The number of bonsai styles will vary depending upon the expert in which you inquire. Some will say there are 5 basic styles: formal and informal upright, cascading and semi cascading, and slanted. Others will say there are as many as 18 including: wind-swept, broom, exposed roots, and split trunk.
In reality, according to Bonsai Tree Gardener, the style name indicates a specific description of the bonsai. The name is used by growers and enthusiasts to provide an accurate mental picture of the tree. This classification is used in bonsai education, and as a uniform standard by which the tree is termed.
While most trees can be shaped to any style, the actual composition depends upon the specific tree, and the skill and expertise of the designer. Some trees are more suitable for an upright style, while others are more adept at a slanted or cascading style. Many growers consult catalogs for styles and use this information to determine the proper styling for their particular bonsai variety. The pictures within the catalogs provide a basis to determine which leaves or branches should be trimmed or reshaped.
Bonsai Tree Shaping
The novice bonsai grower may find it difficult to begin shaping a tree. It may be easier for a novice grower to begin with a pre-shaped specimen and strive to maintain the current style before attempting a transformation. Prior to determining the shape, one should consider the age of the tree, the tree species, and the experience of the grower. The style of the tree is not limited by the above mentioned factors, but is limited by the creativity of the grower. While a traditional style may be the preferred outcome, it is certainly not a requirement.
Formal And Informal Upright
Two of the primary styles of bonsai are formal and informal upright. Formal is the basis, yet informal symbolizes a romantic twisting and bending aura. With both styles the trunk and apex of the trunk are directly over the base of the tree. However, the informal will curve and sway. The slanting style is similar to the upright formal, as it has no curves. The only difference is the fact the trunk grows at a significant angle from the soil. Semi-cascading or cascading describes a tree in which the branches grow either directly in line or below the base of the trunk, respectively. The cascading style is widely known as the oldest style of bonsai.
The remaining bonsai styles resemble trees as seen in nature; trees which are misshapen by years of intense wind, or climate and erosion considerations. Styles include specimens with multiple trunks. Generally multiple trunk specimens have an odd number of trunks (excluding the twin trunk), and may include up to nine trunks. Some tree styles are named for the configuration of the roots; multiple trees with own roots (rather than a single root for multiple trees). Styles of a romantic nature include wind-swept and literati (meaning tasteful elegance). Windswept is exactly what the mind’s eye sees when reading the words; a slanted tree with the trunk and branches directed in a single direction. Literati, is style of tree commonly painted by Chinese artists. The tree has a thin, long trunk, with minimal branch which curves at the upper end of the trunk.
Bonsai Styles | Bonsai Tree Gardener