When we display bonsai, we usually include an accent plant, as it has become known over the years. This accent plant is called shitakusa, which is translated from the Japanese shita, below or under, and kusa, grass.
Shitakusa is not meant to be the dominant focus of the presentation. Rather, it is plant material to complete the exhibit of the main focus, which can be a bonsai, a suiseki, and/or a scroll. When you look at a bonsai or suiseki display you should never have the first impression, “Wow, what a great shitakusa” or complementary plant. It should round out the exhibit to form a complete impression and make you imagine that it is winter or spring, or that you are in the woods, or that the bonsai is high up in the mountains.
Kusamono, on the other hand, are the “top dog”. When they are exhibited they are the focus. You can of course add a scroll, figurine, or suiseki to complete the picture. Kusamono can be tall, mixed plantings or all the same plant, in or out of a container. The kusamono determines the impression of place and season, such as a meadow, a bog, or the mountains.
Kokedama is a ball of moss covered soil with arranged plants. Unlike other bonsai styles, its history is not so old and it’s said the idea originated from Nearai, which was a popular bonsai style during the Edo era in Japan, and is a bonsai grown first in a pot and taken out of the pot and set on a stand to enjoy without a pot.
In the Nearai style, the bonsai was grown so fully and tightly in the pot that the root and soil would maintain its shape when taken out of the pot.
Wabikusa is a ball of substrate covered with plants that are grown in their terrestrial form, very similar to plants that are grown hydroponically in nurseries. This substrate ball is placed directly into a small glass container with some water in and then allowed to grow naturally.