Basic Bonsai Jargon

What are some terms you wished you knew early on that would have helped your bonsai practice? Do you think different regions have varying ‘bonsai dialects’ in regards to the terminology that is used?

Below are a few basic terms we find to be most helpful when starting out with bonsai - help us fill out this list!


The junction of the soil and the trunk, specifically the flair at this intersection.


The core of the root system immediately below the trunk.


Deadwood on the trunk.


The highest mass of living foliage on the tree.


Deadwood created by dead branches.


The sequential division of branching from the base of a branch to the fine twigging at the tips.

Refinement vs. Development

Refinement is the targeted distribution of energy and improved development of fine twigging and form - typically the later stage of a bonsai's life.

Development is the strategic building of strength, thickening of branches, healing of wounds, and expansion of root and foliar mass to set the structure to begin refinement.


The backbone of the trunk and the shape of the branches that originate from the trunk that form the framework for ramification to be built on.


The process of shifting a tree from one container to another.

Live Vein

The living tissue connecting roots to foliage.

Defining Branch

The branch that defines the farthest point or line of foliage laterally from the trunk. This branch creates the asymmetrical form.


Tissue that has died, contributing age and history to the tree.

Auxin M

A hormone produced in the roots that accumulates in the growth tips of the branches, restraining smaller branch growth to create elongating apical dominance.

Pinching vs. Pruning

Pinching is finger removal of the growing tip. Pruning is scissor removal of the growing tip. These techniques vary differently depending on the goals/species/timing you are working with.

I think a couple good ones are:
Node - a junction along the stem (branch) of a plant where leaves and/or buds exist.
Internode - the distance between nodes


Yamadori - Material collected from the wild.
Aeration Layer - A single soil layer consisting of larger particles that allow oxygen to enter the pot more freely.
Ultimate Health - The balance of water and oxygen.
Fertilizer- Supplemental nutrition.
Soil Column - The entirety of the soil in the pot through which water, oxygen, and supplemental nutrition move.
Cambium - A layer of delicate meristematic tissue between the inner bark or phloem
and the wood or xylem, which produces new phloem on the outside and new
xylem on the inside of stems and roots.
Phloem - The part of a vascular bundle consisting of sieve tubes, companion
cells, parenchyma, and fibers and forming the food-conducting tissue of a
Xylem - The vascular tissue that conveys water and dissolved minerals from the roots to the rest of the plant and also provides physical support.


Heartwood - The dense wood at the core of a trunk or branch. Resins and tannins are deposited as heartwood is created from neighboring sapwood layers.
Sapwood - The living wood of the tree that, among other things, carries water to the rest of the tree and acts as a storage site for starch and other nutrients.

1 Like

Would the sapwood then be the compilation of the xylem, phloem and cambium?

1 Like

Branches: Primary, secondary, tertiary