Suitable Trees

While almost any woody plant (tree or shrub) can be used to create a Bonsai, the prime consideration when selecting a tree, should be the leaf size with deciduous and most conifers, or the length of the needle when selecting Pine species.

Part of the charm of a bonsai is the 'capturing' of the elements of a large tree, to have a small tree with large leaves would defeat the object of the exercise. Always select a species that is capable of having its leaves reduced to an appropriate size.

It is easy to reduce the leaf size on deciduous trees by leaf trimming, this is of course not possible with pines and other conifers.

You can use trees with large compound leaves without much reduction, Ash, Rowan and Walnut are examples of trees with this type of leaf.

Illustrated are a 'simple leaf' from a beech and a 'compound leaf' from a rowan.

All of the species mentioned in this section of the 'Primer', come from parts of the globe subject to 'hard' winters. Under no circumstances should they be kept in a heated, or artificially lit environment over winter.

Some Genus provide what may be called 'Classic' Bonsai. Those are, Junipers, Maples and Pines. There are however many other genus with suitable species, among which are: Birch, Beech, Elm, Ginkgo, Hornbeam, Cedar and Yew. Larch also makes a good bonsai, but has a tendency to shed branches for no apparent reason.

For flowering Bonsai, Apple, Cherry, Cotoneaster,Pyracantha, Japanese Quince and Azalea are best.

Always consider native (to you) species and just because a tree is not mentioned in this list you should not assume it will not make a good bonsai.

The list below reflects what I believe to be good, and easily obtainable, trees for the beginner. Offering as wide a range as possible. I would not normally recommend Pines to a beginner as their pruning requirements are, somewhat specialised. However they are a popular tree and are often purchased as a first bonsai.



Suitable species for keeping Indoors

It is an almost impossible task for me to give a list of suitable trees to be kept indoors, indeed if you read the section of the 'Primer' on indoor bonsai you will see that all trees should be placed outside whenever weather conditions allow.

Wether a species needs to be kept indoors, depends on two factors, firstly, where the species originated, secondly, where you live.

If the species originated in the tropics and you live outside of the tropics, the tree will need protection, but may be kept outdoors in the summer.

If you live in the tropics and the tree originated there, the only constraint on keeping the tree indooors would be the amount of light available, matched to the needs of the plant, for example, if you are growing a tree that survives in dense rainforest, it will have evolved to cope with low light situations.

If you live in the tropics and wish to keep trees native to the 'Temporate' areas of the world, 'temporate' being those areas outside of the tropics and the arctics, then you have a problem. These trees will have evolved to 'hibernate' in the winter, keeping them in an location where they cannot do this will almost certainly prove to be fatal for them.

Unsuitable trees

Lets look at what makes a tree unsuitable for training as a bonsai.

I would suggest that the prime factor is the 'natural' size of the leaf. The picture to the left shows a horse chesnut tree, the foliage has just opened and is about half the size it will reach when mature. No amount of leaf trimming, or ramification will get trees with leaves like this down to an acceptable size for a Bonsai.

Allen. C. Roffey 30/09/2002