Names #1 - 6/22/17

Gardening 101: Nomenclature and Categories

There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can do the math and those who can't.

 

        There also seems to be some confusion about plant nomenclature and categorization so here are some of the ways plants are named and categorized. Bear in mind these are largely human definitions and they depend on conditions and climate. A plant may be in one category here, but another one in its native climate.

        Woody Versus Herbaceous: Woody plants are those that have a woody structure – like shrubs and trees. The leaves may fall off in the fall, but there is still hard (woody) stems or trunks above the ground. Herbaceous plants' leaves and stems do not have a woody structure and the plants either die at the end of the season (pansies, petunias, tomatoes, etc) or the stems and leaves die back to the ground but the roots or bulbs survive underground. (Peonies, irises, grasses, tulips, daffodils, etc.)

        Woody plants may be evergreen or deciduous. Evergreen means they keep their leaves or needles over the winter. They do lose them, just not all at the same time. Deciduous plants lose their leaves in the fall. (All those leaves we rake up.)

        Trees versus shrubs: generally, trees are thought of as large plants with a single trunk but there are small trees with multiple trunks and large shrubs that can be trained to a single trunk. Here's what Wikipedia says, “A shrub or bush is a small to medium-sized woody plant. It is distinguished from a tree by its multiple stems and shorter height, usually under 6 m (20 ft) tall. Plants of many species may grow either into shrubs or trees, depending on their growing conditions."

        Evergreen plants can be broad-leaved or needled. Broad-leaved means (duh) that the leaves are broad (think rhododendrons and most hollies). Needled evergreens have leaves that are needle shaped, like pines, junipers, hemlocks. etc. (And yes, there are some needled trees that are deciduous, just to keep us confused. The larch tree is an example.)

        Herbaceous plants are commonly divided into two categories - “perennials” or “annuals.” Perennials are plants that die back to the ground in the fall but grow back every year in the spring. Technically annuals are plants that grow from seed, bloom, create seeds, and then die all in one year, but gardeners frequently refer to any plant that doesn't survive the winter as an annual. That may include plants such as tender bulbs (gladiolus) or tropical plants (caladiums) that are technically not annuals but we treat them that way in this climate.

         Yes, this nomenclature is confusing. Don't annual meetings and annual reunions re-occur every year? But when it's a plant that does that we call it a perennial. Go figure.

        Weed: a weed is either a plant in the wrong place (violets in the lawn, or grass in the flower-bed) or a plant whose economic value has yet to be discovered by humans.

 

Names #2 - 6/28/17

Gardening 101: The Name Game of Common versus “Latin” Names

        Plant names can be confusing. There is an agastache with four different common names: blue giant hyssop, anise hyssop, fragrant giant hyssop, or lavender giant hyssop. Conversely, many different plants can be referred to by the same name. There are at least seventeen different plants called “daisy”: common, Swan river, ox-eye, shasta, marguerite, African or cape, crown, tricolor, seaside, Angelita, Blackfoot, desert, Devil's River, Livingstone, Carmel, globe, and daisy bush. The result can be a lot of mix-ups. We have annual salvias that grow to be about 12-18” tall, and perennial salvias (also called Meadow Sage) that grow 24” tall and 18” wide. To cause further confusion - we have sages that are small annual herbs, and perennial Russian “sages” that get to be three feet tall and three feet wide.

        Here is where “Latin,” “Scientific” or “Botanical” names come to the rescue. Developed by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1753, it is “the system of nomenclature in which two terms are used to denote a species of living organism, the first one indicating the genus and the second the specific epithet.” (On-line from the Oxford Living Dictionary). The specific epithet is the species, and we often add a specific cultivar designation. According to Wikipedia, “the term cultivar most commonly refers to an assemblage of plants selected for desirable characteristics that are maintained during propagation.” Thus we have Agastache foeniculum 'Blue Blazes' as one plant that will be the same plant the world over.

 

And those daisies? Wikipedia lists them as:

       

The scientific name often gives information about the plant, and your knowledge of Latin can help your understanding of plants, just as knowing the plant names will increase your knowledge of Latin.* More on that next week.

 

Names #3 - 6/24/18

Gardening 101: Bad Terminology is the Enemy of Good Thinking. (Warren Buffet)

        We've learned that many of our customers are confused about the terms used in horticulture. Annual? Perennial? Herbaceous? What's that? Horticulture may not have "bad" terminology but it is confusing.We hope the following definitions and explanations help.

ANNUALS AND PERENNIALS:

The terms “Annual” and “Perennial” are used only for plants that don't have a woody structure of branches and/or trunks. These non-woody plants are called “herbaceous” plants.

Annuals: 

Technically annuals are plants that grow from seed, bloom, create seeds, and then die all in one year. In reality gardeners often refer to any herbaceous plant that doesn't survive the winter as an annual. Common examples of annuals are begonias, marigolds, million bells, pansies, petunias, snapdragons, sunflowers, zinnias, etc. Most commonly grown vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots, and squashes are annuals too .

Perennials:

Perennials are herbaceous (non-woody) plants that die back to the ground in the fall but grow back every year in the spring. Common examples are day-lilies, hostas, irises, hardy hibiscus, peonies, and grasses like fountain grass and zebra grass. This category also includes flowers that grow from bulbs like crocuses, daffodils, and tulips.

Yes, this nomenclature is confusing. Don't annual meetings and annual reunions re-occur every year? But when it's a plant that does that we call it a perennial. Go figure.

TREES AND SHRUBS:

Trees are generally thought of as large woody plants with a single trunk but there are small trees with multiple trunks and large shrubs that can be trained to a single trunk. Here's what Wikipedia says, “A shrub or bush is a small to medium-sized woody plant. It is distinguished from a tree by its multiple stems and shorter height, usually under 6 m (20 ft) tall. Plants of many species may grow either into shrubs or trees, depending on their growing conditions. “

DECIDUOUS VERSUS EVERGREEN:

Deciduous plants are those that lose their leaves in the fall and grow new ones in the spring. Examples include woody trees like maples, oaks, elms, and woody shrubs like roses, hydrangeas, some azaleas, viburnum, etc.

Evergreen plants are ones that keep their leaves or needles in the winter. They actually do lose them, just not all at once. Evergreen plants can be a woody tree or shrub (hollies, junipers, pines, cedars, spruces, rhododendrons, some azaleas, etc.) as well as herbaceous (non-woody) plant such as some vines (English ivy and Vinca minor) and ground-covers (Pachysandra).

BROAD-LEAVED EVERGREENS VERSUS NEEDLED EVERGREENS:

Evergreen trees and shrubs can be broad-leaved or needled. Broad-leaved means (duh) that the leaves are broad. Examples are Southern magnolia trees, rhododendrons and most hollies.

Needled evergreens are tree and shrubs that have leaves that are needle shaped, like pines, spruces, junipers, hemlocks. etc.

NOTE BENE:

These are human definitions, not nature's, and they depend on conditions and climate. A plant may be in one category here, but another one in its native climate.

The categories are not always clear cut. For example, almost all of the needled trees are evergreen. But there is an exception. Larches are deciduous, needled trees. Their needles turn brown and fall off in autumn. Maybe it's to keep us confused.

WEEDS:

A weed is either a plant in the wrong place (violets in the lawn, or grass in the flower-bed) or a plant whose economic value has yet to be discovered by humans. Or as someone once said, "The way to tell the difference between a cultivated plant and a weed is to pull it up. If it comes back, it was a weed.”