Bonsai trees are no ordinary form of a perennial plant, but an art form in itself. It traces its origin back to Asian culture and tradition. However, there’s a difference in opinion among historians when it comes to the origin of bonsai trees. While some say that it originated in China, some are of the belief that the Japanese were the first to create this form of trees.
Although the point of origin is still a matter of debate, the most widely accepted belief is that landscapes comprising of bonsai plants were first created by the Chinese. In China, bonsai was known as penjing and its cultivation started in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.). Legends have it that an emperor in China had an entire landscape created in his courtyard comprising of valleys, rivers, lakes, hills and bonsai trees.
Another legend says a 4th-century Chinese poet named Guen-ming started growing chrysanthemums in small containers as a hobby after his retirement.
The first ever historical evidence of bonsai was found in the tomb of Chinese Prince Zhang Huai of the Tang Dynasty in 1972. There paintings that show servants carrying potted plants that resemble bonsai plants.
Bonsai connection with Japan
In Japanese, the term ‘bonsai’ typically means ‘tray planting.’ It is widely believed that although the plant traces its roots into Chinese culture, it were the Japanese who popularized the form we know today. This form of plant arrived in the Heian period Japan when Buddhist monks brought them along. This art form came to be practiced only the wealthy people and they were considered as an aristocrat privilege.
With the invasion of Japan by the Chinese, this art form came to be practiced by the common people as well. It looked like a work of art, and the early Japanese artists went to great lengths to polish the art and develop it to what we know today.
Despite being popularized by Japanese people, we cannot ignore the Chinese influence on these bonsai masters. Even today, they use the same Chinese standards to represent a bonsai plant.
Meeting with the West
It was not until the 18th century that the bonsai trees came to the Western countries. The earliest forms of bonsai came mostly from Japan and China. It was first displayed in the Third Universal Exhibition in Paris held in 1878. In the subsequent exhibits in 1889 and 1900 raised the curiosity regarding this strange yet gorgeous plant among the westerners.
Many people in the early years considered that these dwarf trees look like they have been tortured and they raised their displeasure. However, by the end of 1935, opinions changed in favor of the bonsai plant and they finally came to be considered as an art form in the west too.
Their popularity rose by the end of World War II as western soldiers returned from Japan with bonsai plants. People became more interested in learning about the art form and how to take good care of the bonsai plants.
Today, you can find bonsai plants of different varieties in department stores, nurseries, garden centers and many more places.