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How to choose a bonsai pot no 9 - Portulacaria affra

Due to popular demand we have started this series to help Bonsai artists and our loyal customers in their choice of a bonsai container. There are many factors that need to be taken into account when selecting a bonsai pot and we will be diving into the way we select a container for our trees and customers trees.

Masculine or Feminine

The main consideration in choosing a pot is to work out if the tree is masculine or feminine. This is determined by multiple characteristics of each tree, for example the nebari, trunk line, bark texture, leaf density and much more.

A tree that has characteristics of strength, power, formality, harshness, roughness and struggle can be considered masculine

A tree that has characteristics of calm, delicacy, instability, informality and finesse can be considered feminine.


Please note that these are merely guidelines and form a basis on how to break down the elements of tree and pot to help in choosing a correct Bonsai container. Every artist and bonsai enthusiast will have their own opinions and artistic flair which will create a different composition of their own.

Portulacaria affra

Gardiol von Horsten SNR

Current pot size: 600mm long x 420mm wide x 170mm high

Tree Size: 500mm high x 360mm wide

Tree characteristics

Lets start by listing some of the characteristics of this tree and how they fit into the masculine or feminine approach.

  1. Nebari - Masculine, Wide aged base with lots of character.

  2. Trunk line - Masculine, In this case trunk line is the trunks of the 3 younger trees sprouting from the base. Thick robust in nature with little movement.

  3. Bark texture - Masculine, wrinkled and folded bark textures that show age.

  4. Bark colour - Masculine, dark browns, light browns and the wat to rich reds are in the more neutral or natural pallet of colours.

  5. Primary branches - Masculine, Robust branches with little movement.

  6. Ramification - Feminine, Due to the upward growth of the trees and the great taper being achieved it shows a more juvenile tree.

  7. Leaf size/density - Feminine, Ovate shaped leaves with a rounded smooth surface show more of a softer appearance to the otherwise very harsh tree.

  8. Leaf colour New/Old - Feminine, new leaves are a lot more feminine with their softer shade of lime green and fades into a dark green which moves towards the masculine side of the scale.

  9. Other features - Deadwood and scars, Masculine, Showcasing the life and death story and severe fight against all odds.

Masculine 6 - Feminine 3

On the scale below the tree is at no 3 on the masculine side.

Pot selection

Option A: Natural planter Large 50cm x 30cm - Willow Bonsai Pots

Glazed effect: Manganese

A. Pot characteristics:

1. Top View - Feminine, A naturally shaped outline gives the impression of a natural rock with jagged edges.

2. Side Profile - Masculine, Slight tapering from the outermost edge with the natural contour of the pot giving age and character with a low profile visual.

3. Rim effect - No rim but the outer edge can be seen as a rim perhaps which will then accentuate the masculinity of the edge.

4. Feet of pot - N/A

5. Feet design - N/A

6. Details and special features - Feminine, The natural curvature and undulations of the pot with its deep dark tones bring a more natural informal look to the pot.

7. Glazed/Unglazed - Masculine, Unglazed manganese with dark tones is more subdued and gives less visual weight.

Masculine 3 - Feminine 2


1. Contrast and Harmony - Working with the darker browns and blacks in this composition we can already create a sense of drama. The dark black tones contrast with the deep brown hues of the bark texture as well as the foliage showcasing it even more. The deep reds of the pot that shine through harmonize with the reds of the finer branches of the Portulacaria.

2. Composition/ Telling a story - This tree has already so much drama with its textured bark, dark tones, deep scars and wide base. We need to accentuate this to do justice in this composition. If we imagine an area in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa where the sun beats down predominantly, but when rains come down, dry river beds flood and devastate areas and the indigenous trees and shrubs are molded by this process. Our Portulacaria tree makes its home here on the side of one of these river banks and over time it has endured so much harshness from drought to severe damage from animals and floods. It truly shows a fighting attitude that it has almost lost on occasion. But from the devastation new life grows and now with sure footing can fight for another day.


Option B: Suiban Large 43cm long x 27cm wide x 5cm high - Willow Bonsai Pots

Glazed effect: Seaweed or deep stone

B. Pot characteristics:

1. Top View - Masculine, Rectangle shaped with indented corners.

2. Side Profile - Masculine, Slight tapering but more visual weight in this pot.

3. Rim effect - Masculine, Accentuated pot rim which gives a sense of power and weight to the pot.

4. Feet of pot - Masculine, Low profile feet with no detailing.

5. Feet design - Masculine, Rectangular wrap around feet design with slight indent.

6. Details and special features -

7. Glazed/Unglazed - Feminine, This glaze helps to bring out the slight femininity in the pot and accentuate the curvature present even though slight.

Masculine 5 - Feminine 1


1. Contrast and Harmony - A much more formal pot as Option B with much more rigid sides. We have the Seaweed glaze which works so well with Portulacaria's generally. The dark green tones harmonize with the dark green leaves of the tree, The light green tones harmonize with the newer light green foliage. The dark brown rim colouring harmonizes with the bark. Even the feet and unglazed sections of the pot can be used to pick up the reddish tones of the bark.

2. Composition/ Telling a story - This pot has a more formal traditional look to it compared to the natural planter with its flowing lines. The masculinity picks up more of the trees features and the glaze make the tree come alive more vividly. With this pot we can tell more of a story of a singular tree blown over by winds or flood but in a place of higher ground. Being damaged badly the new growth has had to endure all the harshness of the sun while trying to redevelop itself into a fully grown tree.



Portulacarias have loads of potential and this tree is no different. The character must be showcased and in my opinion works best with the natural planter. This elevates the composition by placing it in a real environment we can perceive and opens up the space on either side to create a more in depth story. With the use of mosses and natural fine stones we can place the tree in a dryer or wetter environment. However in this case the dryer the impression the better which enhances the scars and textured bark of the tree.

As always this is an opinion and is just a guideline to what can work and the reason thereof. In art we need to take a set of choices and make them tangible and easy to understand. Breaking up the characteristics of the tree and pot makes this easier to explain the options and choices made in a constructive manner. Not just saying it looks nice or not, but using the above to tell a story and convey the image in the artists mind to the viewer.

Want to participate?

We plan on doing a case study on a tree like the above each week for our customers and collection trees. If you would like to participate and have us choose a pot for your tree with explanations please send us an email with the following details:

  1. Photo of tree taken from the front and at eyelevel

  2. Size of the tree

  3. Size of current pot

  4. Future growth and compositional remarks for the future.

  5. What story do you have in mind for the tree or what feature do you want to enhance.

Send the above to

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