The notion of the oldest bonsai in the world evokes all sorts of fanciful ideas with some answers more fiction than fact.
One such story of a 3,600 year old bonsai discovered in a tomb on a golden pedestal referred to in David Easterbrook’s publication of 1985, Bonsai Down Under is perhaps one of my favourites.
This closely followed by the ever so slightly more believable 1,500 year old bonsai uncovered by archaeologists in the ruins of a Tibetan monastery (itself 3,000 years old). The story goes that the bonsai survived off a few rays of sunlight and water dripping from a spring above.
While the stories add to the aura that surrounds the art of bonsai there is no doubt that bonsai, like any other tree, can live a long time. This is evident today with some of the oldest living full grown trees on the planet estimated to be over 2,000 years old.
Returning to the world of fact we can say that the oldest bonsai living today are well over 500 years old. Wikipedia notes that the Tokyo Imperial Palace collection comprises of some of the world’s oldest specimens dating back as far as 500 years.
One of the oldest plants – a five needle pine – is a National Treasure of Japan and estimated to have been first worked on in 1610.
Other parts of Japan, namely Omiya hold some other very old specimens of juniper bonsai collected in the surrounding mountains. Some of these are estimated to be as old as 800 years.
Ancient bonsai are scattered around the world with one of the oldest ficus ginseng bonsai located in Tainan, Taiwan and dates back some 250 years. In South Australia, there is rumoured to be a 150 year old olive bonsai, whilst in the U.S, The Larz Anderson Collection held at the Arnold Arboretum has plants that have been around for over two centuries.