Discovered in China, Bonsai was initially named pun-sai, a term used to define the process of cultivating single specimen trees in pots. These dwarfed trees or plants acquired many imaginary shapes including beasts, landscapes and many more. Each of these shapes was generally related to some religious myth in the minds of people. Gradually, with the beginning of the 12th century, these plants spread across the world with many new myths added to already existing ones.
Bonsai mainly developed in regions like China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and Thailand of which Japan played a very important role in enhancing the quality and technology that is Bonsai. It turned Bonsai into a symbol of esteem and tribute. With these attributes, Bonsai soon turned into an indoor plant, developed and nurtured inside dwellings for decorative demonstrations.
During the fourteenth century, Bonsai was looked upon as a greatly developed art form. This in itself indicates the length of time Bonsai and the practice of developing this particular tree form has been around.
The 19th century saw major developments in the technology of Bonsai plant growing. Japanese expertise led to enhancement in growing styles so that every plant developed was unique in shape, patterns and all other details. Each Bonsai plant grown was a masterpiece with reference to its style, shape and nutrients. Elements such as rocks, accent plants, buildings and many more were added to bonsai plants, which further enhanced their worth and beauty.
A good example of this is found in an ancient Japanese message written during the Kamakura period, which when translated says, “To appreciate and find pleasure in curiously curved potted trees is to love deformity”
From Japan, the plants quickly spread to the Western hemisphere, with exhibitions in different parts of the world. Among these, the Paris World Exhibitions during 1909 paved the way for its global spread and development.
With the Second World War, the popularity of Bonsai plants increased in the western parts of the world. Following their victory over Japan, US soldiers brought back a bonsai plant with them when they returned to America. While the plant did not survive for long, it created a permanent place in the hearts of people there and led them to learning about planting and maintaining a Bonsai.
The spread of Bonsai across the world was thus slow and spread over several centuries. But once it was introduced to a country, its commendable qualities in terms of its species, miniature size, and pleasing appearance, and the serenity and mental peace it conveyed led to its becoming welcomed at homes as a symbol of good luck and fortune.
Currently, the oldest known Bonsai tree is a five-needle pine in the Tokyo Imperial Palace. It has been declared the “National Treasure of Japan” and has been around for more than 500 years. It was originally tendered by Tokugawa Iemitsu, and even today, is considered to be a major achievement.
Owing to their marvelous characteristics, Bonsai plants are today globally considered to be masterworks for decoration of residence and office alike. People today specially learn the art of growing, tendering and treating a Bonsai so that they can enjoy its growth at every level and achieve peace of mind and soul through it.