Can Bonsai Trees Live Underwater?


As a guy who loves my fish tank and my bonsai tree collection, I wondered if there was any possible way that I can grow a bonsai tree underwater? In this article I explore exactly why bonsai can’t live underwater and what you can do instead!


Bonsai trees cannot live underwater. Bonsai trees, like normal trees, breathe through the stomata in their leaves, meaning they cannot breathe underwater and will soon die. The root system will also soon be starved of oxygen and die, causing the whole tree to start dying. Let’s find out more… 


Don’t get me wrong, there’s few things I would rather have in my tank than a stunning bonsai tree but unfortunately it’s simply not possible. Growing a bonsai with roots semi submerged is possible but having the whole tree living underwater would kill the bonsai relatively fast.


Whilst there are rumours that it’s possible to keep bonsai trees alive underwater, it’s said that you’ll need to be constantly changing the water and adding nutrients to keep the bonsai alive. Even then, it’s said that the majority of underwater bonsai trees will die due to the roots being flooded, the same way that would cause the bonsai to die in soil.


There are some species of trees like Mangrove that can actually tolerate being semi submerged in water but even still, they aren’t healthy being full submerged for a long period of time.


Is There Any Substitutes For Underwater Bonsai Trees?


Absolutely! There isn’t really any way to actually grow a bonsai tree underwater because the bonsai is just going to die within a few days, but you can still have the desired look from a fake bonsai tree.


Can bonsai trees live underwater?


As suggested on Bettafish forums, the best port of call would be to find some driftwood or the stump of a dead bonsai. Aim to use something that already looks like the shape of bonsai you’re looking to create as styling a dead tree isn’t going to go too smoothly.


Once you have your ‘fake tree’, add moss to the top and shape it to create a sort of tree, as shown in the picture.


It might not be what you were looking for but realistically unless you want to spend a lot of money and time trying, it’s your only option as bonsai trees don’t live underwater and stay alive.


If anyone seems to successfully keep an underwater bonsai tree alive for more than a few weeks I’ll make sure to update this post with a link and tutorials etc, but for the mean time, we’re going to have to fake it!


Why Can’t Bonsai Trees Live Underwater?

Bonsai trees are genetically identical to a normal tree, only small due to having the roots constricted in a tiny pot and being continuously pruned. Normal trees have stomata in their leaves, which is, in easy terms, how they breathe. Being that bonsai and a normal tree are genetically indifferent, this too is how a bonsai would breathe. This leaves both trees unable to breathe at all underwater, meaning they will die very fast.


When roots are fully submerged for a long time in water, they are very susceptible to ‘root rot’, a disease that effects plants or trees in extremely wet areas. When a bonsai has root rot, you can try aggressive pruning of the roots but depending on the condition and health, it could be fatal to your tree. Yet another reason why it’s sadly impossible to grow a bonsai tree underwater.


Pruning A Bonsai Underwater


When people think about having a bonsai tree underwater, they normally gloss over the fact that bonsai trees only look so pristine and well formed due to the constant pruning that goes into them. Unless being left to grow out for something like a sacrificial branch, bonsai trees are usually lightly pruned every week or so in the growing seasons if on display. Whilst this isn’t actually a problem, it would definitely something to think about if you don’t have too much time on your hands – this is why I would lean more towards the implementation of a ‘fake’ underwater bonsai instead.



Final Thoughts


As of right now, I’m yet to find anyone who has managed to successfully grow a bonsai tree underwater. Growing a bonsai semi submerged maybe possible depending on the species but for the vast amount of tree species that wouldn’t even be do-able. Tree foliage and root systems will quickly die and start rotting away if grown underwater for a short amount of time. When a bonsai tree is over-watered, the roots have no access to oxygen it needs, causing them to die and break down. This process is only going to be accelerated by growing the bonsai fully underwater.


A great alternative to growing a bonsai tree in your fish tank will be to use some driftwood or even the trunk of a dead bonsai, combined with some light moss. If done well, this will give the illusion of an underwater bonsai tree, which as of right now, is the closest you can get!

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