A Garden Glossary
This glossary will provide gardening enthusiasts a foundation for the vocabulary of horticultural terms useful to more fully enjoy the plant kingdom and gardening arts. Other texts will have a more complete glossary for less frequently used terms.
Acid. Having an excess of free hydrogen ions. Acid solutions taste "sour" and turn litmus paper red. See pH and Alkaline.
Adventitious. Arising by chance, or unpredictably, out of the usual place.
Air-layering. A method of vegetative propagation in which a damp rooting medium is placed around a section of plant stem from which the bark has been removed. The clump of rooting medium is wrapped and sealed under a layer of aluminum foil or plastic film. After several weeks, roots will form and the new plant can be cut from the mother and planted after the wrapping is removed. The term, Marcottage, is sometimes used with the same meaning. (see Ground-layering)
Alkaline. Having an excess of free hydroxyl ions, and so a deficiency of free hydrogen ions. Lacking any sour taste, alkaline or basic soils are often called "sweet." See pH and Acid.
Alternate. Any arrangement of leaves not opposite or whorled; placed singly at different heights on the stem.
Annual. A plant whose life cycle is a single growing season.
Anther. The enlarged tip of the stamen in which pollen is developed.
B & B. Balled and burlapped. One method of compactly holding plant roots and soil while transporting between growing sites.
Basic. See Alkaline.
Berry. Pulpy fruit that does not split open.
Biennial. A plant that completes its life cycle in two years and then dies; normally flowering the second year.
Blade. The expanded or flattened part of the leaf.
Bloom. The thin waxy coating, easily rubbed off, on some fruits and on some palm foliage. See Cuticle.
Bole. A strong unbraced stem; the trunk.
Broad-leaved Evergreen. A non-coniferous evergreen.
Bud. An undeveloped leaf or flower.
Bulb. A short underground stem surrounded by fleshy leaves.
Bulbil. A small bulb which can be detached from the larger bulb on which it grows and form an independent plant.
Calcareous. Soils containing calcium.
Calyx. The sepals of a flower.
Cambium. The outermost ring of cells around the sapwood of a plant stem or tree trunk. This remarkable sheath of cells is only one cell thick and extends from the roots to the topmost twig. This dividing layer of cells builds new conducting tissues: the wood or xylem, which conducts water and minerals upward from the roots, and the phloem, which transports food manufactured from the leaves. In its annual growth, the cambium is responsible for the increase in trunk and stem girth.
Candle. On a conifer, the new budlike shoot that sends out young needles.
Cane. A long, often supple, woody stem.
Catkin. A long flower cluster comprised of closely spaced, generally small flowers.
Chelate (key-late). An organic compound which combines with iron or other heavy metals to release them slowly in the soil for plant use and yet prevents their being tied up in unavailable form by other soil chemicals.
Chlorosis (klor-o-sis). Loss of the green color from leaves, leaving them yellowish-green. It may be due to lack of needed nutrient elements, to inability to absorb those elements because of excess water or root disease, or to the direct action of insects or fungi on the leaves.
Clay. Mineral matter of exceedingly fine particle size in the soil,often holding water tenaciously.
Clone. A group of plants, increased vegetatively, from a single bud; a horticultural variety. Vegetatively produced progeny of a single plant.
Cold frame. A boxlike structure with a transparent cover, set outside, in which seedlings, cuttings, and plants are grown to extend the growing season.
Colloid (koll-oid). Composed of microscopic-sized particles, that by reason of their great surface area, hold water and mineral elements with very great force.
Compost. Partially decomposed plant residues used to enrich soil.
Conifer. Cone-bearing plant, usually evergreen.
Corm. A fleshy, bulb-like underground structure.
Corolla. The part of the flower made up of petals.
Creeper. A trailing shoot that takes root at the nodes.
Crown. The head of foliage.
Culm. The flowering stems of grasses and sedges.
Cultivar. A plant produced by selective hybridization.
Cultivate. To work the soil in order to break it up and/or remove weeds.
Cuticle. A waxy coating developed by the epidermis of some plants which reduces somewhat the loss of water through the epidermis. Unlike bloom, it cannot be rubbed off.
Cutting. A piece of plant without roots.
Deadhead. To remove spent blossoms.
Deciduous (dee-sid-you-us). Trees or shrubs that shed all their leaves each year.
Dioecious (dye-e-shus). Male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers on different plants; a term properly applied to plants, not to flowers. See Monoecious.
Division. Propagation by cutting, tearing, or breaking a plant into two or more independent units.
Drupe. A fruit with a fleshy covering over a hard-coated seed.
Dwarf. A shrub whose mature height is under three feet.
Endemic. Restricted to a relatively small area or region.
Ephemeral. Lasting only a short time.
Epidermis. The skin or outermost layer of cells of a plant.
Epiphytic. A plant growing upon another plant, but not as a parasite.
Espalier. To train a plant to grow flat against a structure, usually in a decorative pattern.
Everlasting. Flowers for dried arrangements.
Exfoliate. To self-peel, as bark. (River Birch)
Family. A group of plants sharing common and distinctive features; biological category above genus and below order.
Fertile. A flower, or flower part, bearing functional reproductive structures. In soil, being rich in nutrients and humus.
Flatwoods. Low, level land covered by forest, often under water during some of the rainy season.
Flora. A collective term to refer to all of the plants of an area; a book dealing with the plants of an area.
Flower. The characteristic reproductive structure of angiosperms; typically with 4 sets of parts (calyx, corolla, stamens, and pistil). Incomplete flowers lack one or more sets of parts.
Foliage. Leaves taken collectively.
Foundation Planting. Plants placed near and around a building to provide a visual transition from the horizontal to the vertical. Also provides thermal insulation and buffering.
Friable. Soil ready for cultivation or easily cultivated.
Freeze. A condition where plant temperatures below 32 F. result from the inflow of masses of air below this temperature, so that the air is colder than plants or ground.
Frond. The leaf of a fern. Also the leafy branch of a palm.
Frost. A condition where plant temperatures below 32 F. result from radiation of heat from plants and ground, occurring only on still, cloudless nights. Air is coldest next to the ground and may be several degrees above 32 at a few feet above ground.
Fungicide. A chemical which kill fungi.
Fungus. A leafless plant that may parasitize plants. Mildews, rusts, and molds are fungi.
Genus (jean-us). A closely related group of species; the first and always capitalized word in the scientific name of a plant. The plural is genera (jen-er-a).
Germinate. To develop a young plant from seed.
Glabrous (glay-brus). Smooth, without hairs or scaly outgrowth.
Glaucous (glaw-cuss). Covered with a bloom or a whitish substance that rubs off.
Graft. To insert a section of one plant, usually a shoot, into another so that they grow together into a single plant.
Ground Cover. A plant, other than a grass, with a low-growing, spreading habit, grown specifically to cover the ground.
Ground-layering. Pining or weighing a lower branch, from which a ring of outer bark has been removed, under the soil. Roots will grow in a few months and a separate plant can be removed. This can occur naturally with Azaleas. (see Air-layering)
Habit. The general appearance of a plant and its form of growth.
Habitat. The particular location in which a plant grows, as along a stream bank, a prairie, or woodland.
Hammock. A slightly elevated island of hardwoods in an area of pines or marsh grass.
Harden Off. To mature sufficiently to withstand winter cold.
Hardpan. Soil so clogged with clay or other particles to prevent proper drainage.
Hardwood Cutting. Cutting taken from a mature woody stem for the purposes of propagation.
Hardy. Able to withstand winter temperatures.
Herb. A plant with no persistent woody stem above ground.
Herbaceous. Plant parts with little or no hard, woody tissue.
Hermaphrodite. A plant with both male and female flowers. These are sometimes called perfect flowers.
Holdfast. The rootlike part of a clinging vine that adheres to a support. (Virginia Creeper)
Humidity. Water vapor in the air. Of interest is the relative humidity expressed as a percentage of what would saturate the air at a given temperature.
Humus (hyu-mus). Decomposed remnants of organic matter in the soil, which undergoes further decomposition only very slowly and so exercises a rather lasting effect on soil properties.
Hybrid. A plant produced by crossing two unlike parents.
Indigenous. Native to a given area; not introduced.
Inflorescence. The flowering section of a plant.
Insecticidal Soap. Soap formulated to kill, repel, or inhibit the growth of insect pests.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM). A philosophy of pest management based on the idea of escalating methods of pest control, beginning with the least damaging; incorporates the selection of resistant varieties, the use of biological and non-toxic controls, and the application of pesticides and herbicides only when absolutely necessary.
Invasive. Spreading and colonizing in an undesirable way.
Knees. A rounded or spurlike process rising from the roots of certain swamp-growing trees, as in cypress.
Leaflet. One part of a compound leaf.
Leaf Mold. A form of humus composed of decayed leaves, often used to enrich soil.
Legume. A simple, dry, fruit splitting along two sutures; characteristic of the bean family.
Lime. Calcium carbonate, often added to soil to reduce acidity.
Loam. A very desirable soil for most plants; fertile and well-drained; usually containing a significant amount of decomposed organic matter.
Medium. Material in which seeds, cuttings, or plants are placed.
Microclimate. Climate specific to a small area; may vary significantly from that of surrounding area.
Minor Element. A mineral element needed by plants only in very small amounts, although no less essential than those needed in large amounts. Copper, zinc, iron, manganese, boron, molybdenum, chlorine, and perhaps sodium for some plants, are in this group.
Mite. An eight-legged organism that sucks plant juices from leaves and stems.
Moneocious (mon-ee-shus). Having separate male and female flowers on the same plant. See Dioecious.
Mulch. A porous material covering the ground, usually of organic content, such as leaves, straw, bark, or wood shavings; used to maintain soil temperature and moisture and to discourage the growth of weeds.
Named Cultivar. A cultivar that has been given a recognized horticultural name.
Naturalize. To "escape" from a garden setting and become established in the wild.
Nectary. The part of the flower which secretes nectar, generally at the base of the petals.
Nematodes. Microscopic worm-like creatures, mostly living in the soil. Of the nearly half-million species, most are helpful.
Neutral. Of soil or water, being neither acid or alkaline in reaction.
Node. The point on a stem at which one or more leaves grow.
Nutrient. A material supplying a chemical element needed by plants.
Organic. As used to describe fertilizers and mulches, this means material derived from the bodies of plants or animals.
Ovary. The lowest or innermost part of the flower, which ultimately becomes the seed vessel.
Palmate. With leaf lobes, leaflets, or veins radiating from a common origin.
Parasite. A plant that gets its food from another living plant.
Peat Moss. Partially decomposed sphagnum moss, often added to soil to increase moisture retention. Because of its age, it is considered by some to be a non-renewable resource.
Pendulous. drooping, hanging downward.
Perennial. A plant of three or more years duration.
Perfect. A flower having stamens and pistils, the male and female parts, therefore bisexual.
Petal. One of the separate parts of the corolla or blossom. Generally the colored part of the flower.
Petiole (pet-ee-ol). The stalk of a leaf.
pH. A number expressing the degree of acidity or alkalinity of soil or solution. The neutral point is 7.0. Lower numbers indicate acidity; higher numbers indicate alkalinity. Each whole number represents ten times the concentration of the next nearest number.
Pioneer. A plant that flourishes in disturbed soil, as after fire, construction, or farming. It performs an important role of creating biomass by capturing sunlight and mining soil minerals; thereby setting the stage for subsequent development of larger and longer lived plants. (see Weed)
Pith. The soft, spongy central cylinder of a stem.
Pistil. The female organ of the flower, consisting of ovary, style, and stigma.
Pollen. The yellow dust contained in the anthers which must be deposited on stigmas for fertilization to take place. Pollen grains germinate on stigmas, producing tubes which carry male sex cells (sperms) down to unite with egg cells (female) in the ovule.
Pollination. The actual transfer of pollen grains from the anther of the stamen to the stigma of the pistil.
Pome. A fleshy fruit.
Procumbent. Trailing along the ground; prostrate.
Propagate. To grow new plants from old under controlled conditions.
Prune. To cut back, for the purpose of shaping a plant, encouraging new growth, or controlling size.
Raceme. A flower cluster on which individual flowers bloom on small stalks from a larger, central stalk. (Lantana)
Ramble. To grow freely, often over another plant or structure.
Ray. A single petal of the flower in the Composite family.
Reflexed. Abruptly recurved or bent downward or backward.
Rhizome (rye-zome). An underground stem, distinguished from a true root by the presence of nodes, buds, or scale-like leaves.
Root Pruning. To remove a portion of a plant's roots to keep top growth in check, to prepare for transplanting, or to keep nearby tree roots out of a garden.
Rootstock. The root of a grafted plant.
Rosette. An arrangement of leaves radiating from a crown or center and usually at or close to the earth.
Runner. A prostrate shoot.
Salt Drift. Air laden with salt water vapor, coming ashore from ocean or gulf.
Saprophyte. A plant that feeds on dead organic material.
Scale. An insect which, in its usual adult form, resembles a tiny bump. the insect sucks juice from plant tissues.
Scape. A flower stem, usually leafless.
Scarify. To scratch or cut into the hard coat of a seed to enable it to more quickly take up moisture and germinate.
Self-pollinate. A plant's ability to fertilize its pistils with its own pollen.
Sepals. The outermost, sterile, leaf-like parts of a complete flower.
Spathe. A large bract enclosing or surrounding a flower.
Species. A kind of plant distinct from other kinds and reproducing its characteristics when self-pollinated. The second, uncapitalized word in the scientific name of a plant.
Specimen. A plant deliberately set by itself to emphasize its ornamental properties.
Spore. A unicellular, asexual reproductive unit of ferns and lower plants.
Sport. An unusual plant variation that appears unexpectedly on part of, or from an existing plant.
Spreading. Having a horizontally branching habit.
Stamen. The male organ in the flower, consisting of anther (containing pollen) and filament.
Stigma. The tip of the pistil which receives pollen.
Stolon. A horizontal stem, at or below ground surface, that gives rise to a new plant at the tip.
Stomata. Openings through the epidermal layer of leaves which allow internal air cavities to communicate with outside air. These are the openings through which plants breath in carbon dioxide and breath out oxygen.
Stratify. To help seeds overcome dormancy by cleaning and drying them, then maintaining them for a period of time under cool and moist conditions.
Style. The elongated, sterile portion of the pistil between the stigma and the ovary.
Succulent. Juicy; used for plants characterized by the water-conserving and storing capacity of their stems, branches, and leaves.
Sucker. A shoot growing from the root or base of a woody plant.
Tap Root. A strong, vertical-growing, central root.
Taxonomy. The study of plant classification and relationships.
Tendril. A slender twining appendage enabling plants to climb.
Terminal. At the tip.
Terrestrial. Earth-dwelling; growing in the ground as opposed to aerial or aquatic.
Topiary. The art of trimming or training plants into decorative three-dimensional shapes.
Trifoliate. Having three leaves or leaflets.
Tuber. Fleshy, swollen rhizome.
Tufted. Growing in dense clumps.
Ubiquitous. Found everywhere; growing in many habitats.
Understory Plant. A plant whose natural habitat is the forest floor.
USDA Hardiness Zones. Planting zones established by the United States Department of Agriculture, defined by a number of factors, including minimum winter temperatures.
Variegated. Irregularly colored in patches or stripes.
Variety. A plant differing in minor characters from the type species.
Vegetative. The portions of a plant other than the flowers and fruits.
Viable. Alive; said of seeds capable of germinating.
Weed. A plant out of place. A misunderstood plant. A plant whose name and usefulness is not yet known. (see Pioneer)
Weeping. Having long, drooping branches.
Winter Kill. The dying back of a plant due to harsh winters.
Woody. Forming stems that mature to wood.
Xeriscape (zer-e-scape). Landscape practices that emphasize water conservation through logical means: soil analysis, appropriate planning and design, efficient irrigation, practical turf areas, careful plant selection, mulching, and appropriate maintenance.
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