Bonsai trees take centuries to grow and years of training

  • Bonsai is the art of shrinking an ordinary tree to create a perfect miniature representation in a small pot.
  • The craft originates from China and requires years of training and centuries of dedication.
  • At the 2012 International Bonsai Convention, a tree was on sale for 100 million yen, or just under $ 1 million. Many more of these trees are considered to be totally priceless.
  • We spoke with a fourth generation bonsai master in central Japan to understand what makes these trees so expensive.
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Bonsai is an art form that takes years of training and centuries of dedication. At the 2012 International Bonsai Convention, a tree was on sale for 100 million yen, or just under $ 1 million.

And many more of these trees are considered totally priceless. So what makes bonsai so expensive?

Bonsai is the art of shrinking an ordinary tree to create a perfect miniature representation of nature in a small pot. It has a long history. Originally from China, the practice of creating tiny trees and landscapes appeared as early as the 6th century.

Tree growth is limited by years of pruning, wiring, repotting, and grafting, and the plants need to be controlled and watered often every day. The skills required to grow these trees play a huge role in their value.

They are often bent and twisted, placed around rocks or even placed with other trees to simulate a small forest. Many of these techniques take years to master, and any mistake made can result in permanent ruin of the form or even death of a plant that has grown for centuries.

Chiako Yamamoto is a fourth generation bonsai master based in central Japan. She has been creating and selling bonsai for 51 years, and one of the hardest skills to master when growing these plants is patience.

The time and dedication this process requires is unlike almost any other form of work of art. While the work is almost a form of sculpture, the plants are living things and will always react in their own way.

The extraordinary amount of time this process takes means there just aren’t many trees around. Some of the most valuable bonsai are over 800 years old, so the supply isn’t going to increase anytime soon.

Other factors can contribute to the cost. Bonsai pots and the tools used are often handmade and can cost thousands of dollars themselves.

Certain types of trees are also more difficult to grow or require certain techniques and may fetch a higher price. But, more than anything, these trees are works of art valued for their beauty and the artist’s vision.

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