Glossary of Botanical Terms

The technical terms of botany are often difficult and obscure, but they represent an indispensable, precise shorthand when describing the physical attributes of plants. Without them, many more words would be needed to ensure a complete and accurate description.

ACHENE A small, dry, one-seeded fruit, without a predictable opening (does not split open spontaneously) and formed from a single carpel. It's usually one of many, like an unshelled Sunflower seed.

ACUMINATE Tapering gradually to a point at the apex.

ACUTE Coming sharply to a point at the apex.

ALTERNATE Arranged singly at different points along a stem or axis.

ANNUAL Completing the cycle from seed to death in one year or season.

APEX The tip.

APPRESSED Pressed flat or close up against something.

ARIL An outer covering or appendage of some seeds.

ASCENDING Rising upward gradual from a prostrate base.

AWN A bristle characteristic of the spikelets in some grasses.

AXIL The angle formed by a stem with a branch, leaf stalk, or flower stalk growing from it.

AXILLARY Growing from an axil.

AXIS The main stem of a plant, or a central line of symmetry, development, or growth.

BERRY A stoneless, pulpy fruit containing one or more embedded seeds (e.g., grape).

BIENNIAL Completing the cycle from seed to death in two years or seasons.

BILABIATE Two-lipped.

BIPINNATE Pinnate, with pinnate leaflets.

BLADE The broad, thin part of a leaf or petal.

BLOOM A powdery, whitish coating on leaves, stems, or fruit.

BRACT A small, sometimes scale-like leaf, usually associated with flower clusters

BUD A protuberance on a stem, from which a flower, leaf, or shoot develops.

BULB A thick, rounded, underground organ consisting of layered, fleshy leaves and membranes.

CALYX The outer part of a flower, usually consisting of green, leafy sepals.

CAPSULE A dry, many-seeded, spontaneously splitting fruit that arises from a compound pistil.

CARPEL The wall of a simple pistil, or part of the wall of a compound pistil.

CATKIN A spikelike flower cluster that bears scaly bracts and petalless, unisexual flowers.

CAULINE Relating to or growing on a stem.

CLASPING Partly or completely surrounding the stem.

CLAW The narrow, curved base of a petal or sepal in some flowers.

COMPOUND Made up of two or more definable parts.

COMPOUND PISTIL A pistil made up of two or more partially or completely united carpels.

CONE A rounded, more or less elongated cluster of fruits or flowers covered with scales or bracts.

CORDATE Heart-shaped, with the point at the apex.

CORM A bulblike but solid, fleshy underground stem base.

COROLLA The petals of a flower, which may be separate or joined in varying degrees.

CORYMB A generally flat-topped flower cluster with pedicels varying in length, the outer flowers opening first.

CREEPER A shoot that grows along the ground, rooting all along its length.

CRENATE Having rounded teeth along the margin.

CULM The hollow stem of grasses and bamboos.

CYME A branding, relatively flat-topped flower cluster whose central or terminal flower opens first, forcing development of further flowers from lateral buds.

DECIDUOUS Falling off each season (as leaves); bearing the deciduous parts (as trees).

DECOMPOUND Having divisions that are also compound.

DECUMBENT Lying on the ground but having an ascending tip.

DECURRENT Descriptive of leaves whose edges run down onto the stem.

DENTATE Sharply toothed, with the teeth pointing straight out from the margin.

DIGITATE Compound, with the elements growing from a single point.

DILATED Expanded, broadened, flaring.

DISK FLOWER One of the tubular flowers or florets in the center of the flower head of a composite flower such as the daisy (see also ray flower ).

DISSECTED Cut into fine segments.

DOUBLE Descriptive of flowers that have more petals than normal.

DOUBLY SERRATE Serrate, with small teeth on the margins of the larger ones.

DRUPE A fleshy fruit containing a single seed in a hard "stone" (e.g., peach).

ENTIRE Having no teeth or indentations.

EVERGREEN Retaining green foliage for more than one season.

FILIFORM Threadlike.

FLORET A small flower in a flower head or other cluster

FROND The leaf of a fern.

FRUIT The seed-bearing part of a plant.

FUNNELFORM Descriptive of a flower whose corolla tube widens gradually and uniformly from the base.

GLABROUS Not hairy.

GLANDULAR Having glands, which secrete sticky substances.

GLAUCOUS Covered with a waxy whitish or bluish covering that easily rubs off.

GLOBOSE Approximately spherical.

GRAIN Achene-like fruit, but with the seed not loose.

HEAD A flower spike or raceme shortened to form a compact, flattened to globose cluster.

HERB A plant that has no woody tissue and that dies down to the ground at the end of a growing season.

HERBACEOUS Herblike; not woody.

HESPERIDIUM A partitioned berry with a leathery, removable rind (e.g., orange).

HOARY Closely covered with short and fine whitish hairs.

INCISED Sharply and irregularly slashed or cut.

INDIGENOUS Native; naturally occurring.

INFLORESCENCE Technically, the way flowers are arranged in a cluster; generally, a flower cluster.

INTERNODE The part of a stem or branch between nodes.

INTERRUPTED Descriptive of a structure, the pattern or sequence of whose elements is broken by the insertion of other elements.

LANCEOLATE Widening to a maximum near the base and tapering to a point at the apex.

LATERAL Occurring on or growing from the side (compare terminal).

LEAF A vegetative organ which, when complete, consists of a flat blade, a petiole or stalk, and (usually two) small leafy appendages at the base of the petiole.

LEAFLET A division or part of a compound leaf.

LEGUME A one-celled fruit that splits along two sutures or seams (e.g., pea).

LINEAR Long and narrow, with nearly parallel sides.

LIP One of the parts in a corolla or calyx divided into two unequal parts.

LOBE A part or division, especially when rounded, of an organ.

LYRATE Lobed to resemble a lyre, with the terminal lobe largest and the lower lobes smaller.

NODE The place where a leaf grows or can grow.

NUT A hard-walled, one-seeded fruit that does not split spontaneously (e.g., hazelnut).

OB- A prefix that indicates reversal of the usual orientation (e.g., oblanceolate means widening gradually from the pointed base to a maximum near the apex, which may be more or less rounded).

OBLONG Longer that wide and rounded at the ends, with nearly parallel sides for much of the length.

OBTUSE Rounded or blunt.

OPPOSITE Growing two to a node on opposite sides.

ORBICULAR Circular or approximately round.

OVAL Broadly elliptical.

OVATE Shaped like an egg, with the narrow end at the apex.

OVOID Ovate.

PALMATE Compounded, divided, lobed, or ribbed so that the divisions or ribs spread out like fingers from a single point.

PANICLE A raceme compounded by branching.

PAPILIONACEOUS Descriptive of a flower whose petals are arranged to resemble a butterfly.

PEDICEL The stalk of one flower in a cluster.

PEDUNCLE The stalk of a flower cluster or of a solitary flower.

PELTATE Having a stalk attached at or near the middle.

PERENNIAL Living through three or more seasons.

PERSISTENT Remaining on the plant; not falling off readily.

PETAL One unit of the corolla.

PETIOLE The stalk of a leaf.

PINNA (plural: PINNAE) A leaflet or primary division of a pinnately compound leaf.

PINNATE Having leaflets arranged in opposite rows along the petiole.

PINNATIFID Split about halfway to the midrib, such that the divisions are pinnately arranged.

PINNULE One of the divisions of a pinnate leaflet in a bipinnate leaf.

PISTIL The female reproduction organ of a flower.

POD Generally, a dry fruit that splits open.

POME A fleshy fruit with a central seed-bearing core (e.g., apple).

PROCUMBENT Growing along the ground without rooting, and having ascending tips.

PROSTRATE Growing flat along the ground.

PUBESCENT Covered with down or soft, short hairs.

PUNCTATE Having translucent spots or depressions.

RACEME An elongated flower cluster in which flowers grow on pedicels along part of the length of the peduncle.

RADICAL Growing from or pertaining to a root; growing from a non-aerial stem.

RAY FLOWER One of the flattened, petal-like outer flowers or florets ringing the disk in the heads of some composite flowers, such as the daisy (see also disk flower).

RECEPTACLE The end of the stem or stalk on which the flower parts are borne.

RHIZOME An underground portion of a stem, producing shoots on top and roots beneath; different from a root in that it has buds, nodes, and scaly leaves; rootstock.


ROSETTE A circular of spiral arrangement of leaves growing from a center or crown.

RUNNER A thin stem or shoot growing along the ground and producing roots at the nodes.

SAGITTATE Resembling an arrowhead in shape.

SAMARA A winged fruit that does not split spontaneously (e.g., maple).

SCALE A small, usually dry leaf that is closely pressed against another organ.

SCAPE A leafless flower stalk that grows from the ground.

SEPAL A leaf or division of the calyx.

SERRATE Saw-toothed, with the teeth pointing toward the apex.

SESSILE Having no stalk.

SHEATH An expanded or tubular structure that partially encloses a stem or other organ.

SHOOT A stem or branch and its leaves, especially when young.

SHRUB A woody plant that produces no trunk but branches from the base.

SIMPLE Not compounded (leaves) or branched (stems, flower clusters).

SMOOTH Not rough (compare glabrous).

SOLITARY Not growing as part of a cluster or group.

SPADIX A fleshy spike.

SPATHE One or two bracts enclosing a flower cluster (especially a spadix).

SPATULATE Shaped like a spoon, with a narrow end at the base.

SPIKE A flower cluster in which sessile flowers grow along part of the length of the peduncle.

SPIKELET A small spike, particularly one of the few flowered spikes making up the inflorescence of a grass.

SPORE A one-celled reproductive body produced by relatively primitive plants.

SPUR A slender, hollow projection from a petal or sepal.

STAMEN The male or pollen-bearing organ of a flower.

STROBILE A cone or conelike structure.

STYLE The slender, elongated part of a pistil.

SUTURE A natural seam or groove along which a fruit splits.

TAPROOT A single main root that grows vertically into the ground.

TERMINAL Occurring at or growing from the end opposite the base (compare lateral).

TERNATE Occurring in threes or divided into three parts.

TRIFOLIATE Having three leaves.

TRIFOLIOLATE Having three leaflets

TRIPINNATE Descriptive of a pinnate leaf having pinnate leaflets with pinnate pinnules.

TUBER A thick, fleshy part, usually of a rootstock.

UMBEL A more or less flat-topped flower cluster in which the pedicels (rays) arise from a common point. In compound umbels, each primary ray terminates in a secondary umbel.

VALVE One of the parts into which a capsule divides when splitting.

WHORL A circular arrangement of three or more leaves, flowers, or other parts at the same point or level.