bon·​sai (ˌ)bōn-ˈsī How to pronounce bonsai (audio)
ˈbän-ˌsī How to pronounce bonsai (audio)
 also  ˈbän-ˌzī
plural 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 The free event features more than 50 unique bonsai on display, along with bonsai demonstrations and more. The Hub, San Diego Union-Tribune, 17 Sep. 2023 There is a plush theater with a sumptuous green velvet ceiling and velvet seating, 20 Tahitian-style fire features, a lovely office, a private Japanese bonsai garden, a safari-style library, a custom bar, a game area, and an infinity pool and spa that runs the length of the house. Emma Reynolds, Robb Report, 27 Sep. 2023 Meanwhile, Hernandez comes in two days a week to keep the bonsai alive. Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times, 5 Aug. 2023 Consider picking up a bonsai growing kit for their cubicle or home office. Kaitlyn McInnis, Better Homes & Gardens, 8 Sep. 2023 The museum’s description calls the tree an example of the diversity of North American bonsai, which does not establish right or wrong ways to do bonsai. Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times, 5 Aug. 2023 And there’s plenty of nature to enjoy along the hiking trails near the Blue Ridge Parkway or among the blooms and bonsai at the North Carolina Arboretum. Christine Burroni, Travel + Leisure, 11 July 2023 The four daylong classes (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) are geared toward beginners and include the history of bonsai, basic tree botany and horticultural challenges, design concepts, training techniques and bonsai display. Los Angeles Times, 29 Sep. 2022 The Just Add Ice brand extended the ice watering trials to anthurium, money tree, and several types of bonsai and found that using ice is an easy and effective technique for watering these plants, too. Megan Hughes, Better Homes & Gardens, 7 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'bonsai.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Japanese, literally, tray planting

First Known Use

1899, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of bonsai was in 1899

Dictionary Entries Near bonsai

Cite this Entry

“Bonsai.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


bon·​sai (ˈ)bōn-ˈsī How to pronounce bonsai (audio) ˈbōn-ˌsī How to pronounce bonsai (audio)
plural bonsai
: a miniature plant (as a tree) grown in a pot by special methods to restrict its growth
also : the art of growing such a plant


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