Bonsai Today

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The apex

Our scrutiny of the essential rules of bonsai concludes by taking a look at the apex, or summit (Atama). It is also one of the significant points of the tree.

The apex is directed towards the viewer and its perpendicular line falls in front of the root base.


The apex is the second most significant part of a bonsai after the nebari. In order that a bonsai looks like a tree it is imperative that it has an apex, if it doesn’t it would resemble a shrub. Without an apex the movement of the tree is either non-existent or badly defined. A bonsai is not exactly like a tree in nature. Therefore, you will not copy it, but will take into account the laws of perspective and space.

Bonsai are mainly observed on one side only, the front aspect. You’ll need to take this into account. Therefore, seen from above the apex is not completely circular, but more semicircular, being slightly opened towards the front.

Indeed, to give the tree movement and depth, it is slightly tilted towards the front aspect. The vertical line of the apex therefore lies in front of the nebari and towards the edge of the pot, If the base of the trunk goes towards the back, the top must return towards the viewer. The tree ‘bows’ to you. The top must be tilted towards the viewer looking towards the front. It must also be tilted towards the main branch, which gives the general movement. The apex can also lean left towards the extending branch, or be vertical. Of course it also leans towards the viewer, but it cannot go towards this line, against the movement of the extending branch.

Top of a young tree

The younger the tree, the more its apex points towards the sky. In leafy trees this appears remarkable.

Top of a mature tree

The apex is flattened by the years, but it is always necessary to be able to define it. There should always be a small branch that indicates it.

Movement of the apex

It should not be forgotten that the tree has a general movement. Therefore, for a rigorously correct tree, the apex will be directed towards the top, at the axis of the trunk. But if the tree has a movement towards the right-hand side or the left the apex will follow the same movement. For example if the tree moves towards the line, with a large extending branch on the right, the apex will also go towards this line. It would be wrong if it went towards the left, as the image of the tree would be halted by an illogical movement.

This long branch is the extending branch .

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