Bonsai by Fields, LLC    

Since 1983 - Located in Greenwood, IN - (317) 439-0678

History of Bonsai


Bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh) is thought to have been developed by the Chinese sometime during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).  In China it is called penjing.  They first created the miniature landscapes and trees that we now know today as bonsai. The Japanese and Chinese characters for bonsai are identical.  In Japanese, bonsai is translated as “bon”, which means pot or tray, and “sai”, which means tree.  The art came to Japan late in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 A.D.).  It was there that the art of bonsai was refined and mastered into the art it is today. 

The earliest documented proof of bonsai was discovered in China 1972 in the tomb of Prince Zhang Huai, during the Tang Dynasty who died in 706 A.D. Two wall paintings discovered in the tomb show servants carrying plants resembling bonsai. In one of the paintings a servant is seen carrying a miniature landscape and in the other painting a servant is shown carrying a pot containing a tree.

Bonsai came to the US during the early part of the 20th century.  Examples of those very trees can be found at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens in New York City.  It wasn’t until the mid-1900’s that it became popular in the US and by Japanese Americans around WW2. 

In 1976 Japan gave the precious gift of 76 bonsai masterpieces to the United States to recognize our bicentennial.  National Arboretum now houses that prized collection.  I encourage you to visit the John Naka Bonsai Pavilion if you go to Washington, DC.

Bonsai was popularized in the US with the release of the motion picture Karate Kid in 1984.  That is when department stores and garden centers began taking advantage of their popularity by selling what they called bonsai.  These were actually cuttings planted in a pot and sometimes glued in their pots so that they could be shipped without losing their soil.  Although the availability of these plants helped the general public acquire “bonsai”, it also left many potential bonsai novices become discouraged with the inevitable death of their beloved tree. 

Today department stores and garden centers continue sell these cuttings glued into pots, and we, the bonsai nurseries and clubs, continue to discourage people from purchasing those “bonsai”.

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