Bonsai is an art that’s been around for centuries, but the practice of caring for these little trees is an expensive one.
Keeping Bonsai trees started as Chinese Penjing before it became a Japanese art that has now spread worldwide, rendering these plants some of the most popular additions to any owner’s garden or home aesthetic. But what is it about these tiny trees that makes them so pricey?
If you’re interested in acquiring a Bonsai tree but want to know more about why they come at such a high cost, read on as we detail all of the factors that come into play here.
We’ll show you exactly why your investment in these popular and gorgeous plants is worthwhile and why their cost is completely fair given the reasons listed below.
Factors That Make Bonsai Trees So Expensive
There are a number of reasons why Bonsai trees certainly aren’t the cheapest plants. While some might look at the smallest and youngest of these trees and think there’s no way they’re spending $50 for that, the price is actually fairly reasonable considering the Bonsai tree’s history and what it takes to acquire and maintain them.
To help you feel more comfortable that you’re getting your money’s worth with a Bonsai tree purchase, here are the main factors that play into their overall cost.
They’re Culturally Significant
One of the first things you should know about Bonsai trees is their cultural origin. These plants are originally from China, and their maintenance and manipulation are believed to be one of the oldest horticultural pursuits in history since the Chinese used them for Penjing in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).
For those of you who are a tad behind on your Chinese horticultural history, Penjing is an ancient Chinese art that utilizes plants to create miniature landscapes. From here, the art eventually reached Japan, where it was more stylistically refined until it became the art of Bonsai care we know today.
Notice that throughout this historic background, the word “art” keeps reappearing. This is a significant factor that contributes to Bonsai’s cost. These trees aren’t like your ordinary spider plant that any beginner can hang in their window. In fact, they are actually deemed sacred plants in Chinese and Japanese culture.
A Bonsai tree symbolizes harmony, good luck, and peace. Owners honor the plant and sacred meanings by artistically altering and shaping it even to the finest details to create a story that elicits emotion from any viewer.
Therefore, purchasing a Bonsai plant is often expensive because owning and caring for one isn’t comparable to caring for common houseplants. It is a daily ritual only the most passionate and artistic of plant lovers accept.
The Type of Tree Used Can be Pricey
Contrary to common belief, the Bonsai tree isn’t just one type of tree. The term more refers to the practice of providing a plant with proper care while still managing its growth, so it is preserved in a miniaturized state.
There are a vast number of Bonsai tree types, and some types can have hundreds of different species. That being said, there are definitely some Bonsai tree types that are more commonly purchased for this art than others, and not all are equal in terms of availability.
Some of the most popular Bonsai trees include:
- Azalea Bonsai
- Ficus Bonsai
- Jade Bonsai
- Cherry Blossom Bonsai
- Chinese Elm Bonsai
- Maple Bonsai
- Cedar Bonsai
- Oak Bonsai
You’ll typically find extremely common and young Bonsai trees, such as Jaboticaba, Fukien Tea Bonsai Tree, and Ginseng Grafted Ficus, at retail stores for $50-$75, but the older and rarer the tree, the quicker its price increases to the thousands.
The most expensive Bonsai tree is typically the Juniper Bonsai because they are consistently the oldest and rarest in existence. For example, a 250-year-old Juniper Bonsai was sold for a whopping $2 million in 1981.
The Bonsai tree’s type and age go hand in hand when it comes to placing a price tag on them.
Bonsai trees can live to be a century old, but the oldest in existence is actually over 1,000 years old. Since these plants have such long lifespans and are often cared for over generations in one family, their age has a profound effect on its price.
While type certainly plays a role, the older a Bonsai tree is, the faster its overall price increases, and rightfully so. If you want a tree that might be older than the United States itself, you’ll have to pay big bucks for it.
In fact, a centuries-old Pine sold for $1.3 million at the International Bonsai Convention in Takamatsu, Japan. This is reportedly one of the most expensive Bonsai trees purchases in history.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a millionaire to buy a Bonsai tree. These plants are often sold at various points in their lifetime, so you can purchase one in its youngest years or invest in one that’s a bit older, depending on your preference and budget.
Origins of Acquisition
Another significant factor that contributes to your Bonsai tree’s overall cost is where you get it from. There are two parts to this, wild versus nursery/farm and its country of origin.
Let’s start with wild versus nursery/farm Bonsai trees. While these trees do occur naturally, they will typically grow to their full height in the wild, which can be several feet tall. A Bonsai tree usually only lives in its miniaturized form through the careful maintenance and manipulation provided by humans.
However, wild Bonsai trees maintained in a miniaturized state do occur. But, while natural forces can inhibit a Bonsai’s growth, keeping it in a healthy miniaturized form is extremely uncommon. As a result of this rarity, these trees are much more expensive than those mass grown and maintained in Bonsai farms or nurseries.
Moving on to the country of origin, where you obtain your Bonsai tree from matters. If your Bonsai tree comes from its countries of origin, namely Japan, China, Indonesia, or Thailand, then it is going to be much more expensive because these trees are often the epitome of Bonsai and of the highest quality.
They are also shipped internationally, so if you are importing a Bonsai tree from Japan (not even considering its type and age), the import fees themselves can be pricy. This is partially due to the fact that the Bonsai will need special care and equipment to survive the voyage.
Factors that Increase Bonsai Expenses Over Time
These factors don’t contribute to your Bonsai tree’s initial price tag, but they do contribute to how much the plant costs you overall. Hard cost isn’t always what’s important with a purchase like this; soft costs should also be considered to ensure you are capable of providing the Bonsai with what it needs to thrive.
Bonsai trees are kept in pots just like any other house plant, and there is a wide selection of pots you can choose from to house them.
While you can certainly opt for a cheap terra cotta to be a lifelong home for your Bonsai tree, many owners will often splurge on their pots and opt for more expensive and expressive options.
Because caring for Bonsai trees is considered an art, passionate owners will choose to purchase antique pots originating from Japan or even China versus a budget-friendly pot. According to an article by Grow Your Bonsai, these pots are extremely rare and can cost an owner up to thousands due to their age, lavish decorations, and high-quality materials.
What pot you use is ultimately up to you, but many will decide to buy pricier options to really make their Bonsai an aesthetically pleasing statement piece.
Due to the intensive daily care Bonsai trees require, you will need the proper tools, and this cost can add up quickly.
The best Bonsai toolset will include up to twenty-five tools, including specialized:
These tools are necessary for rehousing, daily maintenance, and growth inhibition, and the higher quality you want for your tools, the pricier they become.
While you could potentially get away with having maybe five of the most basic tools, not having the right equipment is only going to make you ill-prepared for the art of Bonsai. It might eventually affect your tree’s overall health if you can’t provide the proper care with the tools you have.
Plants are living organisms that can get sick, just like any human or animal. The difference with Bonsai trees is that they are so rare and sometimes difficult to keep alive that any instances of mold or other sicknesses could easily jeopardize their life.
Owners will go to extreme lengths to find the best cure for their Bonsai’s ailments to help them continue a healthy life. Where some owners would simply lose hope for the average house plant and purchase a new one, the art and overall cost connected to Bonsai trees doesn’t really make this an option.
Treatments in of themselves can be expensive, especially if you have to acquire them frequently to cure a reoccurring issue. Therefore, this is a serious factor Bonsai enthusiasts need to consider before investing in a tree of their own.
What Are the Fastest Growing Bonsai Species? might be an interesting article for you!
For those of you considering purchasing a Bonsai tree but are stopped short by their seemingly high cost, remember that this is a plant that carries deep symbolism, requires delicate and attentive daily care, and is used as a creative outlet for the owner to blend their love of plants with artistic expression.
It is certainly not a plant for the faint of heart. It is a hobby you’ll incorporate into your daily lifestyle and if this idea pleases you, then, by all means, start your Bonsai adventure.