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Horticultural Terminology - Definitions  

Perennial - Any plant that lives year after year, storing up energy in its roots during its dormant period, typically winter, and then renewing itself in the spring using that stored energy. Trees and shrubs have such life cycles, but the distinction “perennial” generally refers to herbaceous (non-woody) perennials (flowers and grasses). Most perennials die back to the ground during their dormancy, but there are some such as Dianthus and Ice Plant that will remain evergreen and provide winter interest.

Annual - Entire life cycle lasts only one growing season. Because they rely on a short life cycle to reproduce, annuals usually produce prolific, showy displays of blooms throughout one season. Geraniums and Pansies are both examples of annuals.

Biennial - Grows foliage during the first year, blooms during the second, then dies. Biennials are often mistaken for perennials, since they drop seed during the second year to create new plants. Most Foxgloves, Parsely, and Hollyhocks are examples of biennials.

Botanical name - The Latin name given to identify one specific plant by genus and species. Every plant has a unique botanical name. Botanical names are in Latin, a dead language, so that the same name can be used universally for identification without requiring translation. Botanical names are the single most reliable way to correctly identify plants by name.

Genus - A family of plants marked by similar characteristics. For instance, the genus 'Ilex' refers to all plants in the Holly family. A genus is divided into subgroups called species. The plural of genus is genera. Example: 'Carissa' Holly = Ilex cornuta 'Carissa' (Ilex being the genus - cornuta being the species)

Species - A particular subgroup of a genus whose members share certain specific traits. Species names are usually descriptive of the habitat, origin, physical traits or even the person who discovered the species. The species 'cornuta' in the example above in latin means China, from China.

Common name - Although not entirely reliable, common names are more widely used by gardeners. This is why we use the common names of plants more often than not on this site. In our plant listings we provide both common and latin names. If you want to positively identify a particular plant the latin name is the most reliable. Sometimes a plant can be known by several common names and this can become confusing.

Variety - A naturally occurring subgroup of one species, different enough from the original species to require a different name. Varieties can reproduce naturally and remain true to form, without any assistance from man. For instance, Ilex cornuta was produced in nature, but differs from the newer form in the species known as 'Carissa'. Carissa Holly is not the only Ilex cornuta, there are many varieties of Ilex cornuta. 'Carissa' is the variety name.

Cultivar - Short for “cultivated variety”, a cultivar is a plant selected by man from a species for specific traits. The cultivar Ilex cornuta 'Carissa' (Carissa Holly) was selcted for its dense growth habit and shiny foliage. Cultivars are not able to reproduce naturally and remain true to form; they must be propagated by asexual techniques like cuttings, layering or divisions. Of one cultivar, there is very little variation between single plants. All Carissa Hollies grow to near the same size having the same form.

Hybrid - The offspring resulting from the union of different species, varieties or genera.

Woody - Living tissue, such as the trunk or trunks, branches, etc., remains above the ground throughout the winter. All trees and shrubs fall into this category known as woody ornamentals.

Herbaceous - Having little or no woody tissue. The main classes of these fleshy, soft-tissued plants are annuals, perennials and biennials.

Deciduous - Drops all leaves every winter and puts on new foliage each spring. The spectacular fall color we enjoy each fall is thanks to deciduous shade trees and shrubs preparing to drop their leaves.

Evergreen - Maintains its foliage year round. Many hollies, azaleas, and all junipers are examples of evergreens.

Semi-evergreen - Foliage is green only part of the year or only part of the foliage remains year round. Abelias are an example of semi-evergreens.

Conifer - Technically, any cone-bearing plant. These include (but are not limited to) mostly evergreen plants with needle-, scale-, or awl-shaped leaves like Pine, Hemlock and Juniper. Other popular conifers are Cryptomeria and Leyland Cypress. Conifers are useful in the landscape as screens or hedges, but can also add a distinctive ornamental appeal.

Groundcover - Traditionally, any spreading plant used to cover a specific area of the landscape. There are many shrubs, annuals, perennials, grasses and vines that would fit that description – we generally refer to groundcovers as any low-growing, spreading, evergreen perennial. Ivy, Lirope (Monkey Grass), and low-growing, spreading Junipers are examples of groundcover.

Foundation planting - The basic group of plants used to transition from a house or building to its surrounding natural terrain. Foundation plants should frame the house and complement its architecture. Foundation plantings usually consist of a combination of hardy evergreen trees, shrubs and groundcovers. Additional plantings such as accent plants, corner plants and seasonal color beds using annuals or perennials build upon this initial framework to create an attractive, multi-layered landscape.

Hardy - Able to withstand extreme low and high temperatures common to a local geographic area. It’s important to make sure your plants are considered hardy for your area. The USDA hardiness zone map shows the lowest temperatures that can be
expected each year in various regions across America.

Tender - Not able to withstand extreme or low temperatures. Most annuals are considered tender. However, it should be noted that some plants that are tender annuals in our region are perennial in warmer regions.

Culture - The best environment or care recommended for a given species. For example, Azaleas thrive in a culture of acidic, well-drained soil rich with organic matter and afternoon shade.

Growth rate - Generally refers to a plant’s vertical growth rate over a given period of time. While a particular species may be designated a slow grower, it is important to remember that a plant’s growth depends on many variables, such as moisture, nutrition, light, etc. Some fast growing shrubs might grow slowly if planted in an undesirable culture.

Habit - The manner of growth of a particular plant. Common terms used to describe plant habits would be spreading, creeping, vase-shaped, broad, rounded, twining, etc.

B&B - Stands for “balled and burlapped.” B&B plants are grown in the field, then dug, cutting away up to 90% of the plant or trees roots. With the availability of container grown trees that have all their root systems in tact, we no longer sell B&B material. B&B trees do allow for larger plant material to be transplanted to home landscapes. Problem is, it can take years for a B&B plant or tree to recover from the digging process. We have found that a smaller, properly planted container grown tree (1.5" caliper) planted next to a larger B&B tree (3" caliper) will catch up with and pass the B&B tree within a year or so.


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