Juniper Live Veins and How They Move…

…or get smaller, to be more accurate.

When we style a juniper, very often the live vein changes in size. It’s normally an adjustment to foliage loss, or branch loss, or even root loss, all which happen in the early years of initial work on a juniper.

Most commonly, the sides of the vein will shrink, so that the vein will become narrower. Except on the very youngest of trees, a vein will never become wider. (This reluctance to cover a wound is why we don’t cut off a large branch cleanly to the trunk, as one might on a pine or maple, expecting it to callus and close up. A juniper won’t do that, so we make a jin).

Although it won’t widen, over time the live vein will grow more bulbous, growing out from the trunk. The top of this juniper shows an old live vein that has a rounded character to it. This is a very old live vein. The deadwood on either side died many years ago, probably decades ago in the mountains.

With this juniper we got lucky. The vein diminished to the point that it unexpectedly added complexity. It added a spiral and became more dramatic. On this Rocky Mountain Juniper, I noticed that the bark was getting loose in one area, and after investigating discovered that the live vein had retreated after the tree was styled years ago. There was a fair bit of dead bark that could be removed. I did that, and cleaned up the exposed deadwood with sandpaper. Now the tree looks quite a bit jazzier than it was…


A spiraling live vein on a Rocky Mountain Juniper. On investigation it was found that the live vein had retreated, and there was some dead bark to remove. The reddish areas are the dead areas—compare with the photo below, after removing the dead bark. (‘Dead bark’ is an odd set of words; all bark is dead, technically. What I meant was that there was no live cambium or phloem underneath the bark).

DSC_0147 - Version 2

Cleaning the bark off reveals the true nature of the veining.


The whole tree, 28″ / 71 cm. This tree actually has two live veins going into the soil, which supply two parts of the tree. The cascading branch has one vein, and the upright trunk has another. Tree was collected by Randy Knight about 8 years ago. This Rocky has finer foliage than many, also greener and more like Itoigawa, than most Rockies. There is so much variability in juniper foliage that it makes it quite exciting and full of personality from tree to tree.

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  1. Sage Smith says:

    Wonderful spiraling live veins. What an elegant tree. I always look forward to your posts. Many thanks for sharing.

  2. D. Thomas says:

    Beautiful tree but I am confused. I thought red veins were the live ones.

    • crataegus says:

      Understandably confused. When you take bark off a tree to see if what is underneath is living, we do need to gently uncover the phloem here and there. That will look bright purple or slightly underneath this, brighter white than the wood underneath. That brighter zone will be a bit juicy. It’s the phloem, and that part is alive.

      So, with that in mind, when you take off the flaky bark that is easy to remove, underneath will be the reddish or light brownish underbark that we like to show, for effect. Still, we don’t know if it’s alive or not. So we need to explore the edges of the vein, slowly, picking away with a chisel or something like that, and work our way in towards the center of the vein. That way we’ll discover the true size of the vein.

      In other words, if I had merely taken off the flaky bark, everything under that is reddish brown. But much of the original live vein on this tree ended up dying. So I scrapped and sanded off the dead areas, and left the areas that I saw were alive.

      It’s a great question, because even with a teacher present and showing you what to look for, it’s not easy to see without good light… go slow uncovering juniper live veins!

  3. Brian says:

    Hi Michael , Brian here
    I think you could layer the top out, have 2 beautiful trees. Just a thought. Both top and bottom are quite handsome.
    Regards Brian

    • crataegus says:

      There are always options. My sense is that the tree is more interesting and complex with both parts attached. Also, although you can’t see it well from the photo, splitting them would make a weak base for both trees. Unless there are great problems to correct, like long extended areas without interest or some kind of disharmony, with an old yamadori like this I prefer to work with what nature created.

  4. backcountrydan says:

    Love it!!! 🙂

  5. john says:

    Hi Michael,
    Any suggestions as to “how to” information for creating veins on pre- bonsai material? I have many Shimpaku Junipers that I would like to experiment with.

    • crataegus says:

      I think the work the Taiwanese are doing with cutting grown junipers in creating deadwood is be the best. There’s a book out there about the silk carving they do, might look into that.

  6. bonsai eejit says:

    Reblogged this on Bonsai Eejit.

  7. iankendrick1 says:

    Lovely tree and a nice tight informative article which is helping me understand the intricacies of junipers. So much to learn so little time?! but life is all about learning.

  8. Vern Maddx says:

    I have the same question as D. Thomas regarding the color of the live vein.

  9. Joe Daly says:

    Hi Michael. I have often wondered when I see a Jin that has been de barked prior to it being wired, what is the chemistry behind how it eventually sets in position, as I assumed that once the sap flow has ceased there was no life in the Jin.

  10. Dan says:

    What is the best way to remove the bark to expose the vein

    • crataegus says:

      Many exist…if the job is small, I much prefer hand tools. Loop tools and the like can take bark off quickly. Then use some sandpaper to finish, going in the same direction as the grain. Larger jobs might need a flex-shaft tool with a bit on it that can take off wood. Several styles of bits exist for doing this, according to purpose, from taking a lot of wood off at once to sandpaper bits.

  11. Jilly Murphy says:

    This is the most beautiful Juniper ever! I would love to see her now, 10 years later.

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