bon·​sai | \(ˌ)bōn-ˈsī, ˈbōn-ˌsī, ˈbän-ˌsī 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

According to the family, the bonsai tree was less than two miles away from the site of the bomb blast, which destroyed nearly 5 square miles of the Japanese city, and survived because it was located behind a nursery wall. Lauren Smith, House Beautiful, "This Bonsai Tree Survived an Atomic Bomb," 7 Aug. 2015 McGillivray and Zhou have a few recommendations: Answering the door for the Seamless delivery man (and looking perfectly respectable while doing so), pruning your bonsai, or cooking paella. Lilah Ramzi, Vogue, "Is This the Comfiest Robe Ever? Introducing Offhours, and Their Wearable Duvet," 19 Oct. 2018 One of them has an Asian theme, with extraordinary bonsai, while another is planted with the cactuses and spiny plants of the American Southwestern desert. New York Times, "Francine Prose on Montreal in the Spring: The Time of the Butterflies," 11 June 2018 The meeting, dubbed Jade Night will be a workshop on jade plants as bonsai. Linda Mcintosh,, "Gala raises $170K for Boys & Girls Club," 11 May 2018 One of her bonsai was carefully shaped by Roy Nagatoshi, who owns Fuji Bonsai Nursery in California. Philip Potempa, Post-Tribune, "Munster Garden Walk includes eclectic offerings in 2018," 13 June 2018 Similarly, with the bouquet and the bonsai, 40% of the men preferred to give the bouquet but only 28% of the women preferred to receive it. The Economist, "A paradox at the heart of gift-giving," 28 June 2018 These are an offshoot of the bonsai culture in Japan and make a striking addition to an indoor or outdoor garden. Kevin Espiritu For, Good Housekeeping, "How And Why You Should Try Growing Moss In Your Garden," 29 Aug. 2017 In the Walled Garden, Bonsai and Beyond members will be displaying a rich composition of (miniature) treasures from the plant world including bonsai, saikei, penjing, hon non bo, kusamono, terrariums, fairy gardens and hanging gardens. Linda Mcintosh,, "Youth of the Year picked at Boys & Girls Club," 4 Apr. 2018

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

1898, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for bonsai

Japanese, literally, tray planting

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Dictionary Entries near bonsai

bonorum possessio







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Last Updated

7 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for bonsai

The first known use of bonsai was in 1898

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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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What made you want to look up bonsai? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a nest or breeding place

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