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Glossary of Japanese bonsai and other commonly used terms in bonsai

Japanese bonsai terms

  • CHOKKAN formal upright style
  • MOYOGI informal upright style
  • SHAKAN slanting style
  • FUKINAGASHI windswept style
  • SABAMIKI split-trunk style
  • SHARIMIKI driftwood style
  • TANUKI style in which a live tree is attached to deadwood- also known as a 'Phoenix Graft'.
  • HOKIDACHI broom style
  • KENGAI  full cascade  style
  • HAN KENGAI semi-cascade style
  • SHIDARE-ZUKURI weeping style
  • BUNJIN literati style. Usually emphasis is on trunk movement with miminal foliage
  • NEGARI exposed root style
  • SEKJOJU root over rock style
  • ISHI SEKI planted on rock style
  • SOKAN twin-trunk
  • SANKAN triple-trunk
  • KABUDACHI multiple-trunk
  • NETSUNAGARI root connected
  • YOSE UE group planting
  • SAI-KEI landscape planting
  • PEN-JING landscape planting ( Chinese )
  • SHARI deadwood on trunk
  • JIN deadwood branch
  • NEBARI trunkbase/ surface roots
  • YAMADORI collected material
  • SUIBAN shallow water tray for display rock plantings
  • TOKONOMA traditional Japanese display area
  • BONKEI tray landscape containing rocks and small accent plants as well as trees.

Other commonly used terms

Aesthetics- “The theory of the fine arts and of people’s responses to them; the science or that branch of philosophy which deals with the beautiful; the doctrine of taste.” (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary.)

Aging- In bonsai it is the visual cues which give bonsai the illusion of an age greater
than actual.

Anneal- To subject a material, such as copper wire, to a process of heating and slow
cooling in order to toughen and reduce brittleness. The process of annealing
copper wire restores its original molecular structure making it more pliable.

Apex -The top or crown of the tree.

Apical -Relating to the apex. Apical dominance refers to the tendency of a plant to
provide a large share of food to the development of its apex or branch tips.

Asymmetrical balance- A type of balance created through asymmetry or imbalance. The elements
combine to effect balance without displaying static balance.

Attitude- The angle of the trunk which may be upright, slanting, cascading, etc.

Auxin- Any of several plant hormones that affect growth by causing larger, elongated
cells to develop.

Axillary buds- Dormant buds which stand ready to replace a nearby leaf or branch.

Back of tree -That portion of the tree opposite from the front. Normally it will have
branches originating there to create depth.

Bar branch -A pair of branches which originate at the same general location on a trunk
which may cause a swelling of the trunk which detracts from its tapering.

Bonkei -Miniature landscapes using artificial trees, rocks, moss, statuary, etc.

Bonsai -Literally a tree in a tray. Aesthetically, a miniature representation of a
mature tree in nature.

Bonsai-in-training- Plant material which has been placed in a bonsai container but still needs more extensive training before it is ready to be shown as a bonsai.

Branch -Lateral extensions of a trunk. Primary branches grow from the trunk. Secondary
branches grow from primary branches.

Broom style- A bonsai style with a short, straight trunk which has foliage that looks like an upside-
down broom.

Bunjin style- The Japanese term for literati style bonsai. See literati.

Calcinated clay- Kiln-fired clay which is ph neutral and is highly water absorbent. Kitty litter
is an example of calcinated clay.

Cambium -A layer of cells in the stems and roots of a tree that makes new wood and bark.

Cascade style- A bonsai style in which the trunk bends sharply down and the tip of the
cascade is below the feet of the container.

Chlorosis- A condition in plants in which they lose their green color or turn yellow.

Clump style- A bonsai style which has one root system and more than three trunks.

Concave cutter -A tool with a curved blade for making concave cuts.

Conifer -A cone bearing tree such as a pine and juniper.

Deciduous -A plant which drops its leaves in the winter.

Driftwood style -A bonsai on which dead wood is the dominant characteristic.

Evergreen- A plant which does not drop its leaves in the winter.

Exposed root style -Bonsai which exhibit a significant amount of roots which have been exposed
above the soil, becoming the dominant element.

Focal point -That part of the bonsai composition which captures and dominates the viewer’s

Formal upright style- A bonsai style in which the trunk is straight and erect from base to apex.

Front of tree- That side of the tree which should be directly toward the viewer and has few
or no branches coming directly toward the viewer.

Grafting -A propagation technique in which a plant part (scion) is inserted into the trunk
or branch of the stock plant in such a way that the scion becomes a part of the
stock plant.

Group planting style- A bonsai style having more than three separate trees.

Harmony -“Fitting together, agreement, a combination of parts into an orderly or
proportionate whole, congruity, proportionate arrangement of color, size, shape
which is pleasing to the eye...” (Webster’s New Twentieth Century

Heading back -A pruning technique which shortens branches.

Heartwood -The older, inactive central wood of a tree, usually darker and harder than the

Informal upright style -A bonsai style in which the trunk is curved and the apex is generally above the
base of the tree.

Internode -The space between nodes.

Jack -In bonsai it is a bending device used in shaping trunks and branches.

Jin -A dead tip on a trunk or branch.

Layering -A propagation technique in which the flow of fluids in the trunk or branch of a
plant is interrupted, the upper portion strikes roots, and is later separated from
the stock plant.

Lime Away®- A commercially manufactured cleaning product used to remove mineral
deposits. Available in grocery stores.

Line -In art and in bonsai, is a series of points which cause the eye to move along a
particular path.

Lingnan technique- A method of training bonsai by alternately allowing them to grow and then
clipping much of the new growth.

Literati style- A bonsai style in which the trunk is long and slender and the foliage is sparse.

Mamé bonsai -A miniature bonsai under six inches tall. It is pronounced “maw-may”.

Minor elements- Nutritional elements which are needed by plants, but in low dosages. Included
are: copper, manganese, iron, sulfur, magnesium, zinc, boron, and molybdenum.

Nana- A genetically dwarfed plant.

Nebari - The spread of roots at the base of the trunk.

Node- An enlarged point on a stem where leaf or bud growth begins.

Perspective- In bonsai is used to further the illusion that the bonsai has greater mass.

Penjing -A term for Chinese bonsai.

Petiole- The stalk by which a leaf is attached to a branch.

pH -A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Low ph (4.0 - 5.5) is acidic.
pH 7.0 is a neutral solution. High pH (6.5 - 9.0) is relatively alkaline. pH
comes from p(otential of h(ydrogen).

Phloem -The food-conducting tissue of the tree which moves food from one part of the
plant to another. Pronounced “flow-em”.

Pigeon breast -A significant curve of the trunk which bends directly toward the viewer. This
configuration is considered aesthetically undesirable.

Pinching- A type of heading back (pruning) which is done with the fingers.

Pre-bonsai- Plant material in training to become bonsai. Usually grown in the ground or in
nursery containers while the trunk enlarges and roots and branches develop.

Proportion- The relationship of the various parts of a bonsai.

Raft style -A bonsai style in which the tree are usually planted on its side. Roots grow
along the underside of the trunk and branches become individual trees.

Ramification- Proliferation of branching.

Reverse pigeon breast- A significant curve of the trunk which bends directly away from the viewer.
This configuration is considered aesthetically undesirable.

Rhythm- Straight or curved and repetition which affect the speed at which the viewer’s
eyes explore the bonsai and its container.

Roots- Underground extensions of the tree which anchor it to the soil and which absorb

Roots-on-rock style- A bonsai style in which the root ball is planted in a pocket in a rock or on a slab.

Roots-over-rock style- A bonsai style in which the roots wrap around and grow down a rock into the

Rule of thirds- A design principle in which the lower third of the tree is bare of branches, the
middle third emphasizes branches and the top third is devoted to small

Saikei -A grouping of plants and rocks forming a miniature landscaped scene.

Sapwood- Newly formed outer wood that lies just inside the cambium of a tree and is
usually lighter in color and more active in nutrition than the heartwood.

Scalene triangle- A triangle whose three sides are of unequal length.

Semi-cascade style- A bonsai style in which the trunk grows up and out at a considerable angle,
with the tip of the cascade between the rim and the feet of the container.

Shari- Bark is peeled from a branch or trunk to give the appearance of a mature tree
that suffered a lightening strike or years of weathering.

Sinuous raft style -A tree’s original trunk is curved or twisted or wired and bent in a curving
(sinuous) fashion and laid on its side in the soil. Its branches are trained
upright to appear to be individual trees.

Shohin bonsai -A miniature bonsai under nine inches tall. Pronounced, “show-hin”.

Slanting style- A bonsai style in which the trunk is leaning to one side with the apex generally
above the rim of the container.

Soil- The medium in which the roots of a plant grow. It must be sufficiently porous to
permit water drainage but retain sufficient moisture to keep the plant healthy
between watering.

Straight raft style- A tree’s relatively straight trunk is laid on its side in the soil. Its branches are
trained to grow upright directly out of the original trunk. Each is then trained
to appear to be individual trees.

Sphagnum peat moss- A special type of peat which is relatively low in pH.

Suiseki- Viewing stones; stones which suggest specific views such as mountains, islands,
waterfalls, lakes, plateaus, etc.

Surface roots -Relatively horizontal roots whose upper surface is exposed as is seen when
some surface soil has eroded around a mature tree.

Systemic insecticid-e An insecticide which enters the vascular system of the plant and is consumed by
sucking type insects. An example of a systemic insecticide is one which contains
the active ingredient Cygon®.

T Branch -See Bar branch.

Tapered trunk- A tree’s trunk which has a larger diameter at the base and a smaller diameter
at the top with a gradual change between.

Texture- Smooth, rough, soft or hard characteristics which affect the speed at which
the viewer’s eyes explore the bonsai and its container.

Thinning -A pruning technique in which unwanted branches are removed.

Triple trunk style- A bonsai style with three trunks and a single root system.

Trunk height--For planning purposes, the ratio for individual trees is 1 to 8 or 1 to 10. An
girth ratio  example would be a tree with a 1” diameter base would ideally be 8” - 10” tall.
The ratio as it applies to two or more trees would mean that the shorter tree
should have a proportionately smaller girth that the taller tree. Another
guide is that the shorter and smaller diameter tree should be proportionately
shorter than the taller tree.

Twin tree style- A bonsai style involving two separate trees.

Twin trunk style- A bonsai style which has two trunks and a single root system.

Understatement -An aesthetic premise that the less powerful a thing may be, the more effective
it can be.

Unity of design -Accomplished in a bonsai composition by the repeated use of similar or related

Uro- A hollow trunk.

Variegate- Varying, especially in color. A variegated juniper is basically green with
portions that vary from white to yellow. The variegation is caused by a natural
absence of chlorophyll.

Viewing stones- See Suiseki.

Visual speed -The speed at which the viewer’s eyes explore the bonsai, influenced by texture,
rhythm and branch placement.

Wabi -Simplicity, richness by not needing, absence of adornments.

Weeping style- A bonsai on which foliage growing in a weeping fashion is the dominant

Windswept style- A slanting style bonsai which has most of the limbs slanting in the same
direction as if blown by prevailing wind.

Wound dressing -A salve or liquid preparation to be applied to tree wounds to prevent rotting
and to deter disease.