Is Bonsai Cruel?
For those who aren’t familiar with the ancient Japanese art of bonsai, it is the practice of training miniature trees in specialised tray-like pots to resemble their natural form on a small scale.
I have a modest collection of 12 tiny trees in various stages of development, and while most people find them fascinating, others are quick to share their opinion on how cruel it is to stunt, twist and constrict the poor trees.
But the fact is, if we consider bonsai cruel and un-natural then we must condemn any form of gardening as equally heinous.
Gardening is the controlled growth of plants, many of which have been selectively bred over centuries to create desirable crops or attractive ornamental specimens. Most of these plants in no way resemble their ‘natural’ state, just as most bonsai would not grow in the wild in the way they do in a pot.
Before we condemn bonsai as a cruel practice, let’s have a look at some of benefits of the art form:
Bonsai look lovely – Most people would agree that a well-trained bonsai is simply beautiful, and this undeniable visual excellence leads to more and more people becoming bonsai enthusiasts. Any activity that encourages people to care for living things and take an interest in the natural world is a good thing.
Bonsai require lots of care – A bonsai will need to be watered, fertilised and pruned religiously to maintain a healthy tree. Although this amount of effort may lead to some trees dying from neglect, for every tree killed there are 10 more thriving under the watchful eyes of their owners.
Bonsai are small – The compact nature of bonsai allows people who don’t have the space to construct a full-size garden to grow plants. In an increasingly urbanised world, filling apartment balconies, courtyards and windowsills with air-purifying trees helps to reduce our carbon footprint and add a bit of greenery to grey spaces.
Bonsai saves lives – Yamadori is the practice of collecting specimens from the natural environment to transform into bonsai, but these days ‘urban yamadori’, collecting neglected trees from backyards, demolition sites and inappropriate positions, is growing in popularity. These otherwise doomed trees are saved from certain death and go on to become beautiful pieces of living art.
So while some people are distressed by the image of a twisted, contorted and constricted tree, most people are awestruck, impressed and inspired to make a positive contribution to the planet by raising their own tiny tree.