Are bole, stem and trunk exactly equal?

Or is there any difference in their usage? Like if one just refer to the main part and other includes the branches, stalk, etc.

Looking on dictionary.com, bole and trunk seem to be the same:


  1. The main stem of a tree, as distinct from the branches and roots.


  1. The stem or trunk of a tree.

But stem seems to involve trunk/bole, the branches and the stalks supporting the fruits:

  1. The ascending axis of a plant, whether above or below ground, which ordinarily grows in an opposite direction to the root or descending axis.
  2. The stalk that supports a leaf, flower, or fruit.
  3. The main body of that portion of a tree, shrub, or other plant which is above ground; trunk; stalk.

What is a little confusing is that bole also means stem, so I asked here to put the kibosh on it.

  • 2
    Most people won't know what "bole" means. As to "stem" and "trunk", the latter is generally reserved for "real" trees -- perennials with a central cylindrical body and branches projecting out from that center.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 1:58
  • What does a dictionary say and in what way do those definitions not differentiate them?
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 1:58
  • Aaaannnd the nest on the twigs, and the twigs on the branch, and the branch on the limb, and the limb on the trunk, and the trunk on the roots, and the roots in the hole, and the hole in the ground, and the green grass grows all around all around ... and the green grass grows all around!
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 16:54
  • Trunk of a tree, stem of a plant, and bole weevil.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 16:52

3 Answers 3


The stem of the plant is responsible for providing support to the leaves, flowers or fruits of a tree. On the other hand, a trunk of a tree provides a structure for the whole tree, including stems, leaves, flowers and fruits. The trunk also connects the leaves to the roots. The word stem usually refers to a plant, while a trunk refers to a tree.

And bole is a synonym for trunk and means the same.


The use and terminology by a client as to bole/trunk of the tree.

At what point does the bole of the tree (trunk) change to the roots? we have a buttressing trunk to buttressing roots.

Therefore is then a buttressing trunk still part of the bole of the tree (trunk) above ground; even though the bole of the trunk is ascending up into the main trunk.

As I have to measure from the closest part of the bole of the tree (trunk) to a habitable dwelling.

  1. Trunks are rigid, while stems are more flexible. Stems grow to expose leaves as well as flowers.
  2. Stems are directly connected to leaves whereas trunks do not have a direct connection with leaves, buds, and flowers.
  3. Trunks are surrounded with tough texture bark while stems are not covered with bark.

See distinctions at Core Differences

  • This extended definition conflicts with at least some others. Dictionary.com, for instance, has 'Trunk: The main stem of a tree ...' which requires that the stems mentioned are as rigid as (and in fact are) trunks. [reference in question]. // The most unusual thing about the Eastern Redwood is that the flowers grow directly on the trunk. // And 'bole'? // Obviously, there is the common polysemy-with-hypernymy confusion here. Where confusion cannot be tolerated, specifying definitions need to be given (but it must be spelled out that these are in-house and not standard). Commented May 22, 2020 at 14:46
  • 1
    In my experience, "bole" is used to describe the trunk of a tree as far as the first bough/branch. See ikonet.com/en/visualdictionary/images/us/…
    – Greybeard
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 17:43

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.