The word bonsai is a Japanese word meaning: tray planting. Bonsai is an art form where trees are cultivated and grown in containers and are subsequently shaped through various techniques (pruning, wiring, ect.) to mimic full scale trees in the wild. The art form originated in China but was later adapted and refined by Japanese Buddhists.
Records show the practice of bonsai originated in the early 14th century, however, bonsai culture could possibly date back as far as a 1000 years ago in its most primitive form.
So what classifies as a bonsai tree?
Bonsai culture today has evolved like most things in life. Trees of a wide range of varieties are cultivated in containers and refined over time by bonsai enthusiasts all over the world. Typically, bonsai trees are not grown much higher than about 3 or 4 feet, though, there are many exceptional trees grown in containers that are much, much bigger.
A bonsai tree generally will have certain characteristics: the trunk of the plant should be able to form a woody bark, the leaves or needles of the species must be able to withstand foliage reduction, the plant must grow branches, and of course, the tree must be able to survive/thrive in a container.