Kaikou Bonsai Terminology

APICAL – this is where the most robust and healthy growth produced by a tree at a completely opposite side from the root system happens. Situated near to the apex, the apical includes the upper and outermost branches. The difference between the apex and apical is that while apex refers to the apex and not just the tips of any branches, apical refers to the base. Trees with apical dominance have primary growth at the top of the tree. Trees with basal dominance have predominant growth at the bottom, for instance, several dwarf varieties of Acer p. 

BACK BUDDING – Back-budding is a technique in which new growth is promoted at the back of a branch or trunk of the tree where growth is virtually nil. In this process, the growth of new buds is encouraged on the old wood by pruning the terminal buds.

BOTANICAL NAME – it is the Latin name conferred to every individual plant from around the world. Each and every plant species is identified by its particular botanical name.

BUD BREAK – Bud break is a beautiful phenomenon that happens at the point in which the bud opens just enough to display a green tip. The emergence of new shoots from a bud takes place during the spring.

BUD BURST – it is the precise point at which the scales part and the contents of the bud – the flower and leaf emerge. It takes place during the spring when warm temperatures trigger this change and causes the contents of the bud to unfurl.

BUD EXTENSION – Just before bud break happens, the small buds on the branch that have been there for over a year start to swell and expand. 

BLEED – the dropping of saps that happen due to either clipping or wounding.

BRANCHES – Branches are what gives direction and flow to the tree. The primary branches emerge directly from the trunk; the secondary branches grow from the primary branches; the tertiary branches come out of the secondary branches.

BROAD-LEAVED/CONIFEROUS – Conifers or “deciduous” trees fall under the category of gymnosperms. They are so-called because these plants are naked-seeded and the seeds are not enclosed in an ovary. Their leaves are shaped in the form of needles or take the appearance of scales. Almost all conifers are evergreens save a few. Conifers with broad leaves belong to the category of angiosperms or flowering plants whose seeds are enclosed in an ovary. Coniferous plants undergo a period of dormancy which happens in the months of autumn till springtime. 

BUD – the embryonic or unformed shoot or organ holding an embryonic branch, leaf or flower. 

BUTTRESSING – also known as root-flare or nebari, buttressing is the spot at the base of the tree trunk where the roots meet the surface of the soil and the base of the tree flares outwards. It is the latter that lends an impression of strength, solidity and great age.

CAMBIUM – Cambium is green living tissue below the bark and above the sapwood. Cambium is evident from the girth it adds to the roots and stems. The presence of cambium can be seen in the larger wood elements in the spring season whereas, in summer, the wood elements are a lot smaller. A study of these annual rings can help establish how old a tree is.

CALLUS – Callus is the process of trees healing themselves by forming woody scar tissue over a wound where a branch or trunk has been pruned.

CANDLE – It is the term given to the elongated Pine Tree bud before the sprouting of fresh needles. 

CHLOROSIS – the yellowing of leaf tissue as a result of insufficient chlorophyll or mineral deficiency is chlorosis. It generally happens during the Autumn season and causes deciduous leaves to change color. Apart from a mineral deficiency in the plant, the other reasons for chlorosis include damaged roots, compacted roots, high alkalinity, poor drainage etc.

CHOP – When you “Chop” a tree, it means you are heavily pruning and reducing the height of the tree trunk.

COMMON NAME – it is the name by which the plant is commonly referred. The one drawback with the common name is that it can be a bit vague when it comes to descriptions. Take the example of the maple tree – it could refer to one of the hundreds of trees that fall under this category and can differ from one region to the other.

CULTIVAR – Plants of a particular variety of species with specific character traits are identified and propagated. Cultivar grows from a stem cutting, tissue cultures of grafting so that all traits of the plant parent remain. For instance, the Acer Rubrum “Frank

CULTIVAR – a cultivated variety of a given species, for example, the Acer Rubrum varieties the Acer Rubrum “Snowfire”, the Acer Rubrum “Shocking Gold”, the Acer Rubrum “Amstrong” or the Acer Rubrum “Red Sunset” are all Acer Rubrum cultivars. 

DEADWOOD – a technique to create deadwood on a Bonsai. It can be naturally formed or created artificially. It enhances the characteristics of the tree and makes the tree appear aged and mature. 

DECIDUOUS – Deciduous trees are endowed with broad leaves that turn hard and shed their leaves during the autumn months. This is followed by them going dormant in the winter.

DEFOLIATION – This process involves eliminating all the leaves of a bonsai plant. This will not only shrink the size of the plant but also the space between internodes.

DESICCATION – It is the state of extreme dryness caused due to lack of water. The roots are unable to transport water to the leaves which causes them to be desiccated. 

DIATOMACEOUS EARTH – sedimentary soil is a supremely popular Bonsai soil replacement for Akadama. This sedimentary soil is produced by the shells or skeletons of diatoms. Don’t confuse the term with pumice which is caused by volcanic activity.

DIE BACK – the death of branch tips shoots, or another growth that starts at the tip is dieback. It can occur as a result of injury, disease, drought, insects, lack of light or inconducive weather conditions. 

DISSECTED – making deep and yawning cuts into lobes or segments.

ERICACEOUS – it is a term describing acidic soil conditions or plants that live and thrive in acid-based soil as opposed to lime-based soil. Such plants will thrive happily and survive only in an acidic soil environment. 

EVERGREEN – Evergreen trees are those that retain most of their leaves all around the year and even through winter. The older leaves they shed are immediately replaced by new growth. Note that this happens during certain times of the year. Pine and juniper are some popular evergreen trees. 

FORM – a Bonsai tree is categorized based on the form, which is its most conspicuous part. It is the primary direction in which the tree trunk grows. The form can either be formal, informal upright, slanting, cascade etc. The number of crowns, whether single, group, or multi-trunk is another aspect based on which the form is segregated. 

GENUS – It is the term given to a group of plants that belong to the same family of varying species but with a common feature. All plants of the Genus will share the first part of the Latin name of the plant. For example, ACER Palmatum, ACER Rubrum etc.

GRAFT – it is a method for propagating Bonsai. In the grafting technique, the stem of one plant is cut and attached to the stem of the main Bonsai plant. This fusion will create a new branch with all the benefits of both stems. Otherwise, no branch would have grown.  

INCH – this imperial measurement replaced by Metric over 4 decades ago is still used in many countries. An inch denoted by 1” equals around 2.5 cm. It is approximately equal to the thumb’s width.

INDOOR BONSAI – Indoor Bonsai are more difficult to take care of than outdoor Bonsai plants. These tropical or subtropical plant species are placed inside during temperature climates. It is typically during certain parts of the year, particularly, when the temperature drops below 60 degrees centigrade. If the night temperature rises higher than this, you can place the plant outside. 

INTERNODE – the length of stem or section of growth between two nodes is called an internode. 

NODE – it is a growth point on the tree branch or trunk from where leaves, buds, shoots and other stems sprout. 

OVER-WATERING – when a plant or tree grows in soil that does not drain properly or receives water too frequently, it can result in overwatering. When overwatering happens, your plant will be sitting in too much water or soggy soil as the soil does not begin to dry out before the next watering session. It further reduces how much air is at the disposal of the roots. Overwatering ultimately results in root rot and dead roots, leading to the root dying. 

PEAT – organic Bonsai soil component that is rapidly losing popularity among Bonsai enthusiasts. This soil is derived from rotten and broken down Sphagnum Moss.

PETIOLE – in a leaf, the petiole is the stalk of the leaf that attaches the blade of the leaf to the stem. 

PHOENIX GRAFT – is a method in which a sapling is secured to deadwood.

PRE-BONSAI – a fresh, young tree that hasn’t been trained yet.

PRUNING – the most vital part of training a Bonsai is pruning and trimming the leaves and the branches. Pruning will help to maintain your Bonsai in proper condition. 

RAMIFICATION – the pruning technique is applied to repeatedly divide the branches into secondary branches.

ROCK PLANTING – the trees are brought up in or on rocks for a stunning visual appearance. 

ROOT FLARE – otherwise referred to as Nebari, it is the mound of roots that are exposed near the surface at the base of the trunk. It helps to provide visual appeal and balance.

ROOT OVER ROCK – a process of growing trees right over a rock. In this case, the roots will extend downwards to reach the soil.

SEASONAL Bonsai – as the name implies, it is a species that appears its absolute best for a specific duration ie:, when in flower or fruit.

SENESCENT – senescent is a growth stage characterized by the tree growing old.

SOIL – when it comes to Bonsai, the soil does not mean regular soil found in the ground. Bonsai requires specialized soil particularly tailored for bringing up this species. Organic soils are made with ingredients from plants, peat, bark or leaf litter. Inorganic soils are made from inert materials like stone, minerals, fire clays like grit, sand, akadama or turface.

SPECIES – the subdivision of a Genus; in Latin terminology, it is the second name. For instance, Acer Palmatum.

SPHAGNUM MOSS – the generic name assigned to long-fibred moss. It is an organic soil component for Bonsai and air-layering. It is known for its capability to absorb and retain moisture. Sphagnum Moss Peat is rotted and broken down Sphagnum Moss. However, it lacks the positive attributes needed for Bonsai or air-layering.

STYLE – style of the tree is the way a Bonsai has been shaped to create an image of its completely grown counterpart and compliment the form of the trunk. Some of the style options include contemporary, classical style, an impressionistic style or an expressionistic style. 

SUBSTRATE – the medium on which the Bonsai plant grows.

TERMINAL – apical; outermost tip.

TERMINAL BUD – a bud formed at the stem tip. The buds formed at the tip of a twig or branchlet. 

TREE – Bonsai enthusiasts refer to their Bonsai as trees instead of just Bonsai. 

TRUNK LEADER – as the name implies, it is the topmost branch on a trunk that has been previously chopped and is encouraged to grow vertically as an expansion of that trunk.

UNDER-WATERING – when a tree is made to dry out thoroughly or is not watered completely when required.

VARIETY – it is the subdivision of species. It is otherwise known as “cultivar”. Variety is the third name in Latin terminology i.e: Acer Palmatum “Deshojo”.

WIRING – a methodology using wire to flex a trunk or branch in a specific direction to train it to grow in that way.

XYLEM – is the region below the cambium layer in the trunk. 

Japanese Bonsai tree styles

BANYAN – a style of tree that requires dramatic roots that are exposed and grow from branches and trunk while spreading right down to the soil.

BUNJINGI (Chinese) – literati form

CHOKKAN – formal upright form

FUKINAGASHI – windswept form

HAN KENGAI – semi-cascade form

HOKIDACHI – broom form

IKADABUKI – raft form

KENGAI – cascade form

LITERATI – Bonsai tree form with a tall and lean trunk. It is further characterized by sparse foliage at the top of the tree and absolutely no lower branches.  

MOYOGI – informal upright form

SHAKKAN – slanting form

General Japanese Bonsai terms

AKADAMA – it is the classic Japanese volcanic Bonsai soil from the Akadama region. It is perfect for most species of deciduous trees. Its literal meaning is red clay balls. Akadama is formed by heating to a high temperature that changes the crystalline structure of the clay. It is similar to the process of creating bisqueware after forming ceramics and before firing to vitrification temperatures. 

BONKEI – tray landscape containing rocks, small accent plants and trees.

ISHITSUKI – planted on a rock.

JIN – removing the bark on a branch to form deadwood.

KABUDACHI – multiple trunks

MAME (豆) or”bean” in Japanese are Bonsai under the height of 2-3″ (6-8cm). A subclass of Mame called “fingertip” or:shitto” are the tiniest of Bonsai plants that are usually 1” or 2 to 3 cm in height.

NEBARI – the exposed root form is called the root mound. It is also called a flare.

NETSUNAGARI – root connected.

PEN-JING (Chinese) – landscape planting.

POTENSAI – potential Bonsai

SABAMIKI – split trunk

SAI-KEI – landscape planting

SANKAN – triple trunk

SEKJOJU – root over rock.

SHARI – the technique of forming deadwood on the trunk.

SHARIMIKI – driftwood


SHOHIN – Bonsai less than 6” or 15 cm in height are called Shohin. It means “tiny things” in the Japanese language. 

SOKAN – twin trunk.

SUIBAN – shallow water tray for display rock plantings.

TANUKI – form where a sapling is attached to deadwood; an alternative name for it is “Phoenix Graft”.

TOKONOMA- a conventional area in a Japanese home with the prime motive of creating a stunning display.

TORIKI – propagation technique referred to as “air-layering”.

TSUKIGI – graft

URO – hollow zones of the trunk, where the wood rot occurs.

YAMADORI – material gathered from the wild.

YOSE UE – forest planting.