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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Did You Know?

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 For America’s bicentennial in 1976, Japan sent a gift of 53 bonsai trees. Nina Strochlic, National Geographic, "See the tiny tools required for the ancient art of bonsai," 23 Apr. 2020 Separating each hour of dull, muscle-eroding entrapment inside one’s own home, a new absurd thing to look at: This bonsai tree looks like a woman with a fantastic butt. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, "There’s No Zoom Party Like a College Zoom Party," 24 Mar. 2020 On a macro level, the series lands somewhere between a feng shui simulator and a digital version of a bonsai tree. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "Animal Crossing: New Horizons review: A quarantined life has never been cuter," 16 Mar. 2020 But so had the display in the hotel lobby: a floor-to-ceiling spring wonderland complete with cherry blossoms, bonsai trees and butterflies. Rachel Siegel, Washington Post, "All bets are off: Casinos grinding to a halt over coronavirus," 16 Mar. 2020 The bonsai tree started its life in a tin can, tended by a Japanese-American man incarcerated in a World War II internment camp. Joel Shannon, USA TODAY, "'Priceless treasures': Stolen bonsai trees returned after social media plea, museum says," 13 Feb. 2020 Until about a decade ago, Watanabe grew and shaped small bonsai trees. Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY, "Guinness World Records oldest man, who said secret to long life was smiling, dies at 112," 26 Feb. 2020 This variety is very adaptable to a wide range of conditions and even makes an interesting bonsai specimen. Sunset, "How to Grow Bamboo as a Houseplant," 22 Jan. 2018 The bonsai room is tucked away near the beekeeping area in the Craig Taylor Equipment Farm Exhibits. Samantha Davenport, Anchorage Daily News, "Daredevils, funnel cake, bonsai: Scenes from the Alaska State Fair," 29 Aug. 2019

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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Time Traveler for bonsai

Time Traveler

The first known use of bonsai was in 1899

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Statistics for bonsai

Last Updated

10 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Bonsai.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for bonsai


How to pronounce bonsai (audio) How to pronounce bonsai (audio)

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

More from Merriam-Webster on bonsai

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with bonsai Encyclopedia article about bonsai

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