This Bonsai was for sale at around $90,000. The tree is old and has a spectacular trunk, which explains its cost. Image: S-Cube

Bonsai is a Japanese version of the original traditional Chinese art penjing. While penjing focuses on reproducing entire real-life natural sceneries in small pots, the Japanese “Bonsai” only attempts to produce small trees that mimic the shape of real life trees.

In a true sense, Bonsai are living works of art, with some famous trees even hundreds of years old. These trees are priceless and when for sale, are very expensive. But at the same time, cheap Bonsai trees do exist, which you can purchase from a local garden center for just a few bucks.

There are a lot of questions regarding the price determination of Bonsai. Questions like “How do you put a price tag on a bonsai?”, “What are they worth, why are they so expensive?” are common. In this blog, we’ll try to find out the factors behind Bonsai prices and look at some famous Bonsai trees.

Pricing of a Bonsai tree

Prices of Bonsai trees tend to vary widely from shop to shop and from country to country. There are cheap Bonsai available at garden centers around the world for around $20. Other than that, high quality Bonsai trees is much more limited in availability. Here, high quality or Bonsai trees of the highest quality refers to the very old trees that have been kept for generations (often in Japan). They are extremely rare.

There is also a limit on the flow of these quality trees from Japan to other parts of the world due to strict import restrictions. Again, most tree species need to be bare-rooted and quarantined for months (sometimes, even years). The bare rooting is a high risk for old trees and only few tree species can withstand it. Such barriers mean limited availability, and with that comes skyrocketing prices.

Others aside, age and design are the two determining factors for Bonsai prices.

What role does Age play in valuation?

People perceive Bonsai trees to be old, expensive and impossible to keep alive. While most of it is true, they are actually possible to keep alive, although that needs a lot of effort. To put it in simple words, the more mature a Bonsai looks, the higher is its price. The most expensive Bonsai are all very old and have been nurtured in pots for generations. The trees need utmost optimal care to ascertain optimum maturity, and that may stretch from decades to centuries. Thus, age is a good indicator of the value of a Bonsai tree.

Design of a Bonsai

The price of Bonsai depends a lot on how much time is invested in that specific tree. The fast way of growing Bonsai is cheap, but the result is not attractive. A thick trunk with an attractive tapering is the ideal design. This combination of a thick trunk with tapering is expensive, as it takes much more time to grow.

The designing of a quality Bonsai includes years of continuous efforts and those years extend to generations. There is a price for the looks of the tree as well. Miniaturizing a fully grown tree and being able to grow it in a certain pot is the main objective of Bonsai gardening. The perfect shape is a result of the caretaker continuously cleaning the roots, pruning the branches, reporting the plants, etc. These activities require highest levels of skillfulness on the part of the caretaker, as even a tiny error may result in heavy damage to the delicate Bonsai. All the skills and efforts involved in maintaining and shaping the Bonsai pushes the price further up.

Pot and Tree Species

Bonsai pots come in many prices and this depends largely on their age. Old antique pots from China and Japan can cost a fortune, if they would be for sale. However, the new factory made pots from China cost less than a dollar. Prices of new, but handmade, pots vary widely.

Now, there may be some misconceptions regarding whether the Bonsai is a species. The answer is no, Bonsai is not a species of trees but simply the ancient Asian art of growing trees in a bowl.

Many different tree species are available for Bonsai treatment. Among them, some species are rare or more difficult to grow, and therefore those are more expensive.

Most Expensive Bonsai Trees
The most expensive Bonsai tree.

The most expensive tree in the world is a centuries old Japanese Pine Bonsai that was sold for 1.3 million dollars (INR 9.66 crore), at the International Bonsai Convention in Takamatsu, Japan.

The Yamaki Pine, that survived the Hiroshima bombing in 1945.

Then, there is one Bonsai tree that has been trained for almost 400 years, the result of 6 generations of hard work and patience by the Yamaki family. Its remarkable age aside, the other remarkable fact about this tree is that it survived in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell in 1945. It was later donated to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington. It is not and never will be up for sale.

There are the not-so expensive, but still expensive trees as well as the cheap ones. The true essence of this art is in the curating and maturing of the miniature trees.

The object is not to make the tree look like a bonsai, but to make the bonsai look like a tree.

– John Naka, American horticulturist

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