Botanical Terms Alphabetically

This page is designed to help you find meaning in that obscure, and often confusing world of botanic terms. Have a read through these and you'll be botanizing in no time!

Angiosperms

Plants that make flowers. Daffodils. Garlic. Grass. Maple trees. You get the idea. From the Latin angeion for vessel, and sperma for seed, these are plants which cover their seeds within a fruity casing. Angiosperms also surround their seeds with a nutrient dense start to life, a substance called the endosperm. This is mostly what we eat when consuming grain products.  Anyway, basic message to take home is that angiosperms make flowers, while gymnosperms, pteridophytes, and bryophytes do not (see below).

Annual

A plant that germinates, has all it's sex, makes all it's flowers, and matures all it's babies in one year, then dies.  As opposed to a biennial or perennial. Usually has very prolific blooms and puts out a huge amount of seed (it has a lot of babies to make all in one go, and not much time to do it).

This is also dependent on how cold an area gets. For instance, in Taiwan, closer to the tropic of cancer, lemon grass is a perennial (comes up year after year). Whereas in New England, the only way that lemon grass will make it through the winter is if I dig it up and haul it inside.

Generally however, when you're looking in a plant key or field guide, when they ask whether a plant is annual or otherwise, they are talking about native or naturalized plants, rather than cultivated ones such as lemon grass.

Anther

The business end of a stamen, the male part of a flower. This is the bit where all the pollen comes from.

Banner

The fancy upper petal of a flower, often lobed. Usually larger and generally more obvious than the other smaller petals. This is most often indicative of a Pea Family flower (Fabaceae), along with wings and keel.

Biennial

A plant that lives two years. The first year is often spent making a basal rosette of leaves (the launchpad), and the second year making flowers and seeds (blast off!). Similar to annuals, biennials often make a rather large amount of seeds. Mullien, Foxglove, Burdock, Parsley, Black-eyed Susan, Wild Carrot, and Garlic are all examples.

Bract

A modified leaf, often found hanging out densely under a flower (as with sunflowers). When you eat an artichoke, you are in fact eating really big, juicy bracts.

Calyx

All of the sepals of a flower. It's customary to look at a flower from the outside parts to the inside. From this perspective, the calyx is the outermost whorl of flower parts, just outside the corolla (see below).

Carpel

A modified leaf containing ovules, the bit of the flower that eventually forms egg cells. Pistils are partly composed of carpels. There can be one carpel, or a whole bunch per flower. They can be fused into a multi-lobed chamber, or be un-fused and hanging out all on their own.

Catkin

A type of flower cluster. From the old Dutch kattekan, meaning kitten, these inflorescences are said to look like kitten tails (adorable, I know). Alder, Oak, Birch, and Sweetfern are all plants that make catkins early in the spring.

Cone

You probably have a good idea of what this looks like, but here is the technical bit. Cones are a dense cluster of modified leaves containing spores (the start of the reproductive bits of a plant). These are often where the seeds then develop. Can also be called a strobilus (Tidbit: This is the part of hops that beer is made from).

Corolla

All of the petals of the flower. It's customary to look at a flower from the outside parts to the inside. From this perspective, the corolla is the next inner layer in from the calyx (see above).

Corona

A type of Mexican beer. In botany though, this is a term for a petal-like or crown-like structure between the petals and stamens of some flowers. Look closely at Milkweed or Butterflyweed (Asclepius spp.), and you'll see these quite easily (it's the bit that looks like a crown).

Cotyledon

In botanical terminology, this usually means 'seed leaf', though the original word meaning is pretty far from that. From the Greek kotyle for cup or bowl, this refers to the fact that the cotyledon makes up a significant portion of a seeds embryo.

This is the part of the embryo that forms the first leaves a plant makes, the 'seed leaves'.

Culm

A fancy word for the stem of a grass. From the Latin culmus for 'stalk'. Like a corn stalk, not the other kind of stalking.

Dicotyledon (Dicot for short)

These are plants whose seeds consistently produce 2 seed leaves or cotyledons (the first leaves a plant produces). Lettuce, chamomile, peppers, tomatoes, oaks, apples, and huge amount of other flowering plants. This and the term Monocotyledon are references only used for angiosperms, flowering plants. This is because the gymnosperms, while also producing seed leaves, are waaaay more variable with how many they make, so it's not as useful in identification. Different types of pine, for example, can have between 3 and 18 seed leaves. So instead of monocots and dicots, you'd be looking at septuplocots and dodecacots. Yeesh. You first professor. 

Dioecious

From the Latin di for 'two', and the oikia for 'dwelling'. Having the mommy and the daddy parts on two separate plants. Holly bushes, Junipers, Hops, Valerian, Willow, Linden, and a whole bunch of other trees, shrubs, and forbs.

Filament

The wing-man of the anther, the filament supports the pollen bearing part of the male flower parts, and is part of what comprises the stamen.

Forb

A non-grasslike herbacious plant. Think smaller, non persistent plants.  Sunflowers, yarrow, milkweed, daisies, daffodils, dandelions, and so on. If it dies down into the ground at some point during the cycle of a year, it's probably a forb (or a really unhealthy shrub).

Gymnosperm

I plant that does not make flowers, but still produces seeds. Pine trees, Palms, Spruce trees. etc. This comes from the Latin gym for naked, and sperma for seed. this is a bit of a misnomer, since gymnosperm seeds are not entirely naked. Just naked by comparison to angiosperms. The coat put around the seeds is nutritious and protective, but does not have much in the way of allure in the same way as, say, an apple might. Think pine cones. Not the most succulent protection for a seed, but provides just enough nutrients while still being light and mobile.

Imperfect

Aren't we all. In botany, this means that a plant has either all male parts or all female parts, but not both.  These plants are then classified as either dioecious (having the male and female parts on separate plants) or monoecious (having the male and female parts on one plant).

Inflorescence

The entire flowering part of a plant. There are a number of different types of inflorescences, defined by how the individual flowers are arranged on the stem (or to be more exact, the flowering axis). These include spikes, racemes, catkins, heads, and numerous others.

To help narrow down this complexity, the different arrangements of flowers are given specific terms. Click here for Inflorescence types

Keel

Named for the shape of the front of a ship. A keel is the two fused petals that along with the banner and wings make up a pea family flower. If you think about what the front of viking ships looked like, this term makes a lot more sense.

Monocot

These are plants whose seeds consistently produce 1 seed leaf, or cotyledon (the first leaf a plant produces). Grass, onions, lilies, iris, and a handful of other flowering plants. This and the term Dicotyledon are references only used for angiosperms, flowering plants. This is because the gymnosperms, while also producing seed leaves, are waaaay more variable with how many they make, so it's not as useful in identification. Different types of pine, for example, can have between 3 and 18 seed leaves. So instead of monocots and dicots, you'd be looking at septuplocots and dodecacots. Yeesh.

Monoecious

From the Latin monos for 'single' and the oikia for 'dwelling'. Having the mommy and the daddy parts on the same plant, but in separate flowers. As opposed to dioecious. Pines, Spruces, Hazelnuts, Oaks, etc.

Opposite

Referring to how leaves are arranged on a plant stem. This is when the leaves are directly accross from each other on the stem. The mint and milkweed families are examples of plants with opposite leaves.

Palmate

Hold up a leaf. If it slightly resembles the shape of an open hand, it's probably palmate (like the 'palm' of your hand). This term is usually referring to leaf shape and/or venation.  If a leaf has 5-7 veins that radiate out from one point, they are 'palmately veined'. Examples of this are maple and geranium leaves. From there, leaves can either be palmately lobed or palmately divided. 

Perennial

A plant that comes back year after year. As opposed to an annual  or biennial.

Perfect

Having functional male and female parts all in one flower. Tidy, isn't it?

Stigma

This has nothing to do with being ashamed, nor does it have anything to do with stigmata. This is the naughty bit of the pistil, the female part of a flower. This is what absorbs pollen, and

 

 

 This page is by no means a complete list of botanical terms. Feel free to leave a comment below with any terms or botanical quandaries you'd like to have added to the list.