What is Yamadori Bonsai?

Yamadori bonsai describes just one of many ways to begin creating bonsai trees.   The word itself, literally translated from Japanese, means "collecting plants in the mountains." 

The actual origin of bonsai most likely began with yamadori.

More liberal translations, such as “collecting trees from the wild,” are more appropriate for today.

Have you ever wondered how some people seemed to have the oldest and most beautiful bonsai?  The answer often is -- they let nature do the early work.  Yamadori grow in the wild for many years, in some cases more than a century, before they become bonsai trees.

Mountains are not the only place to find such treasures. Flat lands such as Florida are prone to ocean winds and hurricane damage.  The buttonwood shown above was collected offshore in the Florida Keys. This is what it looked like after it's first trim. It was still in the old soil, and the five gallon bucket it started its new life in.  (The rest of the story.) 

Where to Find Yamadori

Be sure you are not in a park or preserve, the fines can be steep!   Also know if the trees you are collecting are not endangered or protected.

Desert areas may provide unique trees that have been through years of drought and drastic temperature changes. Mountainous regions expose trees to some of the harshest weather conditions, which in turn creates many potential yamadori bonsai trees.  

Elements such as wind and snow can create twists, turns, dead branches and overall a somewhat tortured look. Another advantage of collecting trees is no two are alike..

Walter Pall (Germany) is shown here with before and after pictures of a yamadori Rocky Mountain Juniper.

The base of the tree is more than 12" (30cm) wide.

In addition to collecting trees, getting them to live and eventually have them look like this takes hard work, knowledge and, as you can see in this yamadori bonsai, talent.  Getting the tree out of the ground and making it survive are only the beginning.

Collecting Trips

Whether you plan to collect in the mountains such as Italian bonsai artist Mauro Stemberger shown here, or on the flat lands of deserts or swamps, educate yourself first.

Your first bonsai collecting experience should be with someone who knows where they can safely find trees, what to take with them and how to keep you and the trees alive. 

Get permission! 

Tools such as shovels, branch lopers and saws are important.  Material and water to protect the roots are vital. Proper clothes, shoes and water for yourself are also essential.

Let someone at home know where you will be.  Remember, cell phones are not always dependable in remote areas.  Once you get to a collecting area, do not dig the first tree you see. There will be more, and most likely better.  Searching for the perfect bonsai is part of the adventure.  

After removing plants, don’t forget to fill in the holes!

Purchasing Yamadori

Zach Smith's collected CypressEstablished Yamadori Cypress
Newly Collected Cypress

Zach Smith, a bonsai artist with over 25 years experience, lives in St. Francisville, Louisiana where he collects subjects for bonsai.  In his nursery, you will discover Yamadori treasures such as these Bald Cypress, privet, hornbeam and more.  Zach says "I love the hunt!"  And best of all, his policy is 'ship only when ready.'

If you don't like tromping, slogging, digging and watching out for wild animals, you may want to purchase your prize.  There are collectors who have done the work for you.   

(You may have heard the snake and gator stories, but unlike fish tales, they're probably true!)  

NOTEWhen you purchase a collected tree, get a photo of the actual plant, be sure it is well established and not recently planted! 

Thoughts on Yamadori Bonsai

From a Yamadori Article by Frank W. Harris

“ . . .  a word of warning should be sounded: the supply of collectible native trees is not inexhaustible. When you go collecting, take only what you really want and can take care of.  If there is a doubt in your mind whether you can get the tree out alive, leave it with its root system undisturbed.” 

Read the entire article here:   Bonsai Notes on Collecting

Where to Go from Here

Not all collected plants for bonsai are from the wild. There is a recently coined phrase that describes plants collected from yards, parking lots and even trash heaps.

See the Urban Yamadori bonsai page.

Home Page