How to Tell How Old a Bonsai Tree Is: A Quick Guide

Disclosure: As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.

Please note that while we always strive to provide 100% up to date and accurate information, there is always the small possibility of error. Therefore, we advise conducting further research and due diligence before consuming any plants or exposing pets to anything mentioned on this site. Kindly refer to the full disclaimer for more details here.

Bonsai trees are known for their longevity, and some specimens can live for hundreds of years. However, it can be challenging to determine the age of a bonsai tree, especially if you’ve acquired it from someone else. Fortunately, there are several methods you can use to estimate the age of your bonsai tree. In this guide, we’ll explore the techniques involved in determining the age of a bonsai tree, including examining the trunk, branches, and leaves, and using historical records and documentation.

Tree Species

Identifying the species of a bonsai tree is essential to understanding its age and taking proper care of it. Different tree species grow at various rates, and their preferences for cultivation and training can help you gauge the age of the bonsai tree. In this section, we will focus on three main types of bonsai trees: Sub-tropical and Tropical Trees, Evergreens, and Deciduous trees.

Sub-tropical and Tropical Trees

These trees thrive in warm climates and are popular choices for bonsai cultivation. The most common sub-tropical and tropical species include various types of Ficus, such as the Ficus retusa, also known as Ginseng Ficus (Bonsai Empire). To estimate the age of these bonsai trees, look for key characteristics such as twisted roots or mature, developed trunks.


Evergreen bonsai trees retain their foliage year-round, with Juniper trees being a popular choice within this category (Bonsai Empire). As evergreens grow slowly, their age can be challenging to assess. However, aging indicators may include a well-developed trunk and distinct bark patterning.


Deciduous bonsai trees shed their leaves in the fall, with the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) being a notable example (Bonsai Empire). The age of deciduous bonsai trees can be estimated by observing their branching patterns, bark texture, and overall shape. Similar to evergreens, the trunk’s development can also provide useful age insights.

Tree Age Identifiers

In order to estimate the age of a bonsai tree, there are several key identifiers to consider. Taking a close look at the tree’s growth rings, bark texture, branch development, and leaf aging patterns provides a better understanding of the tree’s age.

Growth Rings

One method to estimate a bonsai tree’s age is by examining its growth rings. This can be done by removing an old branch and counting the rings on the cut surface (Garden Guides). Keep in mind that this technique is not completely accurate, and could compromise the health of a living bonsai tree when removing branches.

Bark Texture

As a bonsai tree ages, its bark texture often becomes more pronounced and rougher. This texture can serve as an indicator of the tree’s age, with older trees having more pronounced and weathered bark surfaces.

Branch Development

Another factor that can help estimate a bonsai tree’s age is the development and maturity of its branches. Older trees typically have more branches and a more complex structure, with thicker main branches and more intricate secondary branches. Observing the tree’s branching patterns can give you an idea of its age.

Leaf Aging Patterns

Finally, examining the leaf aging patterns on a bonsai tree can provide clues about its age. Older trees usually have more consistent and evenly distributed leaf sizes, while younger trees may display a mix of leaf sizes due to their ongoing growth and development.

Expert Consultation

When determining the age of a bonsai tree, expert consultation can provide valuable insights. Knowing the diameter of the tree trunk and the growth rate of the bonsai’s species can help estimate the tree’s age with the formula: age = diameter x growth rate (source). For instance, if the diameter of a bonsai’s trunk is 3 inches and the growth factor of its species is 5, its estimated age would be 15 years old.

Analyzing the tree’s physical features can also serve as an important guide. As bonsai trees age, they develop a larger base on their trunk, more impressive root structures, and more defined branches (Garden Guides). Older trees often have horizontal branches and a well-developed crown. Counting the rings on a removed branch can also provide an estimation of the tree’s age (Garden Guides).

Lastly, understanding the typical growth rates and visual signs of aging within tree species can help identify the age of a bonsai tree. Each species of bonsai tree has its unique growth patterns, so expert advice or research on the specific species is crucial for accurate age estimation. A bonsai identification guide, such as the one provided by Bonsai Empire, can be a useful resource in this process.

Helpful Video