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.

The following styles of bonsai are modifications of these five basic styles.

Broom Style

The broom style bonsai is defined as one having a straight vertical trunk with foliage mass which looks like an upside-down broom. The trunk is absolutely straight when seen from the front and usually is vertical without any slanting or leaning. This is a variation of the formal upright style bonsai. The broom style of bonsai is best suited for deciduous trees that have extensive, fine branching. This style is known as “Hokidachi” in Japanese. The tree branches out in all directions at about 1/3 the height of the tree. There are no horizontal branches and all branching is placed diagonally in a fan-shape with no crossing branches. The branches and leaves form a ball-shaped crown. Surface roots should radiate fairly evenly in several directions and should be visible from the front. None should come directly toward the front of the tree.

Forest Style

A forest or group style bonsai is one in which 3 or more trees of a single species of plant are planted in a single container. The tallest tree should have the thickest trunk while every other tree in the group should be shorter with a smaller girth. The lowest branch should normally be on the shortest tree with the smallest trunk. The tallest tree should be about the 1/3rd distance from the side of the container. In Japanese, this style is known as “Yose-ue”. To create an effect of the forest stretching beyond, the tallest and heaviest trees are planted in the front, medium size trees in the central area and the smallest trees in the background. The trees are planted in a staggered pattern and never in a straight line, so as to make the forest appear more realistic and natural. The overall effect is a canopy resembling a scalene triangle. There should be a single style in the composition like formal upright, informal upright, windswept, etc.

Raft Style


A raft style may occur in nature when a tree because of wind, flood, landslide, earthquake or other reason is knocked down and the trunk is flattened against the earth and all or a portion of the trunk is covered with soil. The trunk is not broken from the roots and the trunk and branches continue to receive sustenance from the original root system. The branches on the top side of the horizontal trunk continue to grow and eventually develop as trunks, while roots form along the portions of the original trunk which was covered with soil. The original root system will usually atrophy and decay. As the several new trees develop, the original trunk assumes the characteristics of surface or exposed roots. This style is known as “Ikadabuki” (straight trunk raft style) and “Netsunagari” (sinuous raft style) trunk in Japanese. In each of these types of raft style bonsai, the part of the trunk exposed to the soil develops roots.

Weeping Style

Weeping style bonsai are so named because the majority of their foliage hangs downwards giving an appearance as if they are weeping. Weeping style bonsai may be in any primary style namely formal upright, informal upright, slanting or windswept, but the most pleasing contour is for the trunk to be in the informal upright or slanting style with primary branches projecting upwards from the trunk and then curving gently downwards. The weeping style is known as ‘Shidare Zukuri’ in Japanese. In nature, weeping trees like willows are often found in damp areas and along streams and lakes. Bonsai artists replicate this weeping style by using wire to train a tree wherein each branch is wired so that the branches go initially in the upward direction and then are trained to go straight down.

Windswept Style

In nature, windswept trees can be found in windy places such as on a mountain top or cliffs by the sea or coastal shoreline. In this style, the entire tree is slightly slanted, and the branches and twigs often veer to one side as if they are being blown by strong wind constantly in one direction. The branches grow out on all sides of the trunk but eventually, all the branches will be bent to one side. The windswept style is known as ‘Fukinagashi’ in Japanese. The windswept style is similar to the slanting style expect for the branching pattern, direction, and appearance. The branches are shorter towards the top of the tree.

Twin Trunk Style

In this style, two trunks rise from a single base with one trunk being taller and thicker than the other and both the trunks being clearly visible from the front. The shorter trunk should grow from the base of the larger rather than from a position higher up on the larger tree. This style is known as “Sokan” in Japanese. Twin trunk style can be found in either in the formal upright, informal upright, windswept or literati styles. The two trunks are considered a single unit when selecting and placing branches and when forming the overall silhouette. The shorter trunk should be either 1/3 or 2/3 the height of the taller trunk. When making a twin trunk bonsai, no branches are permitted to grow between the trunks. The lowest branch should be on the smaller trunk and branches on the two trees should never be on the same level. Branches from one trunk should not be allowed to cross the other trunk.

Multi Trunk Style

A multi-trunk style is also known as the Clump style wherein three or more (best if it has more than 5 trunks) trunks of varying sizes emerge from the same root system mimicking the appearance of a copse of trees. In nature, the equivalent might be a group of trees that have sprouted from a single cone, or a collection of mature suckers springing from the base of a single tree. This style is known as ‘Kabudachi’ in Japanese. All branches should grow outwards towards the light and create an overall triangular shape and composite crown. The division of the trunks should be close to the base. The thickest and tallest trunk is the main tree, the others should be lower and thinner and so designed that the overall outline is triangular or dome-like. 

Exposed Roots Style

This is one of the more unusual bonsai styles and is sometimes called the octopus bonsai style. In this style, the roots of the tree are exposed as extensions of the trunk, free from soil. Bonsai created in the exposed root style may resemble trees growing on steep slopes or on river banks where the soil below the base of the trunk has been slowly eroded due to floods, mudslides etc with the exposed roots developing bark and become multiple extensions of the trunk. This is known as the Exposed Root style and is known as “Neagari” in Japanese. The roots can extend as far as 1/2 to 2/3 the total tree height. The roots should be sturdy enough to hold the tree up. The exposed root style bonsai exhibits a significant amount of roots which have been exposed above the soil, thus becoming a dominant feature.

Root over Rock Style

In nature, on a rocky terrain, trees are forced to search for nutrient-rich soil with their roots, which can often be found in cracks and holes. When a seed lands in a crack in a rock and finds enough soil to survive, the plant’s roots may eventually grow to spread among the thin layers of soil and moss across the rock. To mimic this in bonsai, the roots of a tree are grown over a rock into the pot. This is known as the “Root over Rock” style or otherwise known as “Seki-joju” in Japanese. Root over Rock style should not be confused with trees planted on or in a stone. With the root over rock style, the roots grow over the stone and down in the soil of a bonsai pot. With the other two types of rock plantings, the trees are growing entirely in or on the stone usually placed in a long shallow pot with no drainage holes. In this style, the rock is at the base of the trunk, with the roots exposed to varying degrees as they traverse the rock and then descend into the soil below.

Literati Style

The Literati style, otherwise known as “Bunjingi” comes from the Japanese word “Bunjin-gi”. The Literati has long flowing slender trunks that twist and turn in multiple, often dramatic curves, having no lower branches and an obvious lack of Nebari in most cases. It resembles an informal upright than any other style. The emphasis on this style is always on the trunk and the trunk must be the centre of the design. A point to be noted is that the foliage should be sparse, just enough to sustain the tree and keep it healthy. Lush, overabundant foliage should be avoided. Shape or form should not be too rugged but more graceful and the final appearance should be elegant enough to build up a balance from every point of view, but yet still speak of refined age. Literati’s final image should speak of grace, elegance, balance and form. The design should be three-dimensional and the final image will tell if the design is successful.


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