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 Old Bonsai Tree

 By Erik A. Olsen

Experts have known for years that bonsai trees, when cared for properly, can live a very long time. However, when you talk about an old bonsai tree, archeologist from the University of Chicago made an incredible discover in 2000. While working with the government of Tibet and exploring many of the ruins of the ancient Tibetan monastery, they found what is believed to be a 1,500 year old bonsai tree. Through in-depth testing, the monastery was estimated around 3,000 years old although 1,500 years ago, it was virtually destroyed by a major earthquake. As the archeologists walked into one particular room that had not been damaged, there in the center on a display table was a living, breathing 1,500 year old bonsai tree. As you can imagine, they were both shocked and overwhelmed.

It is not every day that someone walks into a ruin in Tibet to discover a 1,500 year old bonsai tree, just sitting there, as if waiting for their arrival. As the archeologist studied and surveyed the tree, they speculated that with just a small ray of sunlight coming into the room for just two hours a day, and absolutely no human intervention, this one lone tree had somehow survived. The next speculation about this 1,500 year old bonsai tree is that for nourishment, the tree survived on insect remains and bat droppings. However, as the archeologists looked around the room further, they also discovered that a nearby spring provided the tree with just a few drops of water every day, just enough to keep its soil moist. Can you imagine – a 1,500 year old bonsai tree, in the middle of Tibet, all alone! This discovery was remarkable, simply an impossibility yet it happened.

An old bonsai tree is also captured through traditional Japanese art. For example, in Tokyo, on the private grounds of Kobayashi Kunio’s residence, you would find an amazing bonsai museum called, “Shunkaen Museum of Japanese Traditional Art “Bonsai”. The cost of building this particular museum was more than $7 million US, taking a full 15 years to complete. Today, this museum boasts an amazing collection of some 2,000 bonsai-related artifacts, many of these being 500 year old bonsai trees.

The purpose of the Shunkaen Museum is to maintain and honor the living legend of the bonsai tree and its special world. Interestingly, this particular museum has been awarded the coveted Prime Minister’s Prize at the Japan Bonsai Exhibition, not once but four times! Featuring exhibitions in nine different categories, Kobayashi’s achievements associated with old bonsai trees is unmatched by any other. When in Japan, you can visit this museum Tuesday through Sunday to see for yourself the astounding world of the old bonsai tree!

Remember, bonsai can grow to 400 or 500 years old. Many bonsai grown are passed down through generations since they can easily outlive the original owner. However, when the bonsai tree is grown in the wild, it typically will grow much older. Remember that healthy and well cared for bonsai will often appear much older than they actually are. Without doubt, both young and old bonsai trees have a magical aura about them, a beautiful balance of art and science.

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