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Glossary of Bonsai Terms

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Accent Plant - Also called a companion plant. A small plant placed next to a bonsai.
Accompaniment plantings - A landscape in nature with plants and trees that would normally grow in the same environment; particular attention paid to compatible scale, color, variety, species, and care; the plantings should all have the same type of care needs
Adpressus - Pressing against; hugging plant form
Adventitious Buds - Buds that appear at unexpected or unusual locations. These can be useful when attempting to force back-budding.
Air Layering - A propagation technique to develop roots on a branch. When the roots are developed, the branch is cut off and planted.
Akadama - A red clay soil from Japan. Commonly used for pines and other conifers.
Apex - The highest point on a bonsai.
Back-Budding - Developing buds on old wood. Back budding can sometimes be forced by drastic pruning.
Bankan - Coiled style; a spiralled trunk
Bipinnate - Doubly pinnate, as of a leaf consisting of a central axis and lateral axes to which leaflets are attached
Bract - Leaf like appendage at the base of a flower; sometimes brightly colored as in poinsettia
Broadleaf - Foliage which is not needle shape or scale-like
Broom style - Hoki-dachi, Hoki-zukuri, Hokidachi in Japanese; a style intended to resemble the shape of a broom; best suited to twiggy deciduous trees
Bud - With pines, we only speak of one type of bud; those that are future shoots. The sequence is bud, candle, shoot and branch.
Bunjin or Bunjin-Gi - Also called literati style. A bonsai characterized by a long, usually thin trunk, with lots of movement, and most, or all, of the branching and foliage on the top third of the tree.
Buxfolius - Leaves like boxwood
Cambium - Green layer of tissue (one cell thick) between the bark and the sapwood of trees. A thin formative layer consisting of xylem and phloem in all woody plants that gives rise to new cells, responsible for secondary growth, and transmits nutrients
Candle - An elongated bud. On pines, buds elongate into candles in the spring. Later in the spring and summer, candles open and elongate into shoots.
Candle Pinching - Refers to either completely removing or shortening candles in order to develop shorter needles and balance energy.
Cascade Style - Kengai in Japanese. A bonsai that grows downward, with its tip below the base of the pot.
Chlorosis - A diseased condition in plants characterized by yellowing; frequently caused by a lack of iron
Chuhin - Bonsai over 10 " up to 12" tall
Clustered style - Tsukami-yosein Japanese; clustered group with multiple trunks springing from one tree
Color Wheel - Used to help in selection of appropriate pot color for a tree - see pot selection page
Compactus - Compact, dense plant shape
Compound leaf - A leaf consisting of two or more leaflets
Cork-barked Japanese Black Pine - Nishiki matsu in Japanese. Black pine cultivars (there are several different nishiki matsu cultivars) that have corky bark. Good ones are rare in the west. Also sometimes called 'winged pines'.
Crassus - Thick, fleshy
Crown - The top part of the bonsai. Sometimes used interchangeably with apex, though more accurately used to refer to the whole upper foliage mass and supporting upper branches.
Cultivar - A subspecies that has been developed by humans. An example is: Pinus parviflora 'Zuisho' (Japanese white pine, Zuisho). Cultivars are often referred to as varieties, though 'varieties' is a broader term that includes naturally occurring plants and plants developed by humans.
Cutting - Any plant fragment cut off for the purpose of rooting a new plant
Daiza - Hand-carved footed wooden stand upon which a suiseki (viewing stone or rock) is placed
Deciduous - Referring to plants that drop their leaves or needles at the end of the growing season
Defoliate - The early removal of leaves; a common artificial technique in bonsai training
Dendron - Tree
Dentate - Sharply toothed leaf margins
Dieback - The death of shoots or branch tips, caused by disease or pests (or environmental damage). If the cause isn't dealt with, the entire plant can die.
Dissected - Usually a highly intricate natural cutting of a leaf, as in Acer palmatum dissectum,also called lace leaf
Dormancy - When a tree is resting and growth is inactive. Winter dormancy is common in cold climates. In very hot clomates, trees can experience summer dormancy.
Double trunk style - Sokan, two trunks attached to each other in the bottom quarter of the tree; the larger of the two trunks is displayed slightly forward of the smaller
Driftwood style - Sarimiki, Sharimiki; large area of deadwood; desert, beach or high-altitude appearance
Earth layering - Creating roots on a stem or branch by burying a section in the ground
Elongated style - Goza-kake; exaggerated first branch balanced by a special wide pot; sometimes found over water
Epiphyte - A plant that grows on another for support; not to be confused with parasite
Eye - An undeveloped growth bud
Exposed-root style - Ne-agari; air space under roots that suggests erosion
Field Grown Stock - Plants that are grown in the ground, usually for comercial purposes. Distinguished from container grown nursery stock and plants collected from the wild.
Five-tree style - Gohon-yose; a group planting of five trees
Formal cascade style - Kengai; first branch extends below the bottom edge of the pot; pot sits on a stand
Formal upright style - Chokkan in Japanese. A bonsai style characterized by a straight vertical trunk with an even taper and evenly alternating branches.
Genus - A classification of related plants; the first word in a botanical name
Goyamatsu - Japanese white pine, Pinus parviflora.
Group planting style - Yose-uye, Yose-ue; more than nine trees or any larger prime number; a grove or group planting rather than a forest
Habit - Typical growth pattern of a tree. Eg: spreading, conical
Harden off - The progressive adaptation of a tender plant to the full brunt of harsh outdoor conditions
Heavy soil - A term commonly used to describe clay or compacted soils
Hollow-trunk style - Sabakan; as the heartwood rots away in some species, a hollowed-out trunk is formed; eg. Live oak, coast redwood
Honeydew - Any secretion caused by sucking insects on a plant, usually attracting ants
Humus - The late stages of rotting organic material
Hundred-tree style - Yama-yori; fallen cone style; hundreds of sprouts from one vicinity
Hybrid - Plant created by crossing two species of the same genus or two varieties of the same species
Informal Upright Style - Moyogiin Japanese. Like formal upright, the apex is on the same vertical axis as the trunk (more or less in this case). Unlike the formal upright, the trunk is not straight, nor is the branching necessarily symmetrical.
Internode - The distance between two nodes. Nodes are where buds appear. In bonsai, short internodes are desirable.
Jin - A dead branch that is stripped of its bark and developed for design purposes. Jins can occur naturally or can be manmade. Jins are usually treated with lime-sulphur to prevent rotting.
Kifu - Bonsai taller than 8" up to 10"
Knobby-trunk style - Kobukan; healed over sprouts; often caused by stress in nature
Kuromatsu - Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii.
Lateral - Positioned at the side; an extension of a branch or shoot
Leaching - The removal of substances from the soil by excess watering
Leader - The dominant upward single central growth of a plant
Leaflet - Division of a leaf, either palmate (fan shaped) or pinnate (feather-shaped)
Light soil - Commonly referred to as sandy soil; well-aerated soil
Literati Style - Also called bunjin (see bunjin)
Macro-nutrients - Nutrients that are necessary (in fairly large quantities) for a plant's survival and health. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) are commonly known macro-nutrients. Some sources also list carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, calcium, sulphur and magnesium as macro-nutrients.
Mame - A bonsai 4" tall and under
Masakuni - The original bonasi tool manufacturer, and producer, of the largest assortment of bonasi tools in the world. Masakuni tools are generally renowned for high quality by enthusiasts and professionals.
Meristem - A formative plant tissue usually made up of small cells capable of dividing indefinitely and giving rise to similar cells or to cells that differentiate to produce the definitive tissues and organs
Micro-nutrients - Elements that are required in very small amounts for a plant's health; eg: iron.
Multiple-trunk or Clump Style - A group of trunks growing from a single root system. The Japanese term is kabudachi.
Mycorrhiza -A symbiosis of plants and mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi adhere to roots and help the plant absorb water and essential nutrients. Pines are particularly depentent on mycorrhizal fungi.
Muck - A mix of clay (or akadama dust) and peat, spagnum moss or sometimes other ingredients, that is used to make walls for holding soil on rock plantings.
Mulch - A loose, organic covering over soil or to describe the process of applying such a layer
Nanus - Dwarf
Natural style - Yomayori, Yomayose; natural, informal grouping
Neagari (or Ne-agari) - Exposed root style bonsai; where roots form the trunk. Roots are usually exposed by periodically removing some surface soil.
Nebari - Surface roots that radiate out from the base of the trunk. On pines and many other bonsai varieties, a well developed nebari is highly desirable.
Needle - A narrow, cylindrical leaf.
Needle Cluster - Groups of two to five needles growing out of one sheath. All black pines have two needles per cluster and all white pines have five. Needle cluster are also called bundles.
Needle Plucking - Removing old needles, usually by the cluster, but sometimes by the needle. Used to help air and light get to the center of a tree, and to help balance a tree's energy.
Nine-trunk style - Kyuhon-hose; a group planting of nine trees
Node - Joints occurring at intervals along the stem of a plant from which a leaf or bud develops
N P K - A code used to show the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in a fertilizer. For example, an NPK of 10-5-10 would indicate 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus and 10% potassium. These 3 elements are called macro-nutruients and are essential to the health of any plant.
Octopus style - Tako-zukuri; overexaggeration of informal upright style with many zigs and zags, including rootage and branches
Old Wood - Woody growth that is more than a year old.
Opposite - Leaf arrangements in pairs along an axis, one opposite the other
Organic matter - Any material that was alive at some point; eg. Peat, bark, and manure
Ovate - Egg-shaped, with the larger part towards the base
Parasite - A plant growing on another and using up nutrients from the host plant
Parvifolius - Small leaves
Peeled-bark style - Sharikan; damage to bark as the result of lightning or other trauma; not driftwood
Penjing - Chinese landscape planting. 'Chinese bonsai.'
P'en Tsai - The Chinese word for bonsai, an art form which predates the Japanese art
Perlite - Natural minerals expanded by heat to form a light, porous granule for use in propagating or lightening soils
Petiole - The slender stalk by which a leaf is attached to the stem; leafstalk
Phloem - A complex tissue in the vascular system of higher plants consisting mainly of sieve tubes and elongated cells. Its fibers function in translocation, support, and storage
Pinnate, pinnatus - A compound leaf with leaflets, usually paired on either side of the stalk like a feather
Pinus Parviflora - Japanese white pine. Goyomatsu in Japanese
Pinus Thunbergii - Japanese black pine. Kuromatsu in Japanese.
Primary Branch - Also called the main branch. The longest and thickest branch. Usually the lowest branch (first branch).
Primary Branches - Branches that grow off the trunk. Secondary branches grow off primary branches.
Procumbens - Trailing plant shape
Propagation - How plants are started. Some ways are from seed, by cutting, by grafting, by air-layering, by separation (e.g. trunks from a single root sysem), by tissue culture.
Radicans - Rooting, especially along the stem
Raft style - A type of forest bonsai that is created by laying a trunk down, partly or completely beneath the soil. Its old roots support it while it grows new roots along its length. What were previously branches become the trunks of the forest. Japanese name - ikadabuki.
Ramification - Ramifying literally means dividing, spreading or branching. A well-ramified tree would be a tree with good braching. A well-ramified branch would be a branch with good secondary branching. Ramification is also sometimes used when discussing roots.
Reticulatus - Net veined
Rootball - The roots and the soil that adheres to the roots, when a plant is removed from the ground.
Rootbound - Or potbound. When the roots have taken up all (or almost all) of the air space in a pot. Bonsai should be transplanted before they become completely rootbound.
Root-over-rock style - Sekijoju; tree roots placed over and trained to grow on one or more rocks; trees may be planted immediately in this manner or developed gradually
Rootstock - Roots (and usually the lower trunk) that are used for grafting. The part that is grafted onto rootstock is called the scion. White pine scions are frequently grafted onto black pine rootstock (usually with several inches of black pine trunk)
Sabamiki, Shaba-miki - A bonsai design element that copies natural hollowing and decay of the trunks of hardwood trees; may include the characteristic twisting of the juniper species, the hollowing out of oak, or the vertical stripping of the trunk as branches are stripped off as in timerline trees
Sacrifice Branch - A branch that is used to help thicken part or all of a trunk or other branches. Sacrifice branches can also be used to strengthen a weak or under-developed section of a tree. They work by drawing energy into an area and are usually allowed to grow unimpeded. When the desired result has been achieved, the sacrifice branch is removed.
Saikei - Landscape planting. A "living landscape" of trees planted on rocks, with streams, cliffs, valleys and caves; contained in a large, flat tray-shaped pot
Secondary Branches - Branches that grow off primary branches. Tertiary branches grow off secondary branches.
Semi-Cascade Style - A bonsai that grows horizontally and somewhat downward. With full cascades, the tip of the cascade grows below the base of the pot, while semi-cascade tips are above the base of the pot. Semi-cascade is sometimes called windswept style. This is not always accurate, as not all semi-cascades are windswept, and not all windswept are semi-cascade. The Japanese term is han-kengai.
Shari - Deadwood on a trunk that is developed for design purposes. Shari can occur naturally or can be manmade by carving. Shari is usually treated with lime-sulfur to prevent rot.
Shohin - Bonsai over 4" tall and up to 8" tall.
Shoots - New growth that will become branches. The sequence with pines is buds, candles, shoots and branches.
Sinuous Root Style - Where a group of trunks grow from one long sinuous horizontal root. The Japanese term is netsuranarai. Sinuous root style forests are often Japanese white pines.
Slant Style - A bonsai style where the trunk slants at approximately 45 degrees. Shakan in Japanese.
Slow-release Fertilizers - Solid fertilizers that are placed on the surface and release their nutrients over a period of time. Slow-release fertilizers are often organic and are commonly used on bonsai in the form of cakes, pellets, balls or triangles.
Sphagnum Moss - A type of moss found and harvested in bogs. Used as a component of muck and for air-layering.
Species - The word in a botanical name following the genus
Split-trunk style - Sabamiki; the trunk of the tree has split due to trauma; one side may be dead
Spore - A simple cell for reproduction in some primitive plants, such as ferns, algae, and moss
Sport - Genetic mutation
Sprout style - Kabucachi, Miyama-kirishima; characterized by sprouts which have developed on an old stump, a section of fallen tree, or part of a rotten log; sprouts arranged like flowers to contrast new life with old tree
Stomata - Microscopically small openings in the epidermis of the green parts of a tree or other plant through which gases pass out of and into the plant from the air
Stratification - The plant and seed requirement for certain minimum cold periods before successful seed germination or flowering
Stress - Any plant condition that threatens its health, such as too much or too little water or too hot or too cold
Subspecies - The word in a botonical name following the species, expressed in lower case letters
Sucker - Plant growth on a grafted plant that originates on the rootstock; also improper term for watersprout on fruit trees
Suiban - A shallow dish without drainage holes. Often use for suiseki or ikebana.
Suiseki - Viewing stone or rock placed on a custom-made carved, and footed wooden stand (a daiza); the stone is viewed from a specific perspective; Chinese viewing stones are called Gong-shi.
Superfeeding - An aggressive fertilizing program developed by Michael Persiano.
Systemic - A type of insecticide or fungicide that enters a plant's system through the roots and is carried throughout the plant via the sap.
Taper - Gradual narrowing moving away from the base. In bonsai, good taper on trunks and branches is an important design feature.
Tap Root - A single long, strong root that acts as an anchor by growing straight down.
Tertiary Branches - Branches growing off of secondary branches.
Three-tree style - Sambon-yose; relationship between height, width, branches, and depth is symbolic of sun, moon, and earth; or heaven, earth, and man; or father, mother, and child
Top dress - To add material, such as mulch or fertilizer, to the surface of the soil
Tokoname Pots - Tokoname is a region in Japan that produces some of the best and most famous bonsai pots in the world.
Tokonoma - Traditional Japanese display area. Tokonomas will often have a bonsai with a scroll and a companion plant.
Triple-trunk style - Tosho; similar to three-trunk style except that all three trunks come from the same tree
Twin-trunk - Sokan; the two trunks are not identical, instead there is a main trunk and a smaller trunk; twin trunks may be either curved or straight; one should see a unified tree with branches that, although separate and emerging from two trunks, fit together to form a coherent canopy when viewed from the front
Twisted style - Nejikan; trunk spirals upwards with growth
Two-tree style - Soju, So-ju; relationship between tree heights, widths, lowest branches creates illusion of tree in the distance
Umbrella shape - Kasa-zukuri; in the shape of an umbrella
Variety - A general term often used to refer to a species or a subspecies. Frequently used interchangeably with cultivar, though 'varieties' is a broader term that covers plants that occur naturally, as well as cultivars; any capitalized name with quotation marks around it when included in a botanical name, such as Junperus chinensis sargentii "Shimpaku"
Vermiculite - Heat-puffed mica, a soil-lightening amendment
Watersprout - Unchecked, sudden upward growth as the result of severe pruning
Weeping style - Shidare-zukuri; fashioned after the weeping willow tree
Whorl - Three or more leaves, branches, or stems growing out from one location on a branch; best known as a problem in pine bonsai design
Windswept Style - A bonsai styled to give the appearance of a tree exposed to incessant winds. Fukinagashi in Japanese; the slant of the tree indicates wind direction, as though the tree were growing on a mountain or near a beach; slant may be extreme or gentle
Winter Kill - The death of a plant or part of a plant caused by extreme cold and cold winds.
Yatsubusa - A variety exhibiting dwarfed characgteristics, e.g., 'Mikawa' Japanese Black Pine.
Zuisho - A short-needled Japanese white pine cultivar.