You do not have to be a professional arborist to figure out the identification of a bonsai tree. You may have received one of these special tiny trees as a gift. Proper identification is necessary for appropriate care such as amount of light and water. Take the time to find out what type of tree you have, and then work to give it the best possible environment.
Doing Detective Work
Some simple steps to begin your path as an official bonsai gardener include doing some basic research on the different tree specimens. There are many online guides available with pictures showing different tree types. It also can be helpful to visit a local bonsai gardening group. At these group sessions, you may find yourself surrounded by experts who can instantly help identify your tree as well as give you basic beginner’s tips. Trees typically are classified by shape, size and species. Knowing some basic elements of the bonsai can give you clues as to how simple or involved maintenance may be. The following is a framework of questions when doing your own research to figure out the type of tree you have and the care required:
1. Is it deciduous or evergreen/coniferous?
Deciduous trees will lose their leaves in the winter, while evergreen varieties stay the same year-round. Deciduous examples include Chinese elm, Japanese elm and Japanese maple, while evergreen/coniferous types include cedar and juniper.
2. Is it an indoor or outdoor specimen?
Some bonsai trees are tropical varieties, which may be more challenging to care for if you live in a colder climate. These may do best in a greenhouse with higher, consistent humidity and warmer temperatures. Tropical versions include ficus and bougainvillea.
3. What is the preferred soil and overall shape that needs to be encouraged?
Once you have identified the type of bonsai, you then can research the type of soil it needs to thrive. There also may be significance in its shape and how to maintain it in terms of how often to prune and when to change or upgrade the soil.
4. Is it a flowering bonsai?
Some of these trees give you the additional bonus of flowers or fruit. These types include magnolia, quince and juniper. Some maples even grow tiny fruit on their branches.
Identifying Popular Varieties
While there are many different types of bonsai trees, some types are more commonly available and may be the kind you have. For these listed, you may already be familiar with their larger version seen in nature. Identifiers for bonsai typically focus on leaves, bark, berries and/or fruit. You may recognize each bonsai’s distinctive traits by being familiar with a non-bonsai version, perhaps a tree or shrub growing in your front yard. Here are some basic types and their distinguishing characteristics:
Magnolia: White flowers with profuse blooms, thick branches and trunk.
Chinese quince: Pink flowers with large, yellow fruit.
Ficus: Densely packed, oval-shaped shiny, thick leaves, some types offer flowers.
Bougainvillea: Flowers in various colors on thick, shiny green leaves.
Chinese elm: Delicate twigs and branches from single trunk. Leaves have scalloped edge.
Japanese elm: Darker green leaves than seen on the Chinese elm. Leaves are toothed with pointed tips.
Japanese maple: Comes with a maple’s traditional five-pointed leaf that changes colors in the seasons. Bark changes color with age, going from green to light gray or brown.
Cedar: Clusters of needles on branches.
Juniper: More than 30 of these types exist. The tree’s needles range from dark blue green to light green.
Needles are sharp at the tree’s young stage and soften as the tree ages.
Dwarf bamboo: Many different easy-to-grow types on long stems with thin, long leaves. Stems can be planted solo or bundled.
As you learn more about these small but elegant examples of nature’s trees and hedges, you may want to start an entire bonsai garden with many different varieties. Many people who become experts with these specimens make it a life’s work of devotion to each one. Take care that you understand the needs for proper maintenance with each one. Bonsai gardening is like no other type of gardening, and your garden, with proper care, can offer a lifetime of beauty and exquisite detail.