When people find the hobby of bonsai they often end up looking to buy as many new trees as possible. This inevitably means they end up looking at bonsai trees online and asking themselves …why are some bonsai trees so expensive?
The simple answer is the same as why you pay more for anything in life. You are paying for a the hand crafted skill, time and effort that is put into a bonsai tree.
This along with a number of other interlinked factors can all affect the cost of a bonsai, which I will discuss throughout this article.
Why Are Bonsai Trees So Expensive?
The 3 main things that make a bonsai so expensive are the tree itself, the work that has gone into the tree and then other factors that can just influence the price.
I will go through each other these now in more detail.
The Bonsai Tree Itself Can Be Worth A Lot
An individual bonsai tree may have certain characteristics that are more favourable, and therefore will make it more expensive than a different tree.
The Beauty/ Artist Features Of The Bonsai Tree Can Command A High Price
Bonsai is a form of art, so the perceived beauty and aesthetes of the individual bonsai tree will play a role in how expensive it is.
What you find beautiful and what I find beautiful are potentially going to be different, but I think if we both looked at a tree worth £15 and one worth £1500, it will be obvious why there is a difference in price.
In general a more expensive bonsai is going to look better.
Although aesthetics and art in general is very subjective, there are still some objective characteristics that can be assessed to determine value. It’s these objective features that make a tree “look better” and justify a higher price.
Some of the objective features that add perceived beauty to a bonsai are things like:
- Trunk thickness
- Trunk and branch movement
- Bark texture
- A lack of large scars/no sign of a human touch
- Leaf size
- Branch structure
- Root flare/root structure
- Unique features such as deadwood
- Overall styling
The more time and effort that is put into these features, the better the overall tree will look, giving it a more subjective level of beauty and in turn a higher cost.
The Age Of The Tree Can Affect The Price
The age of a bonsai tree can play a huge role in its price. Some bonsai trees are effectively living antiques. They are handed down through the family for generations.
Age can affect the objective features I spoke about above, but it can also contribute to other factors, which I will discuss below, such as care costs and how a tree is grown.
(You can read more about – How Old Can Bonsai Trees Be?)
How A Tree Is Grown Can Increase its Value
How a Bonsai is grown can also affect its price. Basically the quicker you can get from a “normal” tree, to a specimen bonsai, the cheaper it will be.
Bonsai that have been grown from seed for the last 70 years are going to more expensive than a tree that was air layered 10 years ago. This sort of overlaps with the ‘Age’ section, as a tree that is spent longer in development is usually going to be more expensive.
This is why yamadori is so popular. You can pretty much bypass a huge period of time. Some yamadori are 500 years old. Once they are dug up, they can start to look like a specimen trees in a relatively short time, sometimes as short as 10 years.
Getting a 500 year old tree from 10 years of work will still be expensive. There is still a lot of work and skill needed to grow a tree like this. It is not as simple as bypassing time will make it cheaper, but can you imagine how expensive a tree would be if it been grown from seed 500 years ago and handed down through multiple family members?
On the opposite end of this scale, bonsai can be made cheaper by the same way anything in life is made cheaper, mass production.
Those £15 trees on Amazon, they are all mass produced, this is why they are so cheap.
(You can read more about – Buying An Elm Bonsai On Amazon)
There are fields in china, as far as the eye can see, just covered in these elm bonsai. they use automatic watering and as impressive as that is, there is just a lack of human craft that goes into these trees.
I myself own one and you can tell the level of care put into them is nowhere near what I myself would put into a tree. It’s just like anything mass produced its just never going to compete with something that has been hand crafted and the price reflects that.
Bonsai Are “One Of A Kind”, Which Can Make Them Expensive
You must also remember that every bonsai tree is unique. Like us, no two trees are the same.
Also, like us you can have genetically identical tress, but they will still look and grow differently.
Bonsai trees can often look similar and can be styled in a similar way, but as each tree is unique, this will always add value to the tree.
Effort That Has Gone Into The Tree Can Affect The Price
While some of the cost you are paying will be for the tree itself, a portion of the cost will also be paying for the work that has gone into the tree.
Bonsai trees are not made overnight. A lot of effort goes into producing them them, which is all going to add up and make the tree more expensive.
We also must remember that a bonsai is living object and they need daily care, care that has to be given by a person. Eventually some one needs top pay for this cost, and it is going to be worked into the final price of the tree.
So for an easy example, let’s say a nursery pays someone to look after the trees.
They get paid £9 an hour (which is around minimum wage). Every day they come along and check the tree and water it. We will say this takes 1 minute per tree. Maybe some days this will be more, maybe some less, but anyway, lets say that this one minute of works out to be 15p a day in costs, just to look after this tree, for 1 minute.
Over a year that is £54.75.
Let’s be honest, it takes a bit longer than a year to grow a bonsai tree. So let’s say they have it for 5 years.
That’s works out to be £273.75. Just to give a tree the basic care it needs, that’s just 1 minute a day giving it a drink of water.
So as you can see this price is starting to add up. If you start adding in pruning, repotting, styling, fertilising and anything else that goes into a tree throughout a year it can really add up.
A lot of time and effort goes in to the care of a bonsai tree. This is time that has been put in by a human who needs paid. When you start to break it down like this, it starts to make sense why some trees start getting a little expensive. 70 years of daily care costs can quickly start to add up.
Good Bonsai Craftsmanship Is Not Cheap
The craftsmanship that goes into a bonsai can play a huge role in the price of a tree. Bonsai is an art and like all art, some artists work demands a higher price.
Just imagine if I spray paint a wall. I’m a nasty vandal when I do this, where as if Banksy does it, he’s an artistic genius. I don’t think bonsai is maybe this extreme, but I do think it is important to note that some artists are just better than others and just like graffiti it can be hard to differentiate the good from the bad to the untrained eye.
I personally think the care of a bonsai is easy. I also think the production of a bonsai is pretty easy too. If you follow some simple steps and repeat them for a number of years you will end up with a good product.
However, that’s my point, it’s a good bonsai, but it won’t be exceptional bonsai. I can probably get 80% of the way there, but I lack that real artistic skill and craftsmanship that will take my bonsai the next level.
Maybe one day my trees could enter a local exhibition, but I know they would never be good enough to be displayed in Japan and I know I would have zero chance of winning an award, anywhere in the world.
I know I lack the real artistic nuisances that go into making a tree worth crazy amounts of money. However, certain bonsai masters do have this skill and their trees are worth more money, and I think this is rightly so.
The higher level of craftsmanship and artist ability should always command a higher price.
Other Factors That Make Bonsai Expensive
Like anything in life, there are external factors that will affect the cost of bonsai. Some of these things can not be controlled, but they will still make a tree more expensive.
The Rarity Of A Bonsai Can Make It More Expensive
The rarity of a bonsai tree can mean a few different things.
A tree being unique is one part of its rarity, but the age and quality of a tree is more important in effecting the cost. There are probably millions of trees in the world that are a few years old, but how many trees are over 500 years old?
Then how many of these 500 years old trees have been removed from the ground and potted up, due to their specific characteristics? Not that many.
Then ask how many trees have been grown from seed and kept in a pot for 100s of years? Probably even less again.
So the rarity of these sorts of specimen bonsai trees produces a supply and demand situation which will affect their price.
The rarity of a species can also play a part. Something like a Chinese elm can be reproduced really easily by taking cuttings, compared to something like a Japanese black pine, where they need to be grown from a seed. There is always going to more Chinese elms in the world than Japanese black pines. So, again the simple supply and demand of these will make the pines generally more expensive.
The rarity of a bonsai can also means its availability in a certain region. If a species is not native to an area, it’s going to be harder to get hold of and therefore more expensive
Trident maples can grow quite happily in the UK, but they are not native here. Trying to find one at a garden centre can actually be quite hard, especially compared to some of the other Acers that are more popular here.
This again can make a simple supply and demand situation. This can mean that even young trees (that are not even bonsai) can be more expensive than native trees, or ones that are more common.
The popularity of a species can also affect the cost. This is partly a supply and demand thing and partly just a subjective view that certain species are “better” than others, so they are deemed more valuable.
You will find that certain species or style of tree will be trendy and be more popular for a while and end up costing more. That is until the consensus decides that some other species or style is now more popular.
If you are clever you could focus on what is not as popular and collect these while they are cheap and wait for them to come back into fashion to make a profit. I guess like the tree version of the stock market?
Bonsai Pots Add Value To Bonsai Trees
This is often overlooked, but the pot can also play a part in the final cost and make things more expensive
Old trees usually have old pots. These pots by themselves can be quite expensive, reaching into the 100s of pounds/dollars. They are hand crafted to an extremely high standard and are now antiques in their own right.
Obviously trees sold in cheap pots, or even plastic pots will not be as expensive as you will only be paying for the tree itself but some trees have the cost of the pot factored in.
Import Costs Of Bonsai
If you are buying a tree that has been imported from Japan, it’s going to cost more.
Importing can cost a lot of time and money, so it’s only natural that the seller is going to incorporate some of that cost into the final sale price of the tree.
That’s just how business works.
All of the reasons I’ve talked about are variable and can all change the overall cost of a tree.
This means that the cost can change over time, both increasing and decreasing depending on the situation.
Hopefully some of this information has shed some light on why the cost of a bonsai can be high and hopefully the next time you are shocked by the price you can appreciate why it might be set so high.
Hi, I’m Ian. I discovered bonsai in 2014 and I’ve been hooked ever since. I created this site to spread all the knowledge I have acquired over the years. Don’t forget to check out my Youtube videos where I show the progress of my Bonsai
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