I absolutely adore bonsai trees — I guess it really is true that good things come in small packages. They embody the Japanese principles of natural beauty, and they allow you to explore aesthetic options that just can’t get anywhere else. Where else would you be able to create a miniature forest on your desk?

The Japanese have been central to the worldwide aquascaping hobby, so naturally bonsai trees and nature style aquariums go hand-in-hand.

But there’s only one problem: bonsai trees aren’t aquatic. Some plants can survive fully or partially submerged in water, but bonsai trees should stay high and dry. No worries! We may not be able to grow a bonsai tree in the middle of our aquascape, but we can always replicate a bonsai tree with the right combination of plants and aquarium props.

This aquascaper used driftwood to serve as the trunk of the bonsai tree, and then attached java moss to replicate leaves. The end result looks fairly realistic, I have to say.

The great thing about this technique is that it offers you nearly infinite flexibility for your aquascape. Actual bonsai trees are out of your control. You can trim the leaves, certainly, but you can’t force a tree to grow in a certain shape. Underwater bonsai trees don’t have this restriction because you can mix and match different plants to create the desired effect. Is java moss not leafy enough for you? Swap it out for dwarf baby tears, marsilea minuta, or another carpet plant. Do you want a tall and thin bonsai that sits next to a short and stout bonsai? Easy peasy — just select the right driftwood to act as the trunks.

You could literally create a miniature forest of bonsai trees, and for a fraction of the cost. Individual bonsai trees can cost $50 at the low range and quickly escalate in price to hundreds of dollars. Driftwood is very inexpensive (you can collect driftwood from your own back yard as long as you properly prepare it for aquariums), and carpet plants are dirt cheap. The low cost will allow you experiment with different layouts without worrying about ruining your investment.

Particularly daring aquascapers might even want to create bonsai trees in a saltwater aquarium. This would create truly bizarre, alien scenes. Imagine a bonsai tree that had coral or anemone for its branches rather than leaves. Your aquascape would begin to look like something out of the Star Wars universe, with freaky, carnivorous tentacle-trees that gobble up juicy morsels and host shrimp instead of birds.

Ultimately, the design of your aquascape is entirely up to you. Whether you want to create a miniature redwood forest with artificial bonsai trees or a coral-covered oak with multicolored “leaves,” underwater bonsai trees will open up a whole new world of design options.