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A No-Nonsense, Illustrated Guide to 49 Botanical Terms

Have you ever been reading a book or online article and come across some plant terminology you didn’t recognize? Sure. That happens to everyone from time to time. And that’s why I created this botanical terms cheat sheet.

No more flipping though plant guides or popping back and forth to Google. This cheat sheet will give you quick, no-nonsense definitions for the most common botanical terms you’re likely to come across, along with pictures.

Common Botanical Terms

Aerial

Referring to the aboveground parts of a plant.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Aerial

 

Alternate

A pattern of leaf attachment with leaves appearing one at a time, alternating back and forth down the stem.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Alternate

 

Annual

A plant that lives one year.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Annual

 

Biennial

A plant that lives 2 years, usually fruiting in the second year.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Biennial

 

Branching Venation

A venation pattern where leaf veins spread outward like a net or web.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Branching Venation

 

Bulb

An underground storage organ formed by a stem and leaf bases.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Bulb

 

Compound Leaf

A single leaf that is broken up into multiple leaflets. 2 common patterns of compound leaf are palmate (hand-like) and pinnate (feather-like).

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Compound Leaf

 

Cotyledon

The first leaf or leaves produced by a seed.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Cotyledon

 

Deciduous

A plant that loses its leaves in the winter.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Deciduous

 

Dicot

Also called dicotyledon. One of the 2 major divisions of flowering plants. Dicots have 2 cotyledons (seed leaves). Mature leaves have branching leaf veins.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Dicot

 

Entire

A leaf-margin pattern where the leaf edges are smooth.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Entire

 

Evergreen

A plant that keeps its leaves in winter.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Evergreen

 

Glabrous

Having no hairs or hair-like projections.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Glabrous

 

Leaf

A plant structure that is attached to a stem, and which performs photosynthesis and respiration functions.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Leaf

 

Leaf Blade

The broad portion of a leaf.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Leaf Blade

 

Leaf Shape

The overall shape of a leaf, of which there are many possibilities. Some of the more common leaf shapes include cordate (heart-shaped), round, lance-shaped (lanceolate), palmate, and needle.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Leaf Shape

 

Lobed

A pattern of leaf margin where the leaf edge has rounded projections or divisions.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Lobed

 

Margins

The edges of a leaf. Common margins include entire, lobed, spiny, toothy, and wavy.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Margins

 

Midrib

The central vein in a leaf.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Midrib

 

Monocot

Also called monocotyledons. One of the 2 major divisions of flowering plants. Monocots have a single cotyledon (seed leaf). Mature leaves have parallel leaf veins.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Monocot

 

Node

A point along a plant’s stem at which one or more leaves or branches can form. Certain plants can also grow roots at nodes.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Node

 

Opposite

A pattern of leaf attachment. Leaves appearing in pairs, one on each side of the stem.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Opposite

 

Palmate

Coming from a central point and spreading out like fingers on a palm. Can refer to leaf shape, leaf venation, or arrangement of leaves or leaflets.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Palmate

 

Parallel Venation

A pattern of leaf venation where the veins run alongside one another, without crossing.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Parallel Venation

 

Pedicel

The short stalk that a single flower grows on when it is one in a cluster of flowers. The pedicel attached to the peduncle.

 

Peduncle

The main stem that supports the pedicels of a group of flowers, or a single flower when there is only one on the stem.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Pedicel

By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Perennial

A plant that lives more than 2 years.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Perennial

 

Petals

The showy, attention-getting parts of a flower.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Petals

 

Petiole

The stalk which connects a leaf to a stem.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Petiole

 

Pinnate

Literally meaning “resembling a feather.” It can refer to leaflet arrangement or a venation pattern.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Pinnate

 

Pistil

The female part of a flower.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Pistil

 

Pith

The soft, spongy material in the center a stem.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Pith

 

Pubescent

Having hairs or hair-like projections.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Pubescent

 

Raceme

An arrangement of flowers along a stem in which the flowers grow singly on short stalks (pedicels) that are arranged equally along the stem. The flowers open in succession from bottom to top.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Raceme

 

Reticulated

(See “Branching Venation.”)

 

Rhizome

An underground, horizontal stem, often confused with a root.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Rhizome

 

Root

Plants structures that exist for support, and for water and mineral absorption. Usually underground.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Roots

 

Rosette

A circle of leaves around a central point at, or very close to, ground level.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Rosette

 

Sepals

Structures behind the petals. They often serve a protective role.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Sepals

 

Sessile       

A leaf that directly connects to a stem, without a petiole.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Sessile

 

Simple Leaf

Each leaf is a complete leaf unto itself. The leaf blade is not divided.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Simple Leaf

 

Spiny

A leaf-margin pattern where the leaf edgdicote has sharp, hard, needlelike projections.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Spiny

 

Stamen

The male part of a flower.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms

 

Stem

The main trunk of a plant. It provides support and transports resources back and forth across the plant.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms - Stem

 

Taproot

A large, central root.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms- Taproot

 

Toothy

A leaf-margin pattern where the leaf edge has small jagged projections, similar to teeth or a saw blade.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms- Toothy

 

Venation

The pattern of the veins in a leaf. The 2 main categories are reticulated (branching) and parallel.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms- Venation

 

Wavy

A leaf margin pattern where the edge of the leaf undulates, as a wave.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms- Wavy

 

Whorl

A pattern of leaf attachment. Leaves appear in groups of 3 or more, around a stem.

What Does Perennial Mean? Botanical Terms- Whorl

 

There it is, friends. Now you’re all set to demystify those plant guides or just sound impressive when talking to friends. Enjoy your cheat sheet.

Are there any botanical terms that you think should be added to this list? Let me know in the comments!

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(This article was originally published on September 24, 2018.)

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This post was written by Scott Sexton

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