“Is it a girl? Or a boy?”
Well, to set things straight, as a plant parent, we are talking about bonsai here.
You may have already heard the term “masculine” or “feminine” used to describe bonsai trees, but what does it actually mean?
In essence, it only has something to do with their artistic style and visual appeal and has nothing to do with either biological or horticultural composition.
The main thought behind this labeling, regardless of what you view of the individual terms used, is to simply point out that there are variations in how trees can appear.
Think of it as a scale with the feminine on one end and the masculine end on the other.
This scale enables us to attempt to monitor and compare these distinctions between the trees in an objective manner, which improves our ability to express what we see and feel and enables us to understand why, when certain components are grouped together, we usually find them to be more aesthetically pleasing.
In general, masculine trees have more angular movement and are overall bulkier and heavier looking.
Feminine trees are at the other end of the scale, having more curvilinear and flowing movement, with a more subtle appearance and feel to the tree.
When determining if a tree is far more masculine or feminine, there are various individual elements that play a major part. You must keep in mind that this is art; thus, even while these factors aim to appraise a tree objectively, they can still be highly subjective.
What Aspects Can We Consider to Determine the Aesthetic Gender of a Bonsai Tree?
The masculine or feminine nature of a tree can be inferred from the sizes, shapes, and movements of its trunk.
A long, thin trunk with a soft curve will be perceived as more feminine, while a short, thick, straight trunk will be considered masculine.
Another component of the trunk that is examined is the taper. A male tree would have a prominent taper. If you picture a short, squat tree, it will have a wide base and a sharp top that tapers.
In contrast, the trunk of a feminine tree would gently taper from thick to thin, gradually decreasing in size as the trunk moves up.
The roots of trees are quite significant, and how they appear when they reach the ground is a crucial aspect of bonsai cultivation.
In contrast to a tree whose root base is thinner and less spread and would be labeled as feminine, a tree with a broad, widely spread root base that appears to be firmly gripping the ground is considered masculine.
In this aspect, thick, textured bark is considered as masculine, whereas thin, light bark is viewed as feminine.
Once more, variations in movement are what determine the branching.
Male branches are thought to possess strong angular changes in direction, whilst female branches are considered to have soft flowing lines and curves.
It is also important to take into account the weight of the branches. This refers to how much foliage there is and how dense it appears to be on the branch.
In contrast to a branch that is thick, heavy, and looks to be covered in foliage, a branch with light, airy branches that looks delicate and open is regarded as feminine.
Trees with any kind of deadwood, scarring, hollows, or other similar features will be considered as masculine. These characteristics give trees the appearance that they have fought and battled against nature for a long time and have suffered as a result.
Feminine trees won’t have any deadwood, shouldn’t appear to have gone through the same battle, and won’t have the same rugged appearance.
It can be challenging for beginners to understand what negative space is. In essence, you’re examining the areas where the tree is absent. Negative space is the term for the emptiness between branches of a tree that has several gaps and spaces. Frequently, trees are shaped and styled with these vacant spaces in mind. They are artful decisions that have been given great consideration.
Although it may seem absurd, you must consider it as determining “where the branches should be” by determining “where they shouldn’t be.” If you can think in this way, you will begin to see why some branches are positioned in specific spots and why certain areas have gaps left.
A tree’s appearance and vibe can be greatly altered by the proportion of negative space. A tree will appear more open and lighter, which is more feminine, if it has more negative space.
Minimal negative space will make trees appear denser and heavier because there won’t be any room between the branches, giving them a more masculine appearance.
Perhaps one of the least significant aspects of masculinity and femininity is the leaves and foliage of a bonsai tree. Depending on their softer shapes or colors, you may suggest that certain leaves are much more feminine than others, although this isn’t always the case.
Additionally, bonsai species as a whole are frequently described as masculine or feminine. This is due to the fact that, generally speaking, various species have a tendency to develop and exhibit their traits in a way that leans them more toward one end of the scale than others.
However, just like life, there are always exceptions to the norms, and each tree should be assessed on its own.
When it comes to Japanese maples, for example, they are frequently characterized as feminine, although there are countless instances where they exhibit more masculine traits.
It’s the same with pines, which are often referred to as “masculine trees,” although we can easily discover innumerable examples of pines that look more feminine.
The simplest method to avoid this is to analyze each tree separately and then decide what gender it belongs to.
Selecting a pot
A tree’s overall appearance can be significantly influenced by the pot it is placed in. There are countless distinct pot designs in a wide range of sizes, colors, and forms.
In terms of gender aesthetics, some pots will go with a tree better than others. Pots should blend nicely with the tree, subtly reflecting its individuality and traits.
Masculine trees will do better in pots with thicker appearances and steeper angles. They frequently have a strong, heavy appearance. The pots’ feet will also be well delineated. The pot will appear sturdy and well-anchored. This is typically observed in pots with a rectangular shape.
Feminine trees have softer curves and a more flowing appearance, so pots with rounded corners or other similar features will work better with them. Round and oval pots are excellent illustrations of this. Additionally, the feet of feminine pots are typically less prominent and shallower. The pots will appear quite delicate and fragile.
When Does Any of This Matter?
So, we can now distinguish between a tree’s gender features. What makes any of this significant? What difference does it make if my tree leans more masculine or feminine?
All of this is done mostly for stylistic and aesthetic reasons. Although bonsai is mostly about cultivating and maintaining trees, it is also primarily an artistic practice.
It’s only fair to assume that styling your tree in a way that draws attention to its natural beauty and features can help because there aren’t really any real standards and you can just do whatever you like.
The key to bonsai styling and design is balance. Every component of the tree must be harmonized, and you must consider both what you have and what you can achieve with it.
Knowing the aforementioned elements will help you assess your tree and choose styling options that will work best for it.
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