What Do We Call The Top Of A Bonsai?
And more importantly—does it matter?
The Japanese call the top of a bonsai the “atama”, which is head. As an apprentice, light bulbs went off when I heard them calling the top the head.
Decades before I’d been taught it was the “apex”. Oxford Dictionaries defines apex as: “The top or highest part of something, especially one forming a point”.
I suppose I may have been too literal but for years my bonsai had pointy tops. Always looking for the next leader on young bonsai. Never going for rounded.
A head is rounded. What we want our mature bonsai to have. Many small shoots filling out a rounded tree head—even if that head is very small, like on a thin-trunked bonsai.
Now I wonder about the power of words, of semantics. Does it matter?
”Top” lacks analogy that could give it relatability. It’s a bit vague.
”Apex” may have use with pre-bonsai when we’re swapping out leaders to create movement and taper.
“Crown” might be a pretty good word for the top of a mature bonsai, as a crown goes on a rounded head. It gives an image to wrap our minds around. But the image above claims the crown as the back of the head, which muddies things.
“Canopy” sounds good, too. But on looking up the definition—“the branches and leaves that spread out at the tops of trees in the woods”—the canopy is high, but it’s also vague. A canopy would include the tops of other trees, if in a forest.
If a mature, rounded top of foliage is desired, “apex”, “top”, and “canopy” maybe not the best words, with “crown” maybe most accurate. “Head” feels awkward, as it includes jaw, cheek, and nose—but then, given the complexity of micro-views through the foliage of a mature bonsai, it’s actually not a bad option.
My favorite may still be crown, if naming the outer extremity of the rounded top of the bonsai is what we’re after. I like that it it’s not a vague term and has relatability (which helps me remember it). But I suspect our personal preferences and how we infer these definitions all matter.
Please chime in with your favorites!
Bulletin Board September 2023
- For more about bonsai semantics and other puzzles, check out Bonsai Heresy: 56 Myths Exposed Using Science and Tradition, now on sale on Stone Lantern.
- For those following the Indiegogo campaign to source binoculars for young birding guides in Ecuador, we’ve some news. The leader of the team down there, Yacu, set up a bird count day with their new binoculars. Just in the morning they saw 80 species. Thanks everyone for contributing to the campaign! It was a big success. Here are some photos of their first day out with the binoculars:
- They saw this brilliant orange bird, the Andean Cock of the Rock, on their opener day. I saw this very shy bird several times in my adventures through the cloud forests of Ecuador this past January. The virtual birding guide eBird says, “Found in cloud forest at middle elevations, most often at a dawn display site where males make piglike squeals and jump and dance for females.” Who says birding is boring.