The Best Types of Bonsai Trees (Alphabetical Order)

By no means exhaustive, here’s a list of our favorite trees that can be trained into bonsai. Almost any plant can be stylized into bonsai so long as it has a woody main stem.

Acer buergerianum “Trident” or “Three-lobed Maple”

Trident Maple Bonsai

This maple has smooth bark that eventually turns into an attractive flaking bark with orange patches beneath. Its dark green leaves turn a gradient of red, orange, and yellow in the fall.

  • Responds well to hard pruning.
  • It can be grown outside in harsh winters.
  • Requires granular soil with enough aeration to prevent root rot.

Origin: Japan

Bonsai Styles: Informal upright, twin trunk, group, slanting, root-over-rock

Temperature: Anything above 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter is fine. Colder requires protection. Summer temperatures are fine regardless so long as it is watered properly.

Berberis thunbergii “Barberry”

Barberry Bonsai

This compact shrub can reach heights over 5ft under normal conditions. One of the best qualities of the barberry is that its leaves change throughout all four seasons. Yellow flowers appear in the spring, which yields small red berries.

  • Another great variety is the ‘Atropurpurea’ which has purple leaves.

Origin: Japan

Bonsai Styles: Informal upright, clumping, semi-cascade, twin trunk

Temperature: The Barberry is extremely resilient and can be grown in most conditions throughout the United States. It can even endure some of the harshest winters of the northern portions of the country without much fuss.

Bougainvillea spectabilis

Bougainvillea spectabilis bonsai featured at Bonsai Exhibition Pune Shivajinagar

This tropical deciduous plant is a fast grower with long, slender branches that provide a lot of opportunity for the keen bonsai stylist. It has dark green elliptic leaves. Magenta bracts are produced summer into early autumn.

  • Rigid branches are great for many bonsai styles

Origin: Brazil

Bonsai Styles: Informal upright, semi-cascade, cascade

Temperature: The Bougainvillea is a tropical plant that can only endure very mild winters (anything less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit is too cold). It thrives in warmer temperatures, and full-sunlight is great for this plant.

Buxu sempervirens “Common Box”

Common box (buxus sempervirens) bonsai on a wooden table and white background
Common box (buxus sempervirens) bonsai on a wooden table and white background

This slow-growing shrub has dark green leaves, a beautiful scent, and clusters of light-green flowers during the spring. This plant is usually used for hedges in landscaping but is a great bonsai plant. When pruned heavily, the Common Box becomes dense and stout (perfect for bonsai).

  • Easy to obtain
  • Very hardy plant
  • Great beginner option

Origin: Europe, Africa, and Asia

Bonsai Styles: Informal Upright, clumping, broom

The Common Box is an extremely hardy plant that can handle various weather conditions. It can be kept outside year-round in most locations within the United States.

Chaenomeles japonica “Japanese Quince”

Japanese Quince Bonsai in Bloom
Japanese Quince ‘Chojubai’ bonsai tree with tiny red flowers

This thorny shrub can grow up to three feet in height and has round green leaves and flowers that resemble an apple tree’s flowers. The flowers are different ombre colors, including orange and crimson. Yellow fruit with red blotches follows the flowers late into the fall.

  • Hardy Plant
  • Also known as Maule’s quince

Origin: Japan

Bonsai Styles: Informal Upright, Clumping

The Japanese quince is a very hardy plant that can be grown outdoors in most climates year-round. The suitable zones are Z5-9.

Other Plants for Bonsai

  • Juniper is perhaps the most recognized of bonsai tree types. It was made popular with the public in a movie and became known as “The Karate Kid” bonsai. The plant itself often has a tree-look and can quickly give the appearance of nature in miniature.
  • Azalea– One of the most beautiful and well-known flowering types of bonsai, is famous worldwide.
  • Bamboo bonsai – Not easy, but beautiful.
  • Buttonwood – There are many types of bonsai trees collected in the tropics. The Conocarpus erectus, native to the Florida Keys, is one of the most popular.
  • Bougainvillea is one of the best sub-tropical bonsai trees to grow for flowers. It is also one of the easier tropicals to grow.
  • Boxwood bonsai are a broad leaf evergreen shrub with hardwood suited to carving. Many different varieties make good subjects. The Buxus harlandii has particularly beautiful, textured bark.
  • Black olive bonsai is not created from“black olives”. Scientifically speaking, the dwarf variety is Bucida spinosa. Known for its zig-zag growth pattern.
  • Brazilian Rain Tree – is a tropical legume native to Brazil. Here’s the story of how it got started in the U.S., and some details on this Chloroleucon tortum as bonsai, including the fact it does well indoors.
  • Chrysanthemum bonsai are not very popular in Western culture and there are good reasons. However, some bonsai artists love them . . . John Capobianco and Dale Cochoy are two of them. See both articles.
  • The Chinese Elms are a favorite type of bonsai for growers everywhere. Beginners especially like them, because they’re easy to care for. Many different styles can be created through pruning, with little effort.
  • Bald Cypress – (Taxodium distichum) bonsai, is especially popular in the southeastern areas of the United States where it is common in the wild.
  • Carissa Bonsai -Also called Natal Plum, is a tropical native to Africa. Will do well indoors with enough light. Blooms are common, some may fruit, when grown outdoors.
  • Ficus – or figs, as they are also known, are one of the most popular plants used for indoor bonsai. (There are over 100 varieties.) They are a favorite type of bonsai for shaping in canopy style throughout tropical areas all over the world.
  • Fukien Tea – Two varieties are commonly used. Both have glossy leaves, are woody, branch easily, have small leaves and bloom periodically throughout the year. The smaller leaf variety is slow to develop a trunk, but bears tiny red fruit prolifically.
  • Hornbeam – has many species and quite a few are used to make stunning bonsai. Fall color is just one of the reasons!
  • Jaboticaba – make graceful, fruiting bonsai trees. Considered a good indoor subject. Exotic fruit and flowers grow directly on the trunk and heavy branches!
  • Jade Bonsai – Portulacaria afra is much easier to develop as a good bonsai tree than the “common jade” plant Crassula argentea. It has shorter internodes and much smaller leaves.
  • Serissa Bonsai – as much as I appreciate Serissa as a bonsai, I have never been able to grow them. I recently found out why! If you’ve had problems too, the Serissa page should help.
  • Schefflera arboricola – is a favorite tropical for indoor bonsai tree types.
  • It is especially favored by beginners, because It is difficult to kill.
  • Sea Grape Bonsai – are large leaf plants. At first glance, they may be considered unusual types. Read more.
  • Tropical Mimosa bonsai are created from the Leucaena glauca, easily and quickly grown from seed. (This is not the temperate Albizzia.)
  • Mimosa Albizia – known as the silk tree, pink flowers. Not related to the tropical mimosa.
  • Tamarind – (A tropical fruit tree) They tolerate heavy pruning, extensive root manipulation, wiring and even a little neglect.

More Types of Bonsai Trees

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