Which Is The Smallest Tree In The World? Is It Bonsai?

Hanima Anand |Jan 20, 2021

While many believe miniature bonsai is the smallest tree in the world, dwarf willow is the correct answer. Let’s compare the size of these trees!

Due to the tiny size of miniature bonsai which could be placed within your hand, most people believe they are the world’s smallest trees. However, scientists have found a plant that is much smaller.

Which Is The Smallest Tree In The World
Which one do you think is the smallest plant on Earth?

Dwarf willow - the smallest tree in the world

Dwarf willow or Salix herbacea is currently the tiniest tree in the world. It only grows to 1-6 cm in height with 0.3-2 cm leaves.

Scientists found this world’s smallest tree along the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean where the weather is extremely cold and windy. To survive the harsh environment, dwarf willow remains close to the ground with its tiny size to avoid the brunt of cold winds. Its leaves whose width equals to one-third of the total tree height maximize the sunshine it catches.

Dwarf Willow Smallest Tree In The World
The dwarf willow grows close to the ground to avoid cold winds in the North Atlantic region.

The dwarf willow has one wood stem to bear lateral branches, so it’s categorized as trees. The female dwarf willows produce red fruits while the male has yellow ones. That’s why these world’s smallest trees could form a quite colorful forest on the ground of North Atlantic regions.

This smallest plant in the world could also survive in high mountainous areas at more than 1,500m in altitude. It seems dwarf willows are born to rock extreme living conditions.

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What about bonsai? How small are they?

Bonsai vary greatly in size which can be classified in three groups: miniature, medium and large trees. Not mentioning medium and large bonsai plants, miniature bonsai can be considered the second smallest trees in the world for their impressive tiny appearance.

Kenshitsubo Smallest Bonsai In The World
Kenshitsubo, the smallest bonsai in the world 

The smallest bonsai trees are called Kenshitsubo which hardly grow to more than 3 inches. Their size in centimeter ranges from 2 to 8 cm.

Next comes Shito bonsai, the most common fingertip-sized bonsai trees. Shito bonsai often grow between 5 and 10 cm. Other categories of miniature bonsai include Shohin (5-15cm), Mame (10-20cm) and Komono (15-25cm).

Shito Bonsai
Miniature bonsai trees hardly grow to over 25 cm.

In comparison with the world’s smallest tree dwarf willow, these miniature bonsai are just slightly bigger. Though some bonsai trees might be even smaller than an average dwarf willow, they are artfully-designed. That’s why the dwarf willow is still the smallest tree in the world by nature.

Smallest tree versus largest tree in the world

It’s interesting to place the smallest plant and the largest plant on Earth in comparison.

The General Sherman Tree at Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park in the United States is the world’s largest tree at the moment. It is 83-meter tall and 11-meter width at the base. Scientists estimate that The General Sherman is roughly 2,200 years old and it's not the oldest tree yet.

General Sherman Tree Largest Tree In The World
The incredible beauty of nature: The General Sherman in Sequoia National Park

Compared to the dwarf willow as the smallest tree on the globe, The General Sherman is at least 1,300 times higher and 1,100 times bigger. Mother Nature always knows how to take us by surprise, right?

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