It’s strange but true; living things often make appealing and interesting gifts. However, since not everybody can keep a horse or a puppy in their office, indoor bonsai trees are by far the most practical and affordable choice. Who can deny that a little bit of verdure breaks up an otherwise sterile looking indoor environment? Most indoor bonsais for sale are tropical plants, so they will survive indoor conditions quite well as long as you keep them watered, even in winter. Don’t be concerned if they lose a few leaves in the fall; they may not be deciduous, but some will still drop a few to make room for new growth.
What is the Best Choice?
The answer to this question depends on what you want to do with it. Some bonsai are fascinating to look at, but require relatively high maintenance; others are nearly as tough as any house plant, albeit far more interesting. The range of shapes and styles of bonsais is boundless; from the classic looking Chinese Elm to one of the many fascinating ficuses. Yes, it is ficuses, not fikii or something equally weird; it’s Latin for fig.
One of the primary causes of failure among bonsais is dehydration; the shallow shape of bonsai pots means that they have very little nutrients and water in reserve. The other big killer is a lack of light; tropical trees are accustomed to ample light, and high humidity, even a south-facing windowsill is not enough light for some (especially if you are in the Southern Hemisphere). Low humidity levels are invariably a consideration for indoor tropical plants. Indoor areas are rarely as humid as the tropics, in fact, both heaters and air conditioners reduce the level of ambient moisture. If all this sounds like too much trouble for you or the person receiving your bonsai, don’t worry. With such a wide variety, the right combination of durability and beauty for every situation is available. Here’s a review of some of the popular ones.
Commonly known as figs, ficus is a genus of around 850 species, not all of them are used for bonsai, but many are. Their native habitat is mostly the tropical regions, with a few species in the temperate zone. Ficus are the most robust of the bonsais; if you are looking for visual appeal with low maintenance, these are the ones. Being tropical; they can live anywhere you can (unless you like the room temperature consistently below 50F) as long as they get sufficient water. Although they enjoy being kept outdoors during the summer months, they don’t really need a lot of sunlight to thrive. Ficus are by far the most popular type of bonsai.
Ginseng ficus (Ficus Retusa)
A popular choice for ficus is the Ginseng ficus, also known as the Banyan Fig or Taiwan Ficus. The Ginseng Ficus bark has an interesting effect with horizontal flecks and a gray to reddish tone. It has small dark green leaves alternating up the stem. The Ginseng Ficus has a thick trunk with exposed roots, which is a typical feature of ficus and contributes to the fascinating appearance that bonsai trees have. In short, a good looking, trouble free fig. A good example of the Ginseng ficus is available here
Willow Leaf Ficus (ficus nerifolia/salicafolia)
Some people are of the opinion that all bonsai look virtually the same because all they see adorning desks and window sills are squat, dark green leaf, ficus. Even the Golden Gate Ficus has the typical broad leaf. Granted, figs are the easiest to maintain, but the variations can be striking. An excellent example of this is the Willow Leaf Ficus. As the name suggests, its leaves look more like they belong on a weeping willow than on a fig. However, this is not the only feature that adds variety to its figgy appearance. Far from being squat and chunky, the trunk is thin and elegant, making it trainable and tree-like. Willow leaf figs are often available with trunks that have been shaped to add greater visual effect. The Willow Leaf Ficus is a superb combination of elegance and durability. Do you like the idea of a willowy fig? We found this one available for a good price.
Hawaiian Umbrella (Schefflera arboricola)
This tree is not a fig; it is a flowering plant of the Araliaceae family, but it is still very low maintenance. If you are looking for a gift for someone who may not have a green thumb (or you just don’t want it to die on them), this is your best choice. This striking, yet sturdy tree does well in high or low light, is not to fussed about water and its shiny, tiny umbrella-shaped leaves over its multiple, intricate trunks make it a charming ornament. Perfect for home or office. The Hawaiian Umbrella Tree Bonsai is beautiful in appearance and very easy to care for and propagate. Here is a link to your own stress-free tree.
Chinese Elm (Ulmus Parvifolia)
The appearance of Chinese Elm, elegant and ancient, is the classic bonsai look and, if you are prepared to take care of it, it really is the best choice. Chinese Elms like a cool room and plenty of light; they will lose leaves occasionally, but this is normal, although it may be due to insufficient light or water. Keep the soil moist at all times and water generously, soak it; dehydration is the biggest killer of these trees. The Chinese Elm is susceptible to White fly or Red spider mite infestations, but any household insecticide will get rid of them.
Fukien Tea (Carmona Retusa)
Although also known as the Philippine tea tree, this tree is originally from China, incidentally, so is bonsai. It is named after the Fukien province, or Fuijan if you prefer a more accurate pronunciation. You will also find it in Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Australia. The Fukien Tea is very commonly used for Penjing, which is the original art before it was introduced to Japan and renamed bonsai. If you like originality and history, this may be the one for you.
This evergreen, soft, woody shrub hails from South Africa where they can grow about nine feet tall. The Jade has a thick trunk and dense but delicate branches with thick green oval succulent leaves which can develop a red edge if given enough light. A small white flower may appear during the fall, but not necessarily. The Jade’s bark is soft and green when young and develops a red-brown color when it matures. The Jade will grow outdoors, but is sensitive to the cold and is, therefore, best grown indoors with plenty of sunlight. Watering is a bit tricky, the Jade likes a thorough soaking and then allowing the soil to dry. A well-made bonsai pot should drain well, so it’s almost impossible to over water them in one go. Here’s a link to a supplier with great plants in excellent pots.
Brazilian Raintree (Pithecellobium Tortum)
The perfect gift for the weather buff. Do you know someone who prides themselves on their ability to predict the weather? This is the ideal gift for them. When they’re not watching the clouds or the sunrise or the ants, they will be fascinated by this amazing natural barometer. When it gets dark, rains or gets hot, this intriguing plant responds by closing its leaves. Its crooked stems and branches with peeling greyish bark give it an excellent “ancient tree” effect. Watch out for the thorns and enjoy the fragrant flowers, the butterflies love them too. Just be sure to give it full sun.
Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea Recurvata)
First of all, it is not a palm; it’s a species of plant in the lily family (Asparagaceae) and it’s native to the states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosí in South-eastern Mexico. Notwithstanding, it looks like a palm, and it would be a shame to lose the alliteration for the sake of botanical accuracy. The palm-like appearance is a result of the clusters of long, thin leaves arching and drooping gracefully from the trunk. Another name for the Ponytail Palm is Elephant’s foot because of its bulbous, scaly base. The shape of the trunk is not just for looks, it is a reservoir of water, making it resistant to dehydration and therefore relatively easy to maintain.
The Wisdom of the Ancients
Of all the bonsais mentioned and all the bonsais in existence, it would be hard to deny that the Chinese Elm is among the most popular. The tiny, reddish-green flowers appear in late summer; they are replaced by an equally tiny seed surrounded by a papery wing. The tree’s mottled bark flakes to reveal patches of gray, cream, orange, brown and green. The overall effect is the feeling of being in the presence of a huge, ancient tree. All that’s left to do is drift out of yourself and into a lush green world of stillness and peace.
It’s true that more attention must be paid to maintenance of this kind of bonsai, but it is well worth the small effort and some would argue that taking care of living things is a soul-enriching experience. Whether you are giving it as a gift or decorating your own space, the Chinese Elm will not disappoint. You can see for yourself.