Broadleaf Identification

a comprehensive guide to understanding the different broadleaf species and subgenres


The broadleaf genre encompasses an expansive array of tree and shrub species surviving throughout an infinite range of climates and conditions worldwide. Defined by their broad, flat leaf shape, broadleafs efficiently harness the sun's energy, creating abundant resources, sequestering carbon, purifying the air, and generating sugars and essential foods for human survival. Their ability to produce seeds within fruit enables rapid and abundant regeneration, while their changing canopy celebrates seasonality through flowers, fruit, and charming foliar character. Trees of this genre may seem less hardy and delicate. Still, the broadleaf world is a force to be reckoned with and is rich in intricate nuances that demand a wealth of scientific, horticultural, technical, and aesthetic knowledge to harness its potential truly. It's a fact that the broadleaf genre is indispensable for our planet's health and is firmly anchored as a staple of the bonsai practice.

"Their ability to produce seeds within fruit enables rapid and abundant regeneration, while their changing canopy celebrates seasonality through flowers, fruit, and charming foliar character."



1. Subgenre: Broadleaf Deciduous 


Among the subgenres of the broadleaf realm, the deciduous category stands out as the predominant representative most commonly utilized in the bonsai practice. From the iconic Japanese and trident maples gracing the pages of the Kokufu albums to the windswept beech and contorted Carpinus defining the rugged boundaries of eastern Europe, their diversity of character and form make broadleaf deciduous species limitless in their capacity to represent nature in miniature. This infinite design potential is further accentuated by the diversity of the deciduous subgenres across four seasons of changing foliar interest. The naked silhouette of winter twigs gives rise to spring leaves' lush emergence, symbolizing life's cyclic rhythm. In summer, the dense canopy provides coolness, shade, and shelter, enhancing the environment through transpiration. As autumn arrives, the spectacle of changing foliage colors marks a transition toward winter dormancy, prompting contemplation of the beauty inherent in seasonal change. These magical transformations occurring year in and year out make it easy to see why deciduous species dominate the broadleaf bonsai practice. 



Broadleaf Deciduous:



Amur Maple - Acer ginnala

Apple - Malus (spp.)

Burning Bush - Euonymus alatus

Binan Kazura - Kadsura japonica

Chinese Elm - Ulmus parvifolia (spp.)

Chinese Quince - Pseudocydonia sinensis

Coral Bark Japanese Maple - Acer palmatum ’Sango-kaku’

Crabapple - Malus sieboldii

Deshojo Japanese Maple - Acer palmatum ‘Deshojo'

Dwarf Japanese Beech - Fagus crenata ‘Fuji’

Dwarf Japanese Maple - Acer palmatum ‘Kotohime’

Dwarf Japanese Quince - Chaenomeles japonica ‘Chojubai’

Flowering Cherry - Prunus serrulata

Flowering Cherry - Prunus speciosa

Flowering Pear - Pyrus (spp.)

Hokkaido Elm - Ulmus parvifolia ‘Hokkaido’

Japanese Apricot - Prunus mume

Japanese Beech - Fagus crenata

Japanese Dogwood - Cornus kousa

Japanese Holly - Ilex serrata

Japanese Maple - Acer palmatum

Japanese Plum - Prunus salicina

Japanese Quince - Chaenomeles japonica

Japanese Rose - Rosa multiflora

Korean Hornbeam - Carpinus turczaninowii

Rough Bark Japanese Maple - Acer palmatum ‘Arakawa’

Seigen Japanese Maple - Acer palmatum ’Seigen’

Seiju Elm - Ulmus parvifolia ’Seiju’

Stewart - Stewartia monadalpha

Trident Maple - Acer buergerianum

Winter Hazel - Corylopsis spicata

Wisteria - Wisteria (spp.)

Yatsubusa Elm - Ulmus parvifolia 'Yatsubusa'

Zelkova - Zelkova serrata


Blackthorn - Prunus spinosa

Common Hawthorn - Crataegus monogyna

European Beech - Fagus sylvatica

European Hornbeam - Carpinus orientalis

Field Maple - Acer campestre

Little-Leaf Linden - Tilia cordata

Pomegranate - Punica granatum

Silver Birch - Betula pendula

Tamarisk - Tamarix (spp.)


North America

American Beech - Fagus grandifolia

American Hornbeam - Carpinus caroliniana

Ash - Fraxinus (spp.)

Blue Oak - Quercus douglasii

California Black Oak - Quercus kelloggii

Eastern Redbud - Cercis canadensis

Paper Birch - Betula papyrifera

Pacific Crabapple - Malus fusca

Pacific Dogwood - Cornus nuttallii

Porcelain Berry - Amur peppervine

Potentilla - Potentilla

Quaking Aspen - Populus tremuloides

Red Maple - Acer rubrum

River Birch - Betula nigra

Rose - Rosa (spp.)

Valley Oak - Quercus lobata

Vine Maple - Acer circinatum

Western Redbud - Cercis occidentalis

White Oak - Quercus garryana


2. Subgenre: Broadleaf Evergreen

Broadleaf evergreen species excel in diverse climates, starkly contrasting to their deciduous counterparts. From shaded enclaves of the coastal understory in regions season-less without four seasons of change to the arid high deserts void of shelter from the beating sun and oscillating in temperature and climatic extremes from one day to the next, the broadleaf evergreen subgenre contains species adapted to survive nearly anywhere. Their thick, rigid cuticle and specialized traits of leaf physiology allow evergreen species to maintain their foliar mass year-round, conserving moisture and enduring temperature extremes. These adaptations demand an equal and opposite understanding and respect if we are to harness the potential of the evergreen realm in bonsai. However, this is a small price for the endearing combination of rugged elegance that is a testament to life's ability to thrive amidst adversity in a way only a broadleaf evergreen could convey. 



Broadleaf Evergreen: 



Asiatic jasmine - Trachelospermum asiaticum

Camellia - Camellia japonica / sasanqua

Cape Jasmin - Gardenia jasmenoides

Firethorn - Pyracantha (spp.)

Japanese Boxwood - Buxus macrophylla

Pieris - Pieris japonica

Silverberry - Eleagnus pungens

Tea Plant - Camellia sinensis



Boxwood - Buxus sempervirens

Common Thyme - Thymus vulgaris

Cork Bark Oak - Quercus suber

European Olive - Olea europaea

Heather - Calluna vulgaris

Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis


North America

Canyon Oak / GoldCup Oak - Quercus chrysolepis

Coast Live Oak - Quercus agrifolia

Kingsville Boxwood - Buxus microphylla

Engelmann Oak - Quercus engelmanii

Interior Live Oak - Quercus wislizeni

Manzanita - Arctostaphylos (spp.)

Sage Brush - Artemisia (spp.)

Silverberry - Eleagnus (spp.)



3. Subgenre: Azalea

Satsuki Azaleas are prized in Japan for their showy blooms, emerging once a year in a crescendo of their bonsai aesthetic. With over 1200 varieties, the diversity of flower shape, texture, and color makes Satstuki an art form and practice all unto itself, distant at times from the common bonsai realm but united by the azaleas' equally undeniable strength and character in its trunk and branching. Maintaining the delicate balance between encouraging flowering and preserving an azalea bonsai's health requires careful management, appropriate technique, and impeccable timing. Azaleas are water-loving but hate to stay too wet. Depending on the variety of Satsuki, container cultivation, fertilization needs, heat, and light exposure may all differ. For some varieties, strategic pruning thins out dense foliage and promotes fresh, water-conductive growth that supports flower formation. For others, less pruning facilitates a more airy, delicate aesthetic that allows a particular style of bloom to shine. Successfully cultivating Satsuki Azalea bonsai demands a nuanced approach that integrates horticultural expertise with artistic sensibility, allowing practitioners to showcase the full splendor of these prized trees within the confines of the bonsai container.



Broadleaf Azalea: 



Indica Azalea - Rhododendron indicum

Kurume Azalea - Rhododendron obtusum 

Japanese Azalea - Rhododendron japonicum

Kaempferi Azalea - Rhododendron kaempferi

Kiusianum Azalea - Rhododendron kiusianum

Poukan Azalea - Rhododendron poukhanense

Satsuki Azalea - Rhododendron indicum

Royal Azalea - Rhododendron schlippenbachii

Sims Azalea - Rhododendron simsii



4. Subgenre: Tropical

Tropical broadleaf bonsai flourish within equatorial climates' perpetual warmth, making their training as bonsai an exercise in observation. Because of their strength in hot and humid conditions, tropical species are equally weak in cold and arid cultivation environments, necessitating work in the year's warmest months. This direct contrast to their temperate counterparts makes creating tropical bonsai a perfect complement to the common bonsai practice. It empowers practitioners to work on bonsai year-round via the demands of these different subgenera. Besides their rapid growth rate, broadleaf tropical species unveil breathtaking beauty when meticulously nurtured, generating aesthetic prosperity often overlooked within the broader bonsai community. Their lush foliage, vibrant colors, and intricate forms epitomize the artistry and potential inherent in cultivating bonsai from tropical origins, offering enthusiasts a captivating avenue for exploration and expression within the rich tapestry of bonsai artistry.



Broadleaf Tropical: 



Chinese Banyan - Ficus microcarpa

Fukien Tea - Carmona retusa 

Indian Laurel Fig - Ficus retusa

Rubber Tree - Ficus elastica

Sacred Fig - Ficus religiosa

Snow Rose - Serissa foetida

Weeping Fig - Ficus benjamina

Willow Leaf Fig - Ficus salicaria



Desert Rose - Adenium obesum


South America

Bougainvillea - Bougainvillea (spp.)



5. Subgenre: Succulent 

The succulent bonsai subgenre is a distinct grouping of arborescent succulent species that grow in a tree form. These unique, primarily Mediterranean, drought-tolerant trees deviate from traditional broadleaf and evergreen species and offer a creative and unique approach to bonsai cultivation. Arborescent succulent bonsai thrive with neglect and minimal watering, necessitating different cultivation techniques and environments. These factors meet their needs and pave the way for the highly coveted indoor bonsai model. Only a little is known about how to appropriately and successfully reduce their proportions and manipulate their structure. We do know that their aesthetic is otherworldly and beautiful in a way we don't commonly experience in the more traditional bonsai realm, but whose character sheds light on underrepresented landscapes that speak to the vastness of diversity in the natural world. 






Aloe Vera - Aloe vera

Indian Laurel Fig - Ficus retusa



Desert Rose - Adenium obesum 

Elephant Bush - Portulacaria afra 

Haworthia - Haworthia (spp.) 

Jade Plant - Crassula ovata 

Madagascar Palm - Pachypodium lamerei 

Miniature Pine Tree - Crassula tetragona 

Silver Dollar Jade - Crassula argentea

Indian Laurel Fig - Ficus retusa

In the diverse world of broadleaf species, it's hard to deny that there's a more complex or fascinating tree genre. The aesthetic opportunities are endless, from the elegance and seasonal diversity of deciduous species to the rugged beauty of broadleaf evergreens. From the humid adaptations of tropical varieties to the succulent subgenera inhabiting the most arid landscapes on earth, the range of cultivation strategies makes the broadleaf realm a never-ending pursuit of exploration and discovery that highlights the beauty of nature's adaptations through the artistry of bonsai creation. Each species presents unique challenges and revelations, from seasonal transitions to resilient survival in harsh climates. Through careful shaping and nurturing, practitioners craft living artworks that celebrate the beauty and resilience of life. In this exploration, they deepen their connection to nature, finding fulfillment in artistic expression and reverence for its boundless creativity.



"The broadleaf realm offers endless aesthetic opportunities, from the elegance of deciduous species to the rugged beauty of broadleaf evergreens, making it a never-ending pursuit of exploration and discovery."





Written by: Ryan Neil 
Designed and Edited by: Lani Milton and Leah Liebler
Photography by Bonsai Mirai

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