Which species for multi trunk styles?

By Lionel Theron

The basis of this article is personal experience and preference and there may well be different views. Generally I prefer the use of only one species per planting. Simplicity and understatement is more difficult to achieve when a number of subjects are used together and especially if more than one species is used. An exception may be made in a saikei of predominantly elms with perhaps one small kurume azalea.

There is a tendency for Western artists to err on the side of opulence instead of rninimalism, which is the charm of the Japanese executions Simplicity and particularly space is required in Japanese art. Some species are more suitable for multi trunk or group style plantings.


In landscape plantings like saikei the rocks are an important part of the picture and it is generally better to use smaller trees with smaller leaves. I favour the following most:

  • Elms (Ulmus parvifoliaj - especially miniature types like catlin)
  • Junipers (Juniperus) - preferably ones with scale-like foliage like sargent and procumbens
  • White stinkwood or Chinese hackberry (Celtis)
  • Box honeysuckle
  • Myrtle (Myrtus communis nana)
  • Wild olive (Olea europea ssp africana)
  • Serissa
  • Cotoneaster


The same applies to penjing as to saikei, except that the trees in a penjing must be subordinate to the rocks.


There is a lot more latitude permissible in forests especially when big shallow containers are used more species become suitable. To the above mentioned eight one can add maples, buddleja, short needled pines, other conifers such as swamp cypress. Trees I consider less suited are acacia, oak, dalbergia and figs.

Root connected clumps or multi-trunks

Virtually any tree would be suitable for these styles, as they tend to sort each other out by natural selection. Very vigorous growers would have to be controlled by using techniques to restrict growth. Figs really require a special study on their own as the are suitable for many multi-trunked and entwined styles.


Many trees lend themselves to being trained in this manner especially junipers. A sinuous raft is much more interesting than a straight raft.

The application of real artistry is required to make all the above styles work credibly, but the artistic aspects of group style plantings is the topic of another article.