson.

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