Japanese Bonsai: Glossary of Terms


ACAULESCENT A plant without a stem between the roots and the first leaves.

ACCLIMATIZE Adapting a plant to a climate different from that of its native region.

ACIDITY The concentration of acid in the soil (sulphuric, hydrochloric, nitric, etc), measured in terms of pH (an acid soil is 6 or below).

ADVENTITIOUS Part of a plant developing in a place where it would not normally grow; for instance adventitious roots which grow on the stem of ivy.

AFFINITY Physiological similarity be-tween two plants. This is essential when grafting rootstock and scion material.

ALKALINITY The opposite of acidity, usually characterized by soda, lime or ammonia, all alkaline substances. Measured in terms of pH (an alkaline soil registers 7 or above).

ALTERNATE The arrangement of leaves or branches which arise first on one side of the stem and then the other.

ARCHING or ARCURE The curves imposed on the branches by wiring.

ARIL An extra covering around the seed coat. It is red, fleshy and cup shaped in the case of yew, but is a tuft of hairs in willows.

AXIL The angle formed by a lateral branch with the trunk or by a leaf with a branch.

AXILLARY Bud, shoot or flower growing from the axil. The axillary is also known as a lateral bud.


BORDEAUX MIXTURE A lime and copper sulphate solution long used as a fungicide.

BUD An embryo shoot, flower or flower cluster, usually protected by scales.

BUDDING A leaf bud, or ‘eye’, taken with a sliver of bark, which will be grafted on to another plant.

BUSHY The shape of a bush or shrub, which branches from the base rather than having a central stem or trunk, in which case it would be described as treelike or arborescent.


CAMBIUM Actively dividing cell tissue just beneath the bark which is capable of producing new cells, controlling the growth of the wood and bark.

CHLOROSIS A deficiency disease indicated by leaves turning yellow from a lack of chlorophyll, which is in turn due to iron deficiency.

COMPOST A mixture of soil, peat, sand and other materials in varying proportions to suit the requirements of a plant for which it will provide the growing medium.

CONTOURING Building a mound of soil round the base of a plant. Some tender shrubs are mounded in late autumn to protect them from cold, especially in districts where winters are harsh. Contouring the soil round a bonsai enhances its appearance.

CULTIVAR (cv) A plant which has been selected or bred by man. It differs from other individuals of the same species by one or more characteristics which serve to identify the plant type. A cultivar can differ considerably from the species itself by the shape of its leaves or the number and colour of its petals.

CUTTING A technique of reproduction used for propagating plants. Part of a plant (root, branch, bud or leaf) is cut off and rooted to form a new plant. The new plant subsequently reproduces the qualities and defects (diseases for example) of the parent plant.

CUTTING BACK This is the trimming of the foliage and roots of a bonsai plant before repotting or transplanting it into a new container.


DAMPING OFF The collapse and death of seedlings or young plants after they have germinated. This is caused by a group of fungi living in the soil or compost. It can be avoided by always using fresh compost for sowing seeds.

DEBUDDING Removing one or a pro-portion of the buds from a bonsai to limit the number of shoots and therefore leaves that develop when growth begins in spring.

DEGENERATION The progressive deterioration of a plant due to old age or viral disease.

DECIDUOUS The habit of shedding all the leaves annually; a characteristic of many trees and shrubs. The opposite of evergreen.

DIVISION A method of reproducing plants by splitting well-rooted clumps into smaller pieces, each with at least one strong shoot and good root system. Each of these pieces will quickly develop into a new plant.

DORMANT PERIOD A period when a plant rests (often during the winter months or during a period of drought). A dormant period is sometimes induced artificially to speed up growth.

DOWNY MILDEW A disease that mainly attacks vines and potatoes, though also a number of other plants. It shows itself as mouldy patches on the leaves surrounded by a halo. These patches dry out from the centre.


ETIOLATION This is a blanching or yellowing of the leaves, caused by lack of light which prevents photosynthesis taking place.

EVERGREEN The characteristic of a plant which retains its leaves beyond the annual cycle of growth. (Many conifers are evergreen). Evergreen means the opposite of deciduous.


FIBROUS ROOTS These are the fine capillary feeding roots that develop from the main anchoring roots of a tree.

FOREST A multiple arrangement of bonsai in a single tray to give the illusion of a miniature forest.

FUNGICIDE A chemical product for treating fungal diseases.


GALLS These are swollen growths that result from the activity of various para-sites. They can also be formed as a defence mechanism by the plant when it has been damaged.

GRAFTING The method of joining together two compatible plants in order to reproduce the qualities of the one in the other; the stock provides the roots and the scion provides the top of the plant with the desired flowering, fruiting or other qualities.

GROWTHS Young branches in the course of development, consisting of shoots and leaves. One must distinguish between shoots that have flowered and those that have not if one is to thin successfully without damaging the plant.


HARDY Plants capable of withstanding harsh climatic conditions, especially frost.

HEELING IN Planting temporarily in a trench whilst awaiting final planting when ground is properly prepared, soil is in right condition or container is ready.


INSECTICIDE A toxic product used in various forms to kill insects and mites.

IKADA A single tree laid horizontally with vertical branches.


JIN A technique of artificially ageing branches and trunks by removing the bark, bleaching with acid and polishing the wood. Click here for more information on the art of jin.


LAYERING A way of propagating plants which involves encouraging an aerial shoot to form roots, then severing it from the parent to obtain a new plant. Many plants layer themselves naturally.


mulching bonsai MANURE Fertilizing and soil improving material which will provide the plant with the kind of food that will help it develop. It should only be used when well rotted.

MISTING Damping over plant foliage with a mist of water. A technique used mainly on young plants raised from seed.

MOSAIC A viral disease which seriously depresses growth characterized by mottling of the leaves.

MULCHING This cultivation technique is used to protect plants by covering the surrounding soil, and sometimes the crown of the plant itself. It gives protection from the cold and prevents evaporation of moisture from the soil.


NEUTRALITY Chemical state of a soil which is neither acid nor alkaline on the pH scale.

NODE The point of origin, often slightly swollen, of any leaf on a stem.

NURSERY BED An area set aside in a garden for sowing and planting out young plants before they are moved to their final growing positions.


OPPOSITE ARRANGEMENT This is quite simply an arrangement of leaves or branches which grow face to face on a branch or trunk.

OVERWINTER To bring plants into the shelter of a greenhouse, a cold-frame or indoors in late autumn to protect them from winter frosts or cold, damp conditions.


PARASITE Primarily plants that grow on others and then feed off them, but the term is also used for certain insects and other creatures that prosper to the detriment of the host plant.

PERENNIAL Any plant which lives for several years, unlike an annual which completes its life cycle in one year or a biennial which completes its life cycle in two years.

PESTICIDE A formulation for destroying animal organisms detrimental to plant growth.

PH The scale which is used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. The soil is said to be neutral if its pH equals 7.0. It is said to be acid if it has a lower pH than this and to be alkaline if it has a higher pH than this. If the acidity of the soil is too high or too low for a particular plant it will not grow well and may die, so it is useful to know the soil’s pH.

PHYTOSANITARY A product that favours the healthy development and functioning of a plant by protecting it from pests and diseases.

PINCHING Nipping out certain young shoots with the finger nails in order to limit growth and therefore any irregular development of the plant.

PRUNING The removal (with secateurs or a saw) of shoots or branches which are old. Diseased, damaged or unwanted, in order to stimulate new shoots.

PUDDLING Dipping the roots of a shrub in a slurry of soil, water and possibly other nutritious materials to help the subject, when planted, establish itself quickly and strongly. Cow dung is often mixed with heavy clay soil.


RADICAL In horticultural terms, this means pertaining to the roots.

ROOT ROT A fungus disease that takes the form of a mould that attacks the roots of a tree and eventually rots them away. It often results from putting fresh manure straight on the roots.

ROOTSTOCK A plant used in propagation by grafting to provide support. Control vigour and receive the scion. For the graft to take, the rootstock and scion must be compatible, otherwise the scion will be rejected. It is not possible to graft a conifer on to a hardwood or to graft a hardwood on to a conifer.


SCION A part of a plant with desirable qualities, eg flowering, fruiting, with attractive form, but a poor or unsatisfactory rooting characteristic, which can be grafted on to the rootstock of a similar plant.

SEED SOWING Quite simply the method of reproducing plants sexually by germinating seeds.

SPECIES (spp.) A group of individual plants that exhibit the same distinctive characteristics. It is the plant unit that provides the basis for classification.

STEM The aerial part of a plant which carries the leaves.

STERILIZATION Destruction of harmful organisms, fungal spores, weed seeds, etc, in soil or compost by means of heat or chemicals.

STOCK see Rootstock.

STRATIFICATION A way of preparing seeds to soften or crack their protective shell so as to break their dormancy and make germination possible. Seeds to be stratified are spread in layers of damp sand in a cold place throughout the winter, protected from mice and other predators that could eat them.

SUCKER Underground stem growing from the roots of a plant which can be used for propagation.


TRANSPLANTING Moving a plant to its final position where it can develop fully. A plant can be moved several times to strengthen its root system.

TRAY A shallow or flat container, often glazed externally, which is used for growing bonsai.


VIRAL DISEASE A disease caused by the sub-microscopic particles called viruses. These weaken and distort the plant. Any plant suffering from viral disease should be burnt so that it does not affect other plants and should never be used for propagation purposes.


WIRING Method of training a tree, by wrapping a metal wire (usually copper) around trunk or branches to produce a predetermined shape.

24. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Bonsai | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Japanese Bonsai: Glossary of Terms


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