Penjing Museum at the United States National Arboretum. Japanese art form using cultivation techniques to produce small trees in containers that mimic the shape and size of full size trees. Bonsai” is a Japanese pronunciation of the earlier Chinese term penzai. The purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation for the viewer, and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity for the grower. By contrast with other plant cultivation practices, bonsai is not intended for production of food or for medicine. A bonsai is created beginning with a specimen of source material.
This may be a cutting, seedling, or small tree of a species suitable for bonsai development. The source specimen is shaped to be relatively small and to meet the aesthetic standards of bonsai. When the candidate bonsai nears its planned final size it is planted in a display pot, usually one designed for bonsai display in one of a few accepted shapes and proportions. From that point forward, its growth is restricted by the pot environment. The practice of bonsai is sometimes confused with dwarfing, but dwarfing generally refers to research, discovery, or creation of plant cultivars – especially coniferous subjects such as juniper and spruce – that are permanent, genetic miniatures of existing species.
The earliest illustration of a penjing is found in the Qianling Mausoleum murals at the Tang-dynasty tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai, dating to 706. The Japanese art of bonsai originated from the Chinese practice of penjing. The 1195 scroll Saigyo Monogatari Emaki was the earliest known to depict dwarfed potted trees in Japan. A close relationship between Japan’s Zen Buddhism and the potted trees began to shape bonsai reputation and esthetics.