The Origins of Cannabonsai

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Cannabonsai today is an international community with active enthusiasts and experienced growers alike trying their hand at growing cannabis bonsai themselves. But what are the origins of cannabonsai? We examine the murky beginnings of cannabis bonsai and many of the very first bonsai artists that helped to create the space it is today. We begin by recognizing many techniques that involve physiological manipulation as precursors to the art of cannabonsai, followed by discussing the trail of contemporary development of cannabonsai into an art form.

Currently, with many countries around the world legalizing and some on the cusp, cannabis growers have made an increasingly strong online community by sharing and engaging online. We are seeing generations of growers that have the opportunity to share their grows, knowledge and now art online.

These are a few of the growers that we’ve highlighted as some of the first and most notable cannabonsai artists who have made contributions to the cannabonsai community. Message us if you feel that we’ve missed you or you find other important cannabonsai artists that we should include!

“The only difference between a flower and a weed is judgement.”

Wayne Dyer

Terminology

In order to trace the origins of cannabonsai, it helps to define what we mean by the term ‘cannabonsai’. In short, a cannabonsai is a bonsai grown with the cannabis species as the medium.

Throughout the years, there a few different terms have been used to describe cannabis plant art: 

  • Chronsai
  • Budzai
  • Cannabonsai
  • Benzai

Cannabonsai seems to have become the most widely used term for this art. There’s no clear indication who came up with the term ‘cannabonsai’ and its origins are difficult if not impossible to pinpoint to one person or event.

The hazy beginnings of Cannabonsai

Given the thousands of years of history of cannabis cultivation, its subsequent prohibition, underground roots, and history of private self-cultivation, there were undoubtedly a lot of private artistic experiments done with cannabis plants that went undocumented.

There have been several instances of experiments in manipulating cannabis that flirt with the concepts behind growing a cannabonsai. We’ve identified a few of these manipulation techniques below that changes the appearance of the plant from its natural form. Although the these techniques were largely for purposes other than the art, the spirit of intentionally dwarfing the plant is the reason we consider these as precursors to cannabonsai techniques.

Many techniques have been developed throughout history, from ancient civilizations to those pioneering through to the 21st century, but for now we’ll look into the origins of the art in relatively modern times.

Bonsai mothers
In order to keep genetic lineages or specific phenotypes around, growers have traditionally kept bonsai ‘mothers’ – plants purposefully kept small by cutting back in order to take clones for subsequent grows. We have heard anecdotally of growers keeping their mother plants around for a surprising number of years. 

Techniques like LST and supercropping have been developed in search of increasing yield or better fitting to an indoor grow setup, and they can also be used with a cannabonsai, further complicating a specific date of origin.

Marijuana Botany
In one of Robert C. Clarke’s early works on cannabis, Marijuana Botany, he discusses many techniques that cultivators use to alter the natural structure of the plant. Among them is a technique known as meristem pruning, where growth tips of the main stem or branches are removed, also popularly known as ‘topping’. Because growth tips produce auxins, a class of growth hormones, this reduces stem elongation and increases branching to alter the structure of the plant and shorten internode spacing (Clarke, 1981, p.35).

Techniques that employ training and structural manipulation clearly have origins deep in the traditions of many growers long before recent documentation.

Main-lining
As Growweedeasy points out, in 2012 grower Nugbuckets introduced the technique of Main-lining to rollitup.com, a way of manipulating the branches of cannabis plants into a symmetrical manner to distribute energy evenly from the roots to each cola. The benefits of this technique resulted in an even canopy, bigger surface area for all colas and thus bigger yields.

Chart by Growweedeasy
Credit: Nugbuckets

This technique is among the many instances of the manipulation of branch growth patterns by pruning or using various tools like string or wire. Although the objective of main-lining was for improving yield, flattening the canopy, and equalizing cola sizes, rather than for the purpose of bonsai or aesthetics, it is certainly true that main-lining contributed to further experimentation and manipulation of branches. In our case, before we started growing cannabonsai we were practicing this technique which informed much of our approach!

A timeline of cannabonsai artists

In the following timeline, we examine how cannabonsai developed into an art form and take a look at the following artists and their contributions. This list doesn’t include many autoflower growers as they technically do not fulfil many of the characteristics of being a true bonsai, and as a result are generally regarded as bonsai-inspired.

2012

Andrew Pyrah
One of the first instances of deliberate bonsai training with cannabis available is from Andrew Pyrah, an Amsterdam based cannabis enthusiast who runs a blog exploring coffeeshop and cannabis culture. In 2012, he was experimenting with cannabis on his Youtube channel and demonstrated the ability to train cannabis plant stems and branches to twist and bend in shapes reminiscent of traditional bonsai. 

2017

MrMagius
In early 2017, reddit user and cannabonsai artist MrMagius created a subreddit called r/cannabonsai for cannabis growers and enthusiasts interested in the art of bonsai with cannabis. Today, 5 years on, the community now boasts over 17k members!

Rae Lland
One of the first articles published on the subject of growing cannabis bonsai in a large media publication is one where Rae Lland discusses the topic with cannabis cultivators and traditional bonsai enthusiasts alike. Although this article was written about the cultivation of cannabis and bonsai, the actual term ‘cannabonsai’ wasn’t used.

Budzai
One of the first prominent cannabis artists we discovered is @budzaiofficial who germinated his first seed in the summer of 2017. He considers research and visual design a main proponent of his work and wants to ‘encourage people to grow unconventionally and break the stigma of homegrown cannabis.’

He keeps his plants alive for years by keeping them in vegetative state and is a great example of extending the lifespan of a cannabis plant beyond a few months. Among his oldest plants, Blu was almost two and a half years old!

His work was one of the first to prove that cannabis art can be kept for long periods of time just like traditional bonsai mediums under the right environment and circumstances. He calls his art ‘budzai’ and is characterized by delicately woven trunks often in a spiralling shape. 

2018

Cannabonzai
We started Cannabonzai on the cusp of legalization in Canada with our website Cannabonzai.com in December 2018 and started posting in April 2019. We started this setting out to prove that cannabis can be an authentic bonsai medium by applying traditional techniques to cannabis. We spent a few months researching the traditions of bonsai and experimented and developed our own perspective on how we could apply it to cannabis.

One of the first bonsai styles we were excited about attempting was an exposed root-over-rock style as we hadn’t seen anything like it before. We then moved on to adapting traditional techniques to photoperiods, and while this is technically an auto, we wanted to include it because it demonstrated to us that exposing roots was possible prior to flower and as a result of it working, it deeply influenced our following work with photoperiods. Our post in August 2019 was reshared by Culturemag and even made it into a video on cannabonsai along with Budzai and Getslothed on Huffpost Canada that same month!

https://www.instagram.com/p/B0_luEBlTNd/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

While one of the traditional bonsai artists in the Leafly article refers to cannabis as a ‘fastigiated shrub’ with ‘no special characteristics’, much of our work is in disproving those myths. You can read more here about our response and our thoughts about how cannabonsai does in fact fulfill the criteria to be considered a true bonsai medium.

2019

GetSlothed
Cannabonsai grower @GetSlothed’s plant affectionately named Alan first made its appearance in June of 2019 as a 5.5 month old plant. 

This plant is one of the first examples of cannabis with an extended life span, and branches kept low to the ground to resemble that of an aged tree. He thickens the stem and branches in order to create a proportion that untrained cannabis plants don’t have.

2020

Golddustfarms

Experienced grower and talented cannabonsai artist Golddustfarms began early in 2020, experimenting with growing cannabonsai from taking appropriate clones and growing them into bonsai. Since then he has developed a style of his own, with thick trunks, impressive arrays of exposed roots over unconventional base mediums, and a fine manipulation of stems into shapes or letters. Check out his work on his instagram!

Cannabonsai: an international community

Since late 2019, the community of enthusiasts, artists and growers of cannabonsai has grown to a size we couldn’t imagine. When we first started out, we used to get a lot of ‘but why?’ and ‘what’s the point?’ and now four years later, we get it a lot less often. It’s been incredible to see the collective effort in creating that movement that turned cannabonsai from an experiment and exploration into an internationally practiced art form.

Follow #cannabonsai to discover more cannabonsai artists and check out some of our favorite artists below if you haven’t already!

Cannabonsay

Silky_smooth

Soufsidefarm

Totogrowuk

A cannabonsai grower based in the UK that has an awesome series of youtube videos documenting his cannabonsai grows!

References

Clarke, R. C. (1981). Marijuana botany: An advanced study, the propagation and breeding of distinctive Cannabis. Berkeley, Calif: Ronin Pub.

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