Discover the Oldest Bonsai Tree and Where to See It

Written by Megan Martin
Updated: August 29, 2023
Share on:

Advertisement


Key Points

  • The Ficus retusa linn is the oldest bonsai tree on Earth, thought to be over 1,000 years old.
  • This particular bonsai is a type of fig tree capable of growing 33 feet tall.
  • The oldest bonsai in the world is located in northern Italy at the Crespi Bonsai Museum.

Have you ever wondered about the oldest bonsai tree? If so, you’re not alone. The art of bonsai is a culturally rich and interesting topic, and its history is more much in-depth than you might think at a glance.

Ready to meet the oldest bonsai tree? Keep reading!

About the Oldest Bonsai Tree

The oldest bonsai in the world is the Ficus retusa linn. This bonsai is thought to be over 1,000 years old!

The Ficus retusa is a type of fig tree. It is known to be a fast grower and can reach heights of over 33 feet. Just its leaves alone can grow to be nearly four inches long. It’s actually quite uncommon to find this species of tree as a bonsai due to its large size. Most bonsai that are labeled as Ficus retusa are actually a species known as Ficus microcarpa. However, this is not the case for the oldest bonsai in the world!

This is because the Ficus retusa linn is what is known as an ògata, or large bonsai. It’s around ten feet tall and almost just as wide. 

Ficus retusa leaves

The

Ficus retusa linn

bonsai is said to be over 1,000 years old.

©Luca Piva/Shutterstock.com

Where to See the Oldest Bonsai

You can find the oldest bonsai in the world at the Crespi Bonsai Museum in northern Italy. Its current owner is Luigi Crespi, the founder of the museum.

Believe it or not, however, coming to own the oldest bonsai in the world was no easy feat for Crespi. The oldest bonsai tree isn’t originally from Italy. Once it came to the country from China, however, it was cared for by Shotaro Kawahara, a bonsai master. Crespi began trying to gain ownership of the ficus bonsai in the 1970s. In 1986, he finally succeeded. Luigi Crespi and Alberto Lavazza have been taking care of the bonsai ever since. 

However, the ficus didn’t get moved to the museum yet at this point. In fact, the museum hadn’t even been founded yet! The museum itself was founded in 1991. After this, the ficus was transferred into the museum, where it is still the centerpiece to this day. 

Where Is the Oldest Bonsai Located on a Map?

What Is a Bonsai?

A bonsai isn’t a type of tree. In fact, it’s not even a type of plant! Instead, bonsai is the Japanese art of training trees to exist at a miniature size, all while tending to them and taking care of them. The practice of bonsai originates from penjing, a Chinese art form that involves shaping plants.

As a result, almost any type of tree can be a bonsai! While some are only inches tall, as is most common, there are some types of large bonsai trees, like the oldest bonsai tree. 

4 of the Other Oldest Bonsais

The ficus bonsai in Italy isn’t an odd case. In fact, there are many examples of bonsai trees that are hundreds of years old! Here are four others that you may be interested in learning more about. 

1. Juniper Bonsai Tree

The second oldest bonsai tree is a juniper bonsai tree in Omiya, Japan. This tree is also around 1000 years old, although it’s not as old as the Ficus retusa linn. This bonsai tree was collected from the wilderness!

Today, you can find the juniper bonsai tree in the Mansei-en bonsai nursery. This is one of six, as well as the oldest, bonsai nursery and garden in the Omiya Bonsai Village.

Omiya bonsai village

The juniper bonsai tree in Japan is also around a thousand years old.

©Jitrin Pumthong/Shutterstock.com

2. Shunkaen Bonsai Trees

The Shunkaen Bonsai Museum in Tokyo, Japan, is actually home to not one but two of the oldest bonsai trees! These trees are both estimated to be over 800 years old.

Kunio Kobayashi, the owner and founder of the museum, opened the Shunkaen Bonsai Museum in 2002 to help highlight this beautiful piece of Japanese culture. Not only is Kobayashi an admirer of the art of bonsai, but he’s also a bonsai master himself. 

Shunkaen Bonsai Museum

The bonsai trees in the Shunkaen Museum are around 800 years old.

©Abasaa 日本語: あばさー / public domain – License

3. Red Pine Bonsai

At first glance, it may not seem like this red pine bonsai is a bonsai at all. However, like the Ficus retusa linn, this bonsai tree, located in Atami, Japan, is an example of ògata. In fact, this bonsai tree, in particular, is considered to be the largest bonsai in the world!

It also happens to be one of the oldest bonsai trees as well. Located in Akao Herb & Rose Garden, the red pine bonsai is around 600 years old. It is over 16 feet tall and around 30 feet wide. However, because it is still contained in a single pot, it meets the standards for bonsai. 

Akao Herb & Rose Garden

Red pine bonsai is considered to be the largest bonsai tree in the world.

©T.Kai/Shutterstock.com

4. Sandai Shogun no Matsu

This 500-year-old tree is actually considered the National Treasure of Japan! A five-needle pine, this bonsai is named for Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu. He was the third shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty and lived in the 17th century. One of the most surprising facts, however, is that the tree was already over 100 years old when he owned it.

The Sandai Shogun no Matsu, located in Tokyo, Japan, has been passed down from emperor to emperor. Today, you can find it in the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

Imperial Palace - Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo - Japan, Bridge - Built Structure, Emperor

The five-needle pine in Tokyo is about 500 years old.

©iStock.com/golaizola

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Luca Piva/Shutterstock.com


Share on:
About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.