Bonsai are grouped or classified in two ways, first by the shape of the trunk and secondly by the number of trees in a container. Here you will also find details regarding training various Bonsai styles.
A. Shape Of The Trunk
Chokkan Style Bonsai
Trees in this style are grown as single specimens with a straight and upright trunk. They have a dignified appearance, just as a carefully tended specimen may have in a sheltered garden, or one that has grown in the wild, unmolested by wind or other unfavorable agents. The branches are trained to give pyramidal and columnar shapes to the head of the tree. There is a slightly less severe form in which the main trunk leans very slightly to one side of other. Anything more than a very slight inclination would bring it into the next style – The Oblique. This style is the easiest to follow for bonsai growing beginners and pleasing results may be obtained quite quickly, as some species grow naturally in this shape. It should be noted here, however, that miniature species, often used in rock gardens, are not really suitable for bonsai work even after careful thinning, as their branches are formed too close together on the stem. This gives a crowded and cramped appearance quite out of keeping with the dignity and grade associated with a well trained bonsai.
Shakan Style Bonsai
Trees of this style have an oblique trunk as if they had been growing in a windswept situation; consequently they tend to be more heavily branches on one side than the other.
Winding or Kyokkuk Style Bonsai
This style has single but twisted trunk and represents the plant that has fought for its existence in the wild. The branches may also be twisted. The twisting of the trunk, apart from being interesting to look at, has a valuable dwarfing effect and can be useful if the material being trained has grown too tall and is still young and supple enough to be twisted.
Kengai Style Bonsai
As the name implies the trunk in this style cascades over the edge of the container as if it were hanging over a rock on a mountain side.
It is important to choose a species with a relatively pliable stem.
Hankan Style Bonsai
This style is somewhat similar to the previous one, but the trunk grows closer to the soil and is knobbly and gnarled rather than merely twisted. This would represent a tree that has grown slowly in unfavorable conditions such as a poor and shallow soil in a windswept situation. Once again Pinus parviflora is one of the best types for training in this way and so is P. sylvestris.
Number of Trunks and Method of Planting
As well as being classified by the style in which they are trained, bonsai are classified by means of the style of planting. They may be planted singly in a container or in threes and fives. The shape and character of the tree may be most fully appreciated if its planted singly. The planting of more than one tree gives the effect of a miniature wood and so creates a different interest.
An odd number for planting is chosen not only because it has more pleasing effect, but also because in Japan these numbers stand for age and immortality; both are greatly appreciated and respected.
Very often trunk of a tree may be laid or trained horizontally and the branches of the upper side left to represent trees.
the Stone Style Bonsai
This method of planting gives the feeling of age and tenacity which is so much in the mind of a Japanese bonsai enthusiast. A single tree is usually used and the roots are trained to cling and grow round a stone in a way similar to that often found on a windy, rocky mountain side. The stone itself may be set in a pan of water which adds considerably to the ‘picture’.
Betz on July 06, 2019:
None of this discussed the importance of the position of individual branches. Years ago I studied w Yoshamura at the Bronx Bot. Gardens and he said there were religious significance to each positioning of the trees, how the branches were shaped, angled off, the numbers of, etc.
FuzzyCookie (author) on November 26, 2010:
Hi drbj, thanks for commenting and I'm glad that you learned something about bonsai from this hub :)
drbj and sherry from south Florida on November 23, 2010:
Thank you, FC, for enhancing my bonsai-challenged education. Who knew there were so many types of bonsai? I owned one once but it died and went to heaven. Now, thanks to you, I will purchase another - more hardy, I hope.