So how do you put a price tag on a bonsai? What are they worth, what price makes sense for an individual tree? In this article we investigate the variables that are important and we look at a few examples of Bonsai for sale.
The price of a Bonsai tree; what to look at
Prices of Bonsai trees tend to vary widely from shop to shop and from country to country. Cheap Bonsai are available at garden centers around the world for around $20, but the availability of high quality Bonsai trees is much more limited. And trees of the highest quality (very old trees that have been kept for generations, often in Japan) are very rare.
With strict import restrictions the flow of these quality trees from Japan to the US and Europe is limited. Most tree species need to be bare-rooted and quarantined for months (even years). The bare rooting is a high risk for old trees, only few tree species can withstand this. Simple economics; with limited availability, prices go up.
But let's focus first on the cheap and medium-quality material first. The price of a Bonsai depends on several factors, most noteworthy age and design.
How much is a Bonsai tree? Age and history
Bonsai trees are often considered to be old, expensive and impossible to keep alive. Simplifying things a little bit, we can say that the more mature a Bonsai looks, the higher its price is. The most expensive Bonsai are all old trees and have been kept in pots for generations, also see this blog post about the Oldest Bonsai trees. Maturity can only be achieved with optimal care over the course of decades, even centuries. Hence, age is a good indicator of the value of a Bonsai tree.
Design and tapering of the trunk
Most cheap Bonsai trees are grown in China. Here they grow them from cuttings to plants of up to 6ft (2m) tall, in just 3-5 years time. When the trunks have grown thick enough the 6ft (2m) tall plant is chopped to just a few inches, after which another year is spend to allow the tree to grow a few new branches. Letting a tree grow tall and then chopping it is the fast way to get a thick trunk, but obviously, the scar will always be visible. The trunk will also have no tapering.
The price of Bonsai depends a lot on how much time is invested in that specific tree. The fast way of growing Bonsai is cheap, but the result is not attractive. The combination of a thick trunk with tapering is expensive, as it takes much more time to grow (we explain how this works in the Bonsai trunk article). Conclusion: a thick trunk, with attractive tapering, can only be achieved over many years of work. Therefore, its expensive.
Pot & tree species
Bonsai pots come in many prices and this depends largely on its age. Old antique pots from China and Japan can cost thousands of dollars, if they would be for sale. New factory made pots from China cost less than a dollar. Prices of new, but handmade, pots vary widely. Continue reading about Bonsai pots.
Finally, some tree species are rare or more difficult to grow, and therefore more expensive.
Bonsai price examples, from expensive to cheap
Priceless... A remarkable tree which is well known for its extremely high age; the tree is reported to be over 800 years old and should be worth at least $400,000.
Not for sale, and will never be. This tree has been trained into a Bonsai for almost 400 years, the result of 6 generations of hard work and patience by the Yamaki family. But what makes it really special is that it was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell in 1945; the tree survived and was later donated to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington (read more about the Yamaki Pine).
Still an expensive Bonsai tree, but much more affordable than the examples above. This one was for sale at around $90,000. The tree is old and has a spectacular trunk, which explains why it is so expensive. Image courtesy by S-Cube.
Ficus tree before and after its styling. This is material much cheaper because the plant is younger and widely available; this plant can be purchased for around $60. Also check our Bonsai trees for sale article (a list of Bonsai stores worldwide).