Botanical Glossary


Some of the following glossary of terms has been taken from California
Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations, A Dictionary
of Botanical and Biographical Etymology
, compiled by Michael L.
Charters ( Other terms were taken from


abaxial (abaxially): facing away from the axis of an organ or organism;
"the abaxial surface of a leaf is the underside or side facing away from the
stem;" characterized by an abaxial structure.

abscission: The natural detachment of parts of a plant, typically dead
leaves and ripe fruit.

actinomycetes: any member of a heterogeneous group of generally
anaerobic bacteria noted for a filamentous and branching growth pattern
that results, in most forms, in an extensive colony, or mycelium.

adaxial (adaxially): located on the side nearest to the axis of an organ
or organism; Of or relating to the side or surface facing or nearest to the
axis of an organ, such as the upper surface of a leaf; ventral.

achene: a small, dry, one-seeded, indehiscent fruit (i.e. one that does
not split open), deriving from a one-chambered ovary, typical of the

adventitious: arising or occurring sporadically or in other than the
usual location.

allelopathy (allelopathic): a characteristic of some plants according to
which chemical compounds are produced that inhibit the growth of other
plants in the immediate vicinity.

Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG), an informal international group
of systematic botanists who came together to try to establish a consensus
view of the taxonomy of flowering plants (angiosperms) that would reflect
new knowledge about their relationships based upon phylogenetic studies.

annonaceous: belonging to the plant family Annonaceae.
anthelmintic: acting to expel or destroy parasitic intestinal worms.
antiscorbutic: effective in the prevention or relief of scurvy.
apiculate: ending in an abrupt slender tip which is not stiff.

arcuate: arching or curved like a bow.
bipinnate: twice pinnately compound.

carminative: medication that prevents the formation of gas in the
alimentary tract or eases its passing.

catkin: a spikelike, often pendulous, inflorescence of petalless unisexual
flowers, either staminate or pistillate.

climactertic: a period of life characterized by physiological and psychic
change that marks the end of the reproductive capacity of women and
terminates with the completion of menopause.

climax: a relatively stable ecological stage or community especially of
plants that is achieved through successful adaptation to an environment;
especially, the final stage in ecological succession.

corymbose: a usually flat-topped flower cluster in which the individual
flower stalks grow upward from various points of the main stem to approxi-
mately the same height.

cotyledon: a leaf of the embryo of a seed plant, which upon germination
either remains in the seed or emerges, enlarges, and becomes green.

cultivars: a race or variety of a plant that has been created or selected intentionally and maintained through cultivation.
cyanogenetic: pertaining to the production of cyanide.
cyme: a broad, flat-topped inflorescence in which the central flower is the
first to open (compare corymb).

d.b.h.: diameter, breast height; a standard method of expressing the
diameter of the trunk or bole of a standing tree. Breast height is defined
as 4.5 feet (1.37m) above the forest floor on the uphill side of the tree.

deciduous: falling off or shed seasonally or at a certain stage of develop-
ment in the life cycle.

decumbent: prostrate at the base but ascending at the end.
depuretive: used for or capable of depurating; purifying; purgative.
dessicate: the state of extreme dryness, or the process of extreme drying.
dioecious: having staminate and pistillate flowers on separate plants
(compare monoecious).

diuretic: anything that promotes the formation of urine by the kidney.
drupe (drupceous): a fleshy indehiscent fruit enclosing a nut or hard
stone containing generally a single seed such as a peach or cherry; charact-
eristic of a drupe.

edaphic: of or relating to soil, especially as it affects living organisms;
influenced by the soil rather than by the climate.

emetic: a substance that induces vomiting when administered orally or
by injection.

emollient: making soft or supple; soothing especially to the skin or
mucous membrane.

epicormic: of or pertaining to sprout development; an epicormic sprout
is a shoot that arises from latent or adventitious buds. Also known as a
water sprout, they form on stems and branches, and suckers produced
from the base of trees. In older wood, epicormic shoots can result from
severe defoliation or radical pruning.

fascicle: a small cluster or bundle, a fairly common leaf arrangement.
foliar: of or relating to leaves.

frugivores: an animal that feeds primarily on fruit.
glabrous: smooth, without hairs.
glaucous: covered with a thin, light-colored waxy or powdery bloom.
herbaceous: fleshy-stemmed, not woody.
hermaphroditic: an species in which reproductive organs of both sexes
are present.

hybrid (hybridize): the offspring of two animals or plants of different
breeds, varieties, species, or genera, esp. as produced through human
manipulation; the process of creating a hybrid.

hypanthium: a cup-shaped enlargement of the receptacle, creation by
the fusion of sepals, petals and stamens.

inceptisols: a soil order in USDA soil taxonomy. They form quickly
through alteration of parent material.

inflorescence: the flowering portion of a plant.
infrataxa: a taxon at a rank below that of species ("within the species").
lenticel (lenticellate): a lenticel is an opening that allows gases to be
exchanged between air and the inner tissues of a plant. Characteristic of
a lenticel.

mesic: describes a habitat that is generally moist throughout the growing
season (compare xeric).

mesophytic: adapted to growing under medium or average conditions,
especially relating to water supply.

monoecious: having both male and female flowers on the same plant
(compare dioecious).

mycorrhizal: having a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and the
root of a plant.

nectaries: a glandlike organ, located outside or within a flower, that
secretes nectar.

outbreeding: the breeding of distantly related or unrelated individuals,
often producing a hybrid of superior quality.

overstory: a level of tree growth, often called the canopy, made up of the
very tallest trees that stand over the rest of the plants.

ovoid: an egg-shaped solid.
pedicel: the stalk of a single flower that is part of an inflorescence.
perfect: containing both stamens and pistils.
pericap: the outer wall of mature fruit.
phenotype (phenotypic): the observable physical or biochemical
characteristics of an organism, as determined by both genetic makeup and
environmental influences. Of or pertaining to a spenotype.

phytosociology: the study of the characteristics, classification, relation-
ships, and distribution of plant communities.

pinnate: with separate segments which are arranged feather-like on
either side of a common axis.

pistillate: a female flower that has two or more pistils but no functional

pith: a usually continuous central strand of spongy tissue in the stems of
most vascular plants that probably functions chiefly in storage.

polymorphism (polymorphic): the occurrence of different forms,
stages, or types in individual organisms or in organisms of the same species,
independent of sexual variations; of or pertaining to polymorphism.

pommel: a fleshy indehiscent fruit derived from an inferior, compound
ovary and consisting of a modified floral tube surrounding a core with
several seeds, such as an apple.

preformed: already with definite shape or structure, as with leaves within
a bud.

pyrenes: the stone of certain fruits, such as the cherry.

rachis: the main stalk of a flower cluster or of a compound leaf, also that
part of a fern frond stem that bears the leaflets.

ramet: refers to individual plants in a clump, each portion of which is ident-
ical with the original parent plant.

rhizome: an underground stem capable of producing new stems or
plants at its nodes.

riparian: relating to or living or located on the bank of a natural water-
course (as a river) or sometimes of a lake or a tidewater.

samara: dry fruit with wings that do not open when mature, as in maple

schizocarp: a dry fruit that develops from multiple carpels. When mature
it splits up into mericarps.

senescence: growing old; aging.
spodosol: one of the 12 soil orders in the U.S. Soil Taxonomy. Spodosols
are ashy gray, acidic soils with a strongly leached surface layer.

staminate: describing a male flower that contains one or more stamens
but no functional pistils.

stipule: an appendage at the base of a petiole, usually in pairs.
stratification: the process of pretreating seeds to simulate natural
winter conditions that a seed must endure before germination. Term
occassionally used for seed development in soil under natural conditions.

subglobose: under, slightly, somewhat or almost globe-shaped, spherical.
sympatry (sympatric): growing together with, or having the same range
as; of or pertaining to sympatry.

taxon: any group of plants occupying a particular hierarchical category,
such as genus or species.

taxonomy (taxonomic): the systematic development of taxons; of or
pertaining of taxon development.

tertiary: third in place, order, degree, or rank.
tomentose: wooly, with long, soft, matted hairs.
tuberculate: tubercular; having or affected with tubercles.
ultisol: commonly known as red clay soils, are one of twelve soil orders
in the United States Department of Agriculture soil taxonomy.

umbellate: a secondary umbel in a compound umbel.
understory: the layer of plant growth above the ground level and the
canopy, often characterized by shrubs and small trees (e.g., flowering
dogwood and redbud).

xeric: pertaining to arid or desert conditions, implying a minimal water
supply throughout most of the year (compare mesic).

xerophytic: adapted to dry or arid conditions, places where fresh water is
scarce or where water absorption is difficult due to an excess of dissolved

xylem: the water-conducting tissue of vascular plants.



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