Glossary of Plant Terms

Annual:  A plant which completes its whole life cycle, from seed to fruit, in one year.  Some plants which are perennial in their native (e.g. tropical) lands are treated as if they are annuals in countries with colder climates.

Anther: The pollen producing sac on the stamen.

Basal:  Located at or near the base of a plant stem, or at the base of any other plant part.

Berry:  A fleshy small fruit containing seeds e.g. Blackberry, Grape, and Strawberry.  Most berries are edible, but some such as the berries from the Deadly Nightshade, are toxic.

Biennial: A flowering plant that takes two years to complete its biological life cycle.  In the first season growth usually results in basal leaves, often forming a small rosette of leaves near the soil surface.  During the second season the stem grows longer and the plant flowers and produces seed, after which the entire plant dies.  

Bulbs:  A plant storage organ which is normally underground.  It is made up of layers of moulded leaves which are wrapped around each other.  In Lily bulbs, they are made up of separate scaled leaves.  It contains the young plant.  Some common plants grown from bulbs include Daffodils, Hyacinth, and Tulips.

Cactus:  A succulent plant belonging to the Cactaceae family.

Corm:  A plant storage organ which is composed of a bulbous underground stem which is usually covered with a papery skin.  The new shoots and root of the plant appear from the small bud at the top of the corm.  Some common plants which grow from corms are the Crocus, Gladiolus, Iris, and Montbretia.

Deciduous: Plants whose leaves fall off when mature (usually in the autumn) and re-grow in the spring.

Evergreen:  Having leaves all year round.  Filament

Filament:  The stalk of the stamen which leads to the anther.

Fruit:  The mature ovary or ripened seed-bearing part of the plant.  It is the means by which the plant disseminates seeds.  Normally seeds are encased in a fleshy material which is edible. This includes fruits such as apple, tomato, cucumber and pumpkin.

Hybrid:  A plant that results from cross-pollinating two different plant varieties and grown from the seed that this cross produces.

Latex:  A milky fluid (sap) that is produced by 10% of all flowering plants, and which coagulates on exposure to air.  Latex is often white or yellow in colour and is commonly found in such plants such as euphorbia, fig, dandelion and rubber plants.

Leaf:  The main organ of photosynthesis and transpiration in higher plants, usually consisting of a flat, blade-like structure that is typically green (but may vary in shape and colour), and is attached to the stem directly or by a petiole (stalk).

Midrib — Central or most prominent vein of a leaf.

Nut:   A hard-shelled pod that contains both the fruit and seed of the plant. Technically a nut is the ripened ovary—together with the seed – of a flowering plant.

Perennial:  A plant that lives for more than two years and dies back and remains dormant each winter, but regrows from the same root stock the following spring.   The term is also widely used in gardening to differentiate between plants that have little or no woody growth from woody trees and shrubs, which are technically also perennials.


Petiole:  The stalk that attaches a leaf to the stem.

Pip:  A small hard seed contained within the fruit.

Pod:  A long, narrow, and relatively flat part of some plants, particularly legumes such as beans and peas, that contains the seeds and usually has a thick skin.  The pod usually splits open on both sides when the seeds are ripe.

Rhizome:  An underground creeping stem which sends out shoots above and roots below.  Sometimes the rhizomes of plants such as Iris, grow on, or very close to the soil surface.  Some common rhizomes include Bamboo, Ginger, Peony, Solomon's Seal, and also some Ferns.

Seed:  A fertilised ovule, containing the plant embryo, covered by a protective coat and containing nutrients to enable the embryo to grow and develop.

Shrub:  A woody branching plant with stems arising at or near the ground.

Stalk:   The thin stem-like structure that joins the flower, leaf or fruit to the plant or tree.


Stamen:  The male reproductive flower part, comprising the anther and the filament.

Stem:  One of two main structural axes of a vascular plant (the other being the root).  The stem of a plant acts as a central axis to which all other parts are attached, and it is normally divided into nodes and internodes.  In most plants, the stems are visible above ground, but in some species, they are hidden below the ground. 

Stigma:  The female reproductive part of the flower where the pollen grains are deposited.

Style:  The stalk joining the flower ovary to the stigma - carries the pollen.

Sub-shrub:   A short or low-growing perennial plant having a woody lower stem, often synonymous with 'bush'. 

Succulent:  Plants with fleshy foliage and stalks.  A succulent is a water-retaining plant which has adapted to survive in extreme conditions of drought.

Toxic plant:  One that is capable of causing injury when touched or eaten, and if consumed in sufficient quantity may cause death.

Tree:  A woody perennial plant with a main stem or trunk and featuring lateral branches at some distance from the ground.

Tuber:  A plant nutrient storage unit comprising of a thickened underground fleshy root in plants such as the Dahlia or a thickened underground stem such as the Potato.

Variegated:  Marked with different patches of colour; dappled.

Vegetable:  This is the edible part of the plant, such as the root, the tuber, the stem, the flowers or the green leafy part of the plant.  This will include such vegetables as Potato, Rhubarb, Beetroot, Onion, Cabbage and Broccoli.

Vine:   A plant whose stem requires support and which climbs by tendrils or twining or creeps along the ground.

Weed:  A classic definition of a weed is a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.  A tortoise keeper, however, might agree more with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said “What is a weed?  A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” 

Wood/Woody:  A woody plant is one that produces wood as its structural tissue.  Woody plants are usually either trees, shrubs, or lianas.  They are most often perennial plants whose stems and larger roots are reinforced with wood produced from secondary xylem. 

Xylem:  the vascular tissue in plants which conducts water and dissolved nutrients upwards from the root and also helps to form the woody element in the stem.