Bonsai Styles - Creating Different Looks

In the art of bonsai training, shape and style are very important. Whether starting a new bonsai or maintaining a mature one, you’ll always have a certain style in mind. While a bonsai doesn’t have to follow the rules for any single style, it’s always a good idea to have a style in mind and implement it to your tree in the most natural way possible. 

In this article, we’ll look at the different bonsai styles and how you can start training your bonsai into that shape. Keep reading to discover more about the different bonsai styles.

The Different Bonsai Styles And What They Look Like

What Are The Different Bonsai Styles?

When it comes to bonsai, there are five basic styles and many more advanced styles that are variations of the basics. The basic styles are mostly related to the angle of the tree’s growth from the container, whereas the more advanced styles focus more on a specific look.

Basic Styles

Let’s take a look at the five basic bonsai styles.

Formal Upright (Chokan)

As the name suggests, in this bonsai style, the tree’s trunk grows straight up, with the apex being centered directly over the base of the tree. Branches are regular and growing alternatingly, with longer, thicker branches at the bottom, and shorter, thinner branches at the top. Nebari or root flare is important in this style. You want to have the root base somewhat exposed with a well-developed radial flair.

Skill level: Beginner

Informal Upright (Moyogi)

The informal upright style is one of the most popular used in training bonsai. These trees follow a more natural growth pattern, and the trunks don’t grow straight up. Instead, they grow in an s-shape to create movement. The apex, however, is still centered over the base of the tree. Branches follow a similar pattern as the formal upright style, with longer branches lower down and shorter branches towards the apex.

Skill level: Beginner with a little practice.

Slanting (Shakan)

This style shares many similarities with the formal upright style as the trunk is straight. However, instead of being upright with the apex centered over the base of the tree, in the slanting style, the trunk is angled quite severely, with the apex being centered to the side of the tree’s base.

Skill level: Beginner

Semi Cascade (Han-Kengai)

In this style, the branches droop down at an angle that falls right at or just below the tree’s base. In this style, the apex should be in line with the base, with other branches reaching just below or above the base of the tree.

Skill level: Intermediate

Full Cascade (Kengai)

In a full cascade, the angle of the drooping branches is much more prominent, and the branches droop down to below the base of the tree, sometimes even going slightly lower than the bonsai container. This style aims to mimic trees in nature that grow off cliff faces, and it’s one of the oldest styles used in bonsai.

Skill level: Intermediate

The Different Bonsai Styles And What They Look Like

Advances Styles

Let’s take a look at some of the more advanced styles. There may be many more advanced styles, but we’re covering the most popular ones here.

Broom Style (Hokidachi)

This style follows some of the principles of the formal upright style. The tree’s trunk grows straight up. However, it isn’t necessarily the highest point of the tree. Instead, branches fan out above the tree in a broom-like fashion. 

Skill level: Expert

Exposed Root Style (Neagari)

Certain tree species naturally expose their roots. As such, this has become a style in bonsai. In this style, you’ll see many roots visible above the ground. In some cases, these roots can even grow and bend to reach the middle of the trunk before looping back into the soil.

Skill level: Intermediate

Root Over Rock Style (Seki-Joju)

In this style, the tree grows over the rocks, with its roots hugging the rock until they eventually vanish into the soil. Since these roots are exposed, they develop a special bark that protects them. This is one of the more challenging styles to attempt.

Skill level: Intermediate

Double or Twin Trunk Style (Sokan)

In the twin trunk style, two trunks develop from the same root ball. Sometimes the second trunk develops straight from the base of the main trunk. The main trunk is usually a bit bigger (but not much) and grows in an upright fashion. On the other hand, the second trunk grows at a slight angle. Both trunks will create a single canopy of foliage.

Skill level: Intermediate

Raft Style (Ikadabuki)

In some cases, a cracked tree lying face down can still survive. The old root system still provides the branches with nutrients, so they continue to grow until eventually developing into trunks growing directly from the original tree. Eventually, new roots will grow to support all the trunks and replace the old root system. The different trunks all contribute to a single canopy.

Skill level: Expert

Clump Style (Kabudachi)

This style is very similar to the double or twin trunk style, except that there are three or more instead of just two trunks. All these trunks grow from the same root system and are part of the same tree. All the trunks form a singly canopy of leaves, with the thickest trunk forming the highest point.

Skill level: Expert

Forest Style (Yose-Ue)

The first style can look very similar to a multi-trunk or raft style, except that a forest style comprises multiple individual trees, each with its own root system. The most developed trees are usually located at the center, with younger trees on the outskirts. These trees are planted in a staggered pattern to look more natural. The canopies come together to form a single crown.

Skill level: Intermediate

Windswept Style (Fukinagashi)

This style mimics trees in nature that grow in very harsh or windy conditions. The trunk and branches grow towards one side of the tree as if a strong wind was constantly blowing it in that direction. The side battered by the elements can also be turned into deadwood or Shari for visual impact and interest.

Skill level: Expert

Literati Style (Bunjingi)

Literati styles in nature can be found in areas with dense tree growth. In these areas, the only way trees can survive is by growing taller than those around them. This leads to a taller, skinnier trunk that grows somewhat slanting with no branches lower down and a small dainty canopy at the top. This style looks great with some exposed deadwood (Jin or Shari). This is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging styles to get right. Only bonsai artists with a lot of experience in different styles can create literati bonsai that are balanced and symmetric.

Skill level: Expert

The Different Bonsai Styles And What They Look Like

Final Thoughts

Bonsai is an exciting, creative, and artistic hobby. If you understand the basics of the different styles that bonsai can be trained in, you can start implementing these on your miniature trees to create stunning looks of various styles and interests.

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Leri Koen was introduced to the art of bonsai at a young age. Some of her fondest memories from her childhood is watching her father tend his prized bonsai. These fond memories soon turned into a passion as she discovered her own love of the art, and admiration for these artists.

She could easily spend hours reading about different bonsai techniques, or marveling at some stunning bonsai.

Some of her favorite trees to use in bonsai include Acacia, Bougainvillea, Ficus. She is hoping to soon propagate a few Pomegranate seeds and Wisteria and watch them develop into stunning bonsai with care and love.

Leri Koen

Leri Koen


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