Meaning and Symbolism Behind Common Bonsai Trees

The art of nurturing any plant into a bonsai tree dates back centuries. It’s a deeply sacred and respected art, which promotes harmony, attention to detail, and the fine balance between art and science. 

The art of bonsai dates back 2000 years, where it was originally inspired by the Chinese art of Penjing, the art of “growing trees in containers”.

With the tiniest of detail, a bonsai tree creates a narrative which holds a lot of symbolism, as well as creating a carefully cultivated aesthetic even to an untrained eye.

Bonsai trees as a whole are believed to invite good fortune and peace to the home or garden, but each species of bonsai can hold a different meaning, as well as each shape they are trained into over a period of many years.

Read on to learn more about the symbolism and meaning behind nine of the most popular bonsai species.

Azalea Bonsai Tree Meaning

Azalea bonsai trees are defined by their showy blooms in white, pink, or red. These colors correspond to a gentle nature, beauty, and vulnerability.

Despite the azalea’s small stature as a bonsai, this doesn’t stop the gorgeous flowers from blooming. And it shouldn’t, because the only thing that’s different between a conventional azalea and an azalea bonsai is that the bonsai tree is pruned in such a way to keep it small. 

Azalea bonsai trees also represent love, passion for life, and an abundance of joy, wisdom and beauty.

To give someone an azalea bonsai signifies that you recognize these qualities within the person you’re giving it to, and the tree is a living symbol of how much you value this person in your life. 

Ficus Bonsai Tree Meaning

The ficus bonsai tree is thought to uplift anyone’s mood who is lucky enough to be in the vicinity of this plant. Ficus bonsai trees symbolize new beginnings, nature and its careful balance, and unity.

In some places, keeping a ficus indoors is believed to help magnify existing positivity and understanding.

The ficus bonsai tree is also one of the easiest bonsai trees to care for, and it’s often gifted to introduce someone to the art of bonsai without overwhelming them with a steep learning curve or a tree that is difficult to care for. 

Jade Bonsai Tree Meaning

Jade bonsai trees are one of the most popular species, as they are thought to bring good luck.

In feng shui, the jade bonsai is believed to produce positive vibrations that help attract wealth, prosperity, and good fortune into your household, which is where the name money tree comes from.

The tree’s leaves represent vitality, renewal, rebirth, and a deep connection in friendship with someone.

The jade bonsai is often given as a gift within traditional feng shui practice. This is especially true when given to business owners, where placing the tree near the till or near the entrance is thought to promote business success and to bring prosperity to the owners.

There is also a widespread belief that if you place a jade bonsai in the southeast within your home, this will bring you very good luck.

As the jade tree is a succulent, it’s very easy to care for. It can go for weeks without water, and requires very little maintenance. It’s probably the best species to go for if you’re considering taking up the art of the bonsai yourself.

Juniper Bonsai Tree Meaning

The juniper bonsai tree is believed to ward off evil intentions and spirits, and also symbolizes protection. 

The juniper tree bonsai itself is a very long-lived plant that very closely resembles a huge tree, but if someone shrank it. This only adds to its ornamental value. It’s also an evergreen, and the plant produces a lovely, woody scent. 

It has the added benefit of producing berries, which are often included in rituals to promote healing. 

The juniper bonsai tree is a great gift which represents the nearly limitless ability to overcome obstacles, and to push through troubling times, so long as you put your mind to it. 

Cherry Blossom Bonsai Tree Meaning

The cherry blossom bonsai tree is perhaps the most symbolic of all the species on this list, as in its normal form, it’s the national flower of Japan, and is widely celebrated.

The ornamental cherry blossom represents the finite and fleeting beauty of life, which would not mean so much as it does if it was longer-lived. 

The flowers themselves have a relatively short lifespan, though the falling blossom still creates a beautiful show all on its own, resembling snow.

The cherry blossom is symbolic of mortality, mindfulness, and being present within every day of your life, to not miss out on things because you were worrying about the future or the past.

Traditionally, cherry blossoms symbolize feminine beauty, strength, and dominance. They also mark the start of a new year, and the positivity of all the possibilities it could bring.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree Meaning

The Chinese elm bonsai is a striking plant which also bears a lot of symbolism. It carries the name “tree of harmony”, as it is associated with wisdom, love, and strength in abundance.

You’ll often see it in front of homes and churches, as it’s thought to provide a lot of protection.

Maple Bonsai Tree Meaning

One of the most eye-catching bonsai trees on this list, the maple bonsai tree is one you truly have to see in the flesh. 

It’s only then you’ll see the captivating beauty of the vivid colors this tree produces, from a bright red, which will turn into almost-neon shades of orange and red in the autumn.

The tree itself features heavily throughout all forms of Japanese art, and it’s not difficult to see why!

The maple bonsai symbolizes balance, serenity, a connection to nature, and peace. The Japanese word for the maple tree also translates to “calm”, illustrating exactly how precious this tree is. 

Cedar Bonsai Tree Meaning

Cedar bonsai trees symbolize immortality, strength, and protection, owing to its very long life.

Cedar is also a tree which is heavily steeped in ceremonies. It’s often made into incense, used in prayer, and has associations with healing.

The tree itself is also considered a herb, the bark and leaves of which are used in traditional medicine to help purify.

Oak Bonsai Tree Meaning

Another very long-lived bonsai tree, the oak is a symbol of wisdom, strength, and eternity.

They make striking bonsai trees with their tolerance to constant pruning practices, their aesthetically pleasing rough bark and thick trunks.

Traditionally, the oak bonsai tree is regarded as a symbol of spirituality and wisdom, as well as eternal life and loyalty.

Conclusion 

Bonsai trees are used as a tool to help ground you and reconnect to nature and art, reducing anxiety and help promote an inner sense of peace and forgiveness, as well as being a beautiful art form in its own right.

When choosing what kind of bonsai to care for, it’s important to consider the spiritual and symbolic connotations behind each species, as this will also help inform your choice.

They also make noteworthy and precious gifts, as symbols of peace, loyalty, love and devotion. 

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