Uncovering the Deeper Meaning Behind Your Bonsai Practice
Bonsai is so much more than simply growing tiny trees. Through careful pruning and training of branches, bonsai growers create a work of art that tells a story. An individual tree can act as a miniature meditation on anything from the beauty of aging to the importance of balancing contrast in life. Aesthetic features are crafted over many years, a process that requires careful contemplation of the symbolic meaning behind every aspect of a tree’s design.
This beginner’s guide takes a closer look at common bonsai tree symbolism and the deeper meaning behind several popular species. Let’s dive in!
Bonsai Tree Symbolism
They may be magnificent to look at, but there’s nothing showy about a bonsai tree. On the contrary, a true masterpiece can stop you in your tracks with its simplicity. Through careful cultivation, a bonsai grower can achieve jaw-dropping beauty through natural elements alone—no bells, no whistles, just life.
The modest beauty of a well-designed bonsai is more and more a contrast to our busy, complicated world. Caring for and admiring these tiny trees invites you to slow down and declutter your mind. It pushes you to consider how care and intention—not frills and excess—create a life worth bearing witness to.
The natural world relies on perfect equilibrium; flora and fauna of different ecosystems don’t simply co-exist, they’re often dependent on each other to survive. What may seem small (like a declining bee population, or the introduction of an invasive species) can wreak havoc across an entire, delicately balanced network. The same can be said of harmony in our own lives: small imbalances can cause ripple effects that last a lifetime.
Bonsai is a masterful balancing act: between masculine and feminine features, strong trunks trained to grow at impossible angles, and containers that perfectly complement a tree’s unique traits. Each element acts as a mirror to the importance of cultivating harmony in our inner and outer worlds.
Like it or not, there’s no rushing bonsai. In fact, trying to speed things up will only cause your tree (and you!) to suffer. Defoliating too early, over-fertilizing, or performing structural pruning before your tree is ready can set you back months—or even years. Bonsai doesn’t care if that’s disappointing; it demands you let time play its role in the process.
When a grower masters patience, the frustration of slow progress becomes a relaxing meditation—the practice of providing loving care today for upward (and inward) growth tomorrow.
Cycles of Life
Of all the changes we fear the most, death may top the list. That we will live and die is one of life’s only certainties, but what happens next may be its greatest mystery. This is one of the reasons we fear growing old and prefer to look away from reminders of loss and death. Bonsai allows us to explore the elements of aging and grow to appreciate the beauty at every stage of life.
By carefully manipulating limbs, leaves, and branches, you can grow a tree that is a testament to life at any cycle. In the bonsai pot, the grower can celebrate the vitality of youth with slender trunks and reaching limbs—or meditate on the enduring beauty of old age with exposed roots and gnarled branches.
Bonsai Tree Symbolism by Species
While bonsai itself is symbolic of many elements of the natural world and human experience, individual species allow you to go even deeper. Let’s take a look at the symbolism of a few popular varieties.
Jade Bonsai Tree Symbolism: Abundance
A popular plant in the Japanese philosophy of feng shui, jade symbolizes abundance, success, and harmony. Also known as the money tree, jade is believed to bring financial good fortune to the spaces in which it is placed. It comes as no surprise, then, that this auspicious bonsai tree is a welcome gift at business grand openings and housewarming parties.
Ficus Bonsai Tree Symbolism: New Beginnings
A common beginner’s bonsai, the ficus symbolizes unity, new beginnings, and simplicity. This quick-growing, low-maintenance tree is always reaching forward, happily embracing new versions of itself and its surroundings. This may be why the cheerful tree is also believed to inspire positivity and empathy in its surroundings.
Cherry Blossom Bonsai Tree Symbolism: Divine Existence
In the springtime, the cherry blossom tree delights the eye with a brief display of elegant flowers. A symbol of the transitory nature of existence and feminine power, this bonsai’s seasonal display marks the beginning of a cycle of abundance. As it drops its beautiful blossoms to lean into summer, it stands as a reminder that all things bloom and fade—and still, life continues.
Gingko Bonsai Tree Symbolism: Perseverance
The last surviving member of the ginkgo family, ginkgo biloba bonsai are a symbol of longevity and endurance. The medicinal health benefits of the ginkgo tree and its extreme hardiness (several survived the blast at Hiroshima) make this popular bonsai a fascinating reminder of the power of perseverance.
Have another question about bonsai tree symbolism? Let us know what’s on your mind in the comments below!
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