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Bonsai styles can be grouped in many ways. Based on the tree’s angle of growth from a container, there are five basic styles in bonsai. They provide the starting point for exploring other styles. Over the years, many classifications of bonsai trees have been put forward but were open to personal interpretation and creativity. The trees need not necessarily conform to any form. Still, the styles are important to gain a basic understanding of shapes and should serve as guidelines to successfully train miniature trees. Styles can be grouped based on different criteria, such as the trunk orientation or the number of trunks in the bonsai specimen.

Formal Upright Bonsai Style

The formal upright style bonsai is defined as one having a straight vertical trunk with its apex directly above its base. The trunk gradually tapers from the base to the top and the branches grow horizontally from the tree and taper off at the tip. The apex does not lean to the front like the other styles.

Bonsai styles

This style is known as ‘Chokkan’ in Japanese. Branches should be straight, not serpentine, to complement the straight trunk and should be angled downward with the tip flaring slightly upward. The first branch or the lowest branch should be positioned above the base of the tree at a point 1/3 the height of the trunk and should be the longest and the thickest. The second branch should be shorter than the first, higher and on the opposite side of the tree. The other branches will follow the same pattern. The tree should have the shape of an asymmetrical triangle. The apex may be rounded or pointed.

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Informal Upright Bonsai Styles

Another popular style in bonsai is the “Informal Upright” style in which the trunk emerges from the soil at an angle, curves one or more times between the base and the apex, and has an apex which is above its base when viewed from the front. Despite the trunk’s curve, the apex should grow till it reaches the same axis as the base of the tree. This style is known as “Moyogi” in Japanese.

Bonsai styles

The informal upright style bonsai is the most common style in which trees are designed. The first curve should bend in the direction opposite from which the lower trunk leans. If at ground level the trunk leans toward the left, the first curve should bend back toward the right to re-establish the tree’s balance. The curve and branches of the tree should never be pointed towards the viewer. Just like the formal upright style, the longest branches are found near the base, about 1/3 the way up the tree, which tapers off as they reach the top giving the tree a conical shape. The branches are curved (serpentine) to complement the style of the trunk. The side branches are usually on the outside of a curve of the trunk.

Slanting Bonsai Styles

The slanting style is one of the easiest bonsai styles to achieve and is known as ‘Shakan’ in Japanese. The slanting style bonsai is one in which the trunk emerges from the soil at an angle, leans to one side or the other, and has the apex either to the left or right of the base of the tree. Care should be taken to ensure that it never slants towards the viewer or towards the back.

Bonsai styles

The trunk is either straight or curved and is tapered. The branches of this tree are horizontal or are angled downward. They are shaped to complement the style of the trunk and when the trunk is curved, they are usually on the outside of those curves. The lowest branch is the heaviest branch and should be on the opposite side of the slant of the trunk so as to counterbalance the lean of the trunk. The tree should not appear as if it is going to topple over.

Cascade Bonsai Styles

The cascade style is also very popular among bonsai enthusiasts and is called “Kengai” in Japanese. This style is modeled after trees that tip its branches down the side of a mountain. A cascade bonsai is one in which the main trunk of a tree begins growing upward for a small stretch and then bends vertically down and cascades to a point below the bottom of the container with the crown of the tree growing above the rim of the pot.

Bonsai styles

The trunk should serpentine to the left and to the right as it descends forming an S-shaped trunk, with the primary branches growing from the outside of the curves of the trunk and alternating to the left and to the right. The last curve should be towards the viewer and towards the center of the container with the tip flaring upwards in search of light.  There will not be any branches growing on the rear side. The branches should grow horizontally in order to maintain the balance of the tree.

Semi Cascade Bonsai Styles

A semi-cascade style bonsai is one in which there is either an informal upright or slanting style trunk whose trunk or unusually long first branch, cascades below the rim of the pot but not below the base of the pot. The difference between the semi-cascade and cascade style is that the tip of a semi-cascading bonsai does not grow below the base level of the pot whereas it does in the cascade style.

bonsai styles

This style is known as ‘Han-Kengai’ in Japanese. It depicts a tree in nature growing on a mountain top with all or a part of it hanging over the edge. The curved trunk tapering from the base to the apex should emerge from the soil at an angle. The semi-cascading branch should be the lowest and heaviest branch and should extend at about a 45-degree angle to approximately midway between the rim and base of the pot with the tip flaring upwards. The remaining branches are positioned as on an informal upright style. An upright apex may be created using a vertical growing branch and styled as a small informal upright tree.

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