Big Picture Vocab – Structure and Lifestyle

Before we start getting into morphological characteristics of plants, we need to have a mutual understanding of some basic vocabulary when it comes to describing plants. Some of these terms are used interchangeably, especially in gardening, but for our purpose these are the term definitions we will be sticking with. You are welcome to call me out on them later if need be. 😉

  • Tree – usually with a single trunk, woody, often more than 25′ in height
  • Shrub – multiple trunks, woody, often less than 25′ in height
  • Woody – persistent above ground branches (they don’t die down to the ground over the winter), woody plants will have an easily visible separation of the outer bark and inner wood when you cut the stem
  • Herbaceous/Herb – any branches will die back to the ground over the winter, it will not have any easily differentiated tissues on a cut stem and will look an even green or tan color throughout
  • Vine – a plant that either climbs for support or trails along the ground, unable to support its own weight, can either be woody or herbaceous
  • Deciduous – drops any soft tissue (ie, leaves) annually in preparation for a dormancy period
  • Evergreen – keeps its soft tissue through the annual dormancy period
  • Broadleaf – have a wide flat leaf, can either be deciduous or evergreen
  • Conifer – includes all the trees we often use as ‘Christmas trees’, a needle or scale leafed, usually evergreen (not all are), woody plants that bears cones (we will give a more descriptive approach in a later post)
  • Annual – sprout, grows, flowers, sets seed and dies all in one year
  • Biennial – sprouts and grows in its first year, than flowers, sets seed and dies in the second year
  • Perennial – any plant that lives for more than two years
  • Winter – actively grows during the cool periods between late autumn and spring, will set its seed before the heat of summer, plant often sprouts and starts to grow in the autumn months until the ground freezes and then resumes in the spring after the ground thaws, can refer to annual or perennial (winter annual, ect)
  • Summer – only grows during warm periods between late spring and fall, will set its seed in late summer ar autumn, can refer to annual or perennial


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