I’ve been covering some specific bonsai species in this blog, but it’s worth spending some time to talk about the various styles of bonsai in existence. This has little to do with the exact plant species being used and more with how the bonsai tree looks – how it’s laid out, if you will.
For the various species of trees that can be grown as bonsai and how to adapt them to various styles I recommend browsing around Bonsai-sui and also the myriad of small blogs run by bonsai enthusiasts. The styles themselves are as follows:
Chokkan – the “formal upright” style is characterised by an upright trunk with a thick base which gets narrower as it goes up. This style is a classic. It’s used for almost all tree species. The style symbolises a proud kind of loneliness and an unrelenting will to live and thrive.
Moyogi – the informal upright shape of this style is widely popular among bonsai artists. The main reason for this is that you’re not limited to any canonical set of rules when following this style. Typically in this style, the tree bends several, forming a zig-zag. On every bend there are branches growing outwards from the trunk.
Shakkan – this is the slanted style where the tree doesn’t grow up, but rather at an angle, growing to the side. This style suits many tree species. This style is inspired by the forces of nature – the plants attempt to grow towards the sun as well as resistance to wind.
Sokan – the double trunk style. In nature one can find many examples of trees whose trunk splits in two near the base and grows almost as two separate trees. This bonsai imitates this natural occurrence. Typically the second trunk is formed by developing a low-growing branch into a new trunk. One of my personal favorites is this tree here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/364158319848721049/. Sadly, I don’t know the artist behind this masterpiece.
Kengai – this is the cascade style. It emulates the situation in nature, where a tree growing on the edge of a cliff needs to adapt to certain conditions imposed on it by its precarious position. These are for instance, falling rocks, the weight of snow on its branches or even its own weight. Typically the better suited tree species for this style are ones that have well-bending trunks and branches.
Han-kengai – the semi-cascade style occurs naturally in trees that grow on the shores of rivers and in swamps. Their branches almost touch the surface of the water. The trees to grow horisontally. This translates to bonsai such that the tree’s branches must not fall below the level of the pot but its top must remain below the level of the soil.
Fukinagashi – the “bent by the wind” style, as if a strong wind keeps pushing the tree in one direction all the time. This style is difficult to execute, but is common in nature. The trunk is slightly bent in one direction and the branches tend to grow in the same direction – a common sight on windy shores.
Bunjingi – one of the most difficult and also the most traditional styles of bonsai, called the “literary” style. A long thin bent trunk, a complete lack of intermediate branches and foliage only at the very top of tree – these are the main characteristics of this style.
These few styles are probably the most often encountered ones, but are certainly not the only ones in existence. There are plenty of variations and ways of growing bonsai trees – this is an art one can explore indefinitely.