bon·​sai | \ (ˌ)bōn-ˈsī How to pronounce bonsai (audio) , ˈbōn-ˌsī, ˈbän-ˌsī How to pronounce bonsai (audio) also ˈbän-ˌzī \
plural bonsai

Definition of bonsai

: a potted plant (such as a tree) dwarfed (as by pruning) and trained to an artistic shape also : the art of growing such a plant

Illustration of bonsai

Illustration of bonsai

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This is a living dwarf tree. The word bonsai can also refer to the art of training and growing these dwarf plants in containers. Bonsai specimens are ordinary trees and shrubs, not hereditary dwarfs; they are dwarfed by a system of pruning roots and branches and training branches by tying them with wire. The art originated in China, but has been pursued and developed primarily by the Japanese. The inspiration for bonsai is found in nature, in trees that grow in harsh, rocky places, and are dwarfed and gnarled throughout their existence. Bonsai may live for a century or more and can be handed down from one generation to another. Bonsai pots, usually earthenware and of variable shape, are carefully chosen to harmonize in color and proportion with the tree. A sizable bonsai industry exists as part of the nursery industry in Japan. California is home to a small-scale bonsai industry.

Examples of bonsai in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Spend on an elaborate, multi-tiered orchid arrangement; splurge on a gorgeous bonsai arrangement. Sarah Sarder, Chron, 3 June 2021 Several of the bonsai trees are over 100 years old. Kirby Adams, The Courier-Journal, 28 May 2021 Moerlein also welcomes other artists into dialogue with the works in his show — poems, art, and bonsai that reflect his questions about how to partner with the earth., 25 May 2021 Several bonsai trees were found to be more than 1,000 years old . Richard A. Marini, San Antonio Express-News, 21 May 2021 This kit comes with pruning shears and enough seeds and pots to grow four bonsai trees. Matt Jancer, Wired, 25 Apr. 2021 Although some spaces tip explicitly into the dreamlike or surreal, others are strangely plausible: with enough time and money, a person could live in a home with a bathroom that contains both a VitrA soaking tub and a giant bonsai tree. Anna Wiener, The New Yorker, 6 May 2021 This kit comes with pruning shears and enough seeds and pots to grow four bonsai trees. Matt Jancer, Wired, 25 Apr. 2021 This kit comes with pruning shears and enough seeds and pots to grow four bonsai trees. Matt Jancer, Wired, 25 Apr. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'bonsai.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of bonsai

1899, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for bonsai

Japanese, literally, tray planting

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Last Updated

8 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Bonsai.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for bonsai



English Language Learners Definition of bonsai

: a very small tree or bush that is grown in a pot by using special methods to control its growth
: the art of growing bonsai

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