Common Plant Terms (Learning How To Speak Plant)

Becoming a plant enthusiast is a wonderfully rewarding pursuit. Seeing the fruits of your labor flourish can not only prove very satisfying, but it can give you that sense of accomplishment.

However, sometimes learning about plants can be overwhelming. Not only that, reading and hearing plant terminology can be confusing. That’s why I thought it might be a good idea to list a few of the more common plant terms.

Now, not only will you be able to impress your friends with your new jargon, there’ll be no more scratching your head when talking to your plant enthusiast neighbor!

I’ve split this glossary into sections, which will hopefully make it more useful.

Common Plant Terms


Plant Parts:

Anther – the part of the stamen that produces the pollen. It usually sits at the top of a stalk or filament.

Bark – the protective outer layer on the stems and roots of woody trees and shrubs. An oak tree is an example of a plant that has bark.

Bud – the little swelling you see on a plant that will eventually grow into a leaf or flower or shoot.

Bulb – a dormant bud that stores nutrients that, when planted underground, sends down roots and produces stems, leaves and flowers. Tulips, daffodils, and onions are examples of plants that are grown from a bulb.

Chlorophyll – the green pigment in leaves.

Flowers – the reproductive part of most plants. They typically form at the end of a stalk, are usually colorful, and last a short amount of time.

Foliage – the term to describe plant leaves collectively.

Fruit – is the covering for the plant’s seeds. Fruit can be hard, like a nut, or it can be soft and fleshy, like a pear.

Leaves – an outgrowth from a plant stem. They are usually flattened in shape, blade-like, and are a variation of green in color. Most of the plant’s food is made from the leaves through photosynthesis.

Pistil – the female reproductive part of a flower.

Root ball – the roots plus the soil clinging to them.

Roots – the underground part of the plant that provides nutrients and water to the plant from the surrounding soil. Roots also help to anchor the plant in the soil so the plant doesn’t tip over.

Runner – a slender stem that grows from the base of some plants and that ends in a new offset plant. The new plant can be severed from the parent to mature on its own. A spider plant is an example of a plant that utilizes runners.

Seed – a new plant enclosed in a protective outer coating.

Spore – the reproductive cell of ferns, fungi and mosses.

Stamen – the male reproductive organ of a flower. It is pollen-producing and consists of the filament and the anther.

Stem – the main part of the plant that grows above ground. Buds, leaves, and shoots develop from the stem. The stem also helps provide support for the plant.

Sucker – a plant growth that develops directly from the roots or lower main stem of the plant. It does not originate from a seed. Suckers can be vigorous and can be undesirable because they can sap the plant’s energy, or can be invasive.

Tendril – a specialized, clinging, threadlike growth found on many climbing plants and vines, which allows the plant to attach itself to a support, trellis, or another plant. Peas are an example of plants that use tendrils.

Types of Plants:

Adaptive – plants that are not native and not invasive to an area, but are able to thrive in the local climate and soil conditions.

Aggressive – a plant native to an area that spreads quicker than preferred and into unwanted areas.

Annual – a plant whose life cycle lasts one year, going from seed to bloom to seed. Examples of annual plants are petunias and peas.

Aquatic plants – plants that have adapted to live wholly or partly in water. Water lettuce is an example of an aquatic plant.

Bedding Plant – a plant, mostly annuals, grown in a nursery and suitable for growing in a bed. These are usually grown to produce a period of colorful flowers.

Biennial – a plant whose life cycle lasts 2 years, with the first year dedicated to growing leaves, stems, and roots, and the second to producing flowers and going to seed. A black-eyed Susan is an example of a biennial.

Conifer – a tree that bears cones and needle-like leaves. They are usually evergreens. A pine tree is an example of a conifer.

Deciduous – a tree or shrub that sheds its leaves annually at the end of the growing season. A maple tree is an example of a deciduous plant.

Epiphyte – a plant that grows on another plant, but is not considered a parasite. They get most of their nourishment from the air and rainfall. An orchid is an example of an epiphytic plant.

Evergreen – a plant that retains its green leaves all year long. The blue spruce is an example of an evergreen.

Ground Cover – plants that are low growing and spread to cover large areas. Creeping phlox is an example of a ground cover plant.

Herb – plants used for culinary or medicinal purposes. Basal, sage, and rosemary are all examples of common herbs.

Hybrid – a plant that is the result of combining two different plant species or varieties. The pollen of one plant is used to pollinate a completely different plant. Most varieties of sweet corn are hybrids.

Invasive – a plant that is not native to an area, but has established itself within the existing native plant communities and poses a threat to the ecological integrity of that community. The kudzu vine is an example of invasive species.

Native Plant – a plant that occurs and grows naturally in a specific area or region. For example, the white trillium is native to Ontario, Canada.

Non-native plant – a plant that is not historically found in its current area. These plants are usually introduced into new areas by human activity or livestock.

Noxious weeds – non-native plants that are invasive and threaten the local ecosystems and agricultural crops. The term “noxious weed” can include invasive grasses, trees, shrubs, flowering or aquatic plants.

Perennial – a non-woody plant that grows and lives for more than two years, usually flowering annually. A peony is an example of a perennial.

Seedling – a young plant that has been raised from seed.

Shrub – a woody plant that is smaller than a tree, with a number of stems arising close to the ground. A rose bush is an example of a shrub.

Tender plants – these plants are unable to endure freezing temperatures or frost.

Terrestrial plants – plants that live and grow on land and not in water. A sunflower is a terrestrial plant.

Weed – a wild plant growing where it is not wanted, that crowds out cultivated or desired plants. Most people think of dandelions when they think of weeds, but even plants such as lupin can be considered a weed if it’s growing where it shouldn’t!

Plant States & Conditions:

Dormancy – an annual cycle where the plant’s growth slows and the plant rests, usually occurring in winter.

Rootbound – a condition where the plant has outgrown its pot and the roots have become entangled and matted together, stunting the plant’s growth.

Rot – refers to several plant diseases, characterized by the plant’s decomposition and putrefaction. The decay can affect any part of the plant and may present in different ways, such as hard, dry, spongy, or slimy. If you suspect rot, it’s important to treat the plant immediately if you hope to save the plant.

Winterkill – refers to a plant, or part of the plant, dying due to harsh winter conditions.

Where Plants Hang Out:

Arboretum – a specifically designed garden where many different trees or shrubs are grown for study or display.

Greenhouse – an enclosed structure, made from transparent materials and used to grow and protect tender plants.

Hydroponics – a method of growing plants without the use of soil.

Plant bed – an area where plants are grown from seed. It can be specific in nature, such as a flower bed, gardening bed, or nursery bed.

Terrarium – an enclosed glass case for growing plants that prefer humidity.

Soils & Minerals:

Acidic soil – refers to soil with a pH below 7.

Alkaline soil – refers to soil with a pH higher than 7.

Compost – a dark, rich black earth produced from decomposed organic matter, such as food scraps and yard waste, that is used to fertilize and condition the soil.

Erosion – the washing and wearing away of soil by wind, water, or other natural elements.

Loam – is a rich soil made from a mix of sand, clay, and organic material.

Mulch – a layer of loose material placed over the soil to control weeds, insulate the soil from temperature extremes, and lock in moisture. Mulch can either be considered organic, comprised of materials that decompose, such as wood chips, bark, evergreen needles, leaves, etc., or inorganic, comprised of materials that don’t break down, such as rock, stone, pulverized rubber, or landscape fabric.

Micronutrients – mineral elements needed by some plants in very small quantities.

Organic material – decomposed matter which originated as a living organism and is usually used in mulches and composts.

Perlite – a volcanic glass that when heated expands to form light granules. Perlite is added to container potting mixes to promote moisture retention while allowing good drainage.

Peat Moss – is the partially decomposed remains of various mosses. This material is used as a soil additive, particularly for acid-loving plants.

pH – a measure of the amount of lime (calcium) contained in your soil. Soil pH can be tested with an inexpensive test kit.

Potting Soil – a mixture of soil intended for plants grown in container gardens or pots.

Sphagnum Moss – a bog moss that is collected and composted. Most peat moss is composed primarily of sphagnum moss, but sphagnum moss starts with a neutral pH.

Topsoil – the uppermost layer of native soil. The term has also been used to indicate good quality soil sold at nurseries and garden centers.

Vermiculite – a water-absorbent material usually resulting from an expansion of the granules of mica at high temperatures. It can be added to container potting mixes to help with water retention and aeration.

Plant Care:

Aeration – puncturing the soil to allow better water and air circulation.

Cultivate – the process of preparing the soil surface for planting.

Cuttings – a way to propagate a plant using sections of stems, roots, or leaves.

Deadheading – removing spent flowers by pinching or snipping off, to keep the plants well-groomed and to encourage re-blooming.

Fertilizer – a natural or chemical substance either applied to a plant or added to soil that provides nutrients to the plant to help its growth.

Force – to encourage a plant to come into stem, leaf, and flower production out of season.

Furrow – a shallow trench in which seeds or seedlings are planted.

Germination – the sprouting of a seed or spore, usually after a period of dormancy, into a young plant.

Grafting – inserting a young shoot or twig of one plant into the stem or stock of another plant.

Herbicide – a chemical used to kill unwanted plants.

Insecticide – a chemical used to kill insects that are considered pests.

Pebble tray – a plate or tray layered with pebbles that a plant pot sits on top of. The tray is then filled with about an inch of water, which evaporates creating humidity for the plant.

Propagation – the process of growing new plants.

Pruning – the cutting and trimming of plants to remove damaged areas and to manage the plant’s growth.

Rooting hormone – a combination of plant growth hormones applied to plant cuttings to help stimulate growth. It can come in either liquid, gel, or powder form.

Sow – the act of planting or scattering seeds.

Thinning – removing excess seedlings so that the remaining plants have sufficient room to grow and mature.

Transplanting – the act of moving a plant from one spot, whether in the ground or in a container, to another location.

Other Planty Terms:

Botanical name – the scientific name of a plant, usually composed of two words, the genus, and the species.

Drip Line – the imaginary line below the tips of the outermost branches of a tree or plant.

Growing Season – the period of days during the year where local weather conditions allow for plants and crops to grow.

Harden Off – the process of gradually acclimatizing plants grown indoors to different temperatures or to the outdoors.

Hardiness – a plant’s ability to survive harsh conditions without artificial protection.

Naturalize – to plant randomly, creating the effect that your garden looks informal and wild.

Organic gardening – refers to growing plants, vegetables, and fruits in the best, natural way, using materials derived from living things.

Pest – any insect or animal considered detrimental to your plant’s health and well-being.

Photosynthesis – the process by which a plant turns sunlight into energy for growth.

Pollination – the transfer of pollen between plants, which enables the production of flowers and fruits.

Variegated – leaves that are marked with multiple colors, or patches of color different from the color of the main leaf. Hostas are examples of plants that can have variegated leaves.

Any questions or thoughts? Please leave a comment below. If you enjoyed this post on common plant terms, feel free to share it.


Hi! My name is Angela Carr. I started this site to share my love for plants and gardening. My aim is to provide my readers with easy tips and tricks on plant care, fun facts, and encouragement for the new plant owner or anyone questioning the colour of their thumb!

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