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Are bonsai specialty plants?

Contrary to some websites purporting to sell “bonsai seeds,” bonsai plants are derived from existing trees and shrubs; what makes them bonsai is an artist’s persistence in cultivating it as a “dwarf” version of the natural plant. Indeed, step into your local nursery and look past the bonsai plants they have for sale (as many do these days); they’ll have a number of young trees and shrubs that can be developed into your next bonsai planting, making it a great place to start planning. Remember, what matters is devotion in caring for your plant as a bonsai. To get some ideas, view the gallery below; consider what climate you’re in and the difficulty of the plant’s care, and do some foundational research: there are many books available today on bonsai, for beginners as well as advanced artisans.

Below is a breakdown of some of the many types of plants that can be used in bonsai, well beyond the pines and junipers that come to mind (though those continue to be enduring and beautiful staples of the hobby, so you'll see those here, too!).

Bonsai Plant Specimens Plant Details
Chinese Banyan Common Name: Chinese Banyan (evergreen)

Latin Name: Ficus microcarpa “Kaneshiro”

Gift of Haruo Kaneshiro, 1990, to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, U.S. National Arboretum

In training since 1975

California Juniper Common Name: California Juniper

Latin Name: Juniperus california

Gift of Sze-ern Kuo, 2012

In training since 1989

Black Pine Common Name: Black Pine

Latin Name: Pinus thunbergii

Gift of Stanley Chinn, 2002

Training date unknown

Thorny Elaeagnus Common Name: Thorny Elaeagnus

Latin Name: Elaeagnus pungens

Gift of Mike Naka, 2004

In training since 1960

Chinese Juniper Common Name: Chinese Juniper

Latin Name: Juniperus chinensis 'Femina'

Gift of John Y. Naka, 1984

In training since 1953

Japanese Maple Common Name: Japanese Maple

Latin Name:Acer palmatum 'Kiyohime'

Gift of Akiko Matsudaira, 1976

In training since 1946

Japanese White Pine Common Name: Japanese White Pine

Latin Name: Pinus parviflora

Gift of Hassan II, King of Morocco, 1983

In training since 1832

Chinese Elm Common Name: Chinese Elm

Latin Name: Ulmus parvifolia

Gift of Marybel Balendonck, 1990

In training since 1970

Blue Atlas Cedar Common Name: Blue Atlas Cedar

Latin Name: Cedrus atlantica Glauca Group

Gift of John Y. Naka, 1990

In training since 1948

Water Jasmine Common Name: Water Jasmine

Latin Name: Wrightia religiosa

Gift of Tang Quoc Kiet

Age unknown