A Tree On A Tray

“Your granddad gave you WHAT?”

“A tree!” giggled Carrie.

She knew Mary would be taken aback. Who gifts a tree? So she pulled Mary inside her room to show it. There, it sat – a pine tree – beside her computer, no bigger than the monitor! It had tiny needles and even miniature cones! It looked like a fairyland tree.

“Wow!” exclaimed Mary, then got suspicious, “is it, like for real?”

“Yeah it is. It’s a Bonsai. Granddad learnt it when he was in Japan.”

A bonsai is a miniature tree grown in a tray or a shallow container. The smallest bonsai, like Carrie’s, can be carried in only one hand! Bonsai originated in China more than 1000 years ago. Soon this hobby of growing tiny trees became popular in Japan. In fact ‘bonsai’ is Japanese for the Chinese term ‘penzai’, and means ‘tree on a tray’.

To create a bonsai you first need a shallow tray. Add a small amount of clay in it. Now plant a seed or a clipping from a tree. Make sure the pot is raised and does not touch the ground. This gives room for water to flow out, and the roots get air.

To dwarf the tree, you have to keep pruning its roots and branches. Wiring the tree helps control the shape. Remember, a good bonsai should look like you picked a tree from a forest and shrunk it small. Creating an artistic bonsai takes years of practice and training. A typical bonsai takes five years or more to grow!

A bonsai is a hardy tree and can last several years. Among the Japanese,  it is an heirloom passed from grandfather to father to son. Traditionally it was the oldest son’s responsibility to care for the bonsai.

Once a Japanese heritage, this art became known to the world when American soldiers brought samples back after World War II. Today bonsai has become a popular art form everywhere. Not only will you find it in nurseries, but also in many rooms like Carrie’s that are lovingly adorned by a tiny tree on a tray!

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