It’s not easy to determine the age of a Bonsai tree. It’s not like looking at a group of Oak trees in a forest to do an age/look comparison. What is tricky about the Bonsai is that the oldest tree in the group don’t look much older than the youngest. One interesting fact is that Bonsai tend to outlive their cousins in the forest my many years.
History of the Oldest Bonsai
Actually don’t want to get ahead of story but the oldest Bonsai tree today, where age is well documented and proven, is over two hundred years old. The oldest Bonsai can be traced all the back to the early 1700’s.
This means that it was living in a pot somewhere when George Washington was around 5 years old! This tree is recorded to have been purchased by the ambassador to Japan before WW 1. The Ambassador purchased 40 more bonsai at the time and at his death he donated his somewhat large collection to the Arboretum in Washington, DC. Unfortunately the trees were not properly cared for and most were dead by 1970. Fortunatly, soon after, a tree expert was hired to take care of the bonsai at the Arboretum and the oldest in the Ambassador’s collection survived and is still on display at the Arboretum.
Because the ancient Art of growing and cultivating Bonsai is recorded in archives from around the world, there is speculation that some Bonsai trees have lived for over a thousand years. Since this is only speculation I will not consider this a fact but say that it is a good possibility. It is recorded that the oldest Bonsai tree in history is a Hinoki Cypress.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea’ (Hinoki cypress)
Native to Japan, Hinoki cypress is a slow growing evergreen conifer that grows 50-75’ tall with a pyramidal habit. It features spreading branches that droop at the ends and drooping flat frondlike branchlets bearing small scale like leaves. The main branches are dense and spreading and may droop to the ground, and the sprays of foliage are held in flat planes. Dark green scale like leaves of Hinoki cypress are borne in pairs of two unequal sizes and shapes with white markings beneath. Adult leaves are like closely overlapping scales; leaves on juvenile branchlets and young plants don’t overlap and are shaped more like tiny awls or broad needles. Hinoki cypress has an attractive, shredding, reddish-brown bark which peels off in long narrow strips on mature trees. The cones of Hinoki cypress are small, 8 scaled, orange brown and about 1/2 inch in diameter.
I have seen many beautiful bonsai created from this majestic tree. The Hinoki Cypress Bonsai should be planted in moist soil and well drained. It does best in full sunlight.