Of all the sizes, miniature bonsai are among the most challenging to create. And in many ways, they are the most difficult to keep alive.
(Bonsai are classified by style, species and even by size.)
There are two basic categories of small bonsai:
1. Shohin (which means “a small thing” ) - are 8 inches and under (20 cm)
2. Mame (pronounced ma-may) are often called “bean-size”. They are 4 inches or less (10 cm) in height.
Although these are the most common name and size guidelines, some teachers vary the heights slightly.
When these miniature trees are photographed they sometimes appear to be much larger.
At first glance, one may think this small juniper, exhibited at a British shohin exhibit, could be three feet tall. (It is 8 inches tall.)
When shohin are pictured with an object to show the scale, the appearance totally changes.
When using flowering or fruiting plants, it is important to consider the size of the flower and/or fruit.
All of the bonsai pictures on this page are either mame or shohin and show the many design aspects possible with these little trees.
There's more to creating miniature bonsai than putting a small plant in a little pot.
They can also be started by pruning existing plants to a small size. On occasion, you may find a small stunted tree in the wild that qualifies as a potential subject -- yamadori.
Derek Oakley, lives in hot, dry Western Austrailia and is 27 years into bonsai.
He told me “Shohin are among my favorites ... now that I’m getting older (and wiser!)”
To create this small bonsai Derek took a cutting from one of his elm trees. Five years later, he has this delightful mame bonsai.
There are many fine shohin artists throughout the world. One of my personal favorite talents in the United States is Suthin Sukosolvisit.
I first met Suthin, many years ago, at his Royal Bonsai Garden nursery in Stoughton, Massachusetts.
I enjoyed seeing all of his trees but was especially enchanted with the smallest.
I found this willow leaf fig photo stunning.
Well known Danish bonsai artist Morten Albek maintains a gallery of his shohin bonsai (such as those below) at the Empire Bonsai site.
Shown here Morten Albek's Berberis thunbergii, Acer buergerianum and Potentilla fruticosa
Because of the degree of difficulty, miniature bonsai is a true study and not generally recommended for beginners.
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