The Complete Herbal
Guide to Botanical Terms

A-Z of Botanical Terms


A to Z of Alternative Therapies
A to Z of Herbal Actions
A to Z of Herbs
A to Z of the Language of Flowers
A to Z of Latin Names
A to Z of Medical Terms
A to Z of Vitamins and Minerals

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Achene: A small, dry fruit that contains one loose seed and that does not split open spontaneously

For example: sunflower seed

Acuminate: Tapering gradually to a point at the apex.

Acute: Coming sharply to a point at the apex.

Alternate: Arranged singly at different points along a stem or axis.

Annual: A plant which grows from a seed, flowers, sets seed and dies in one year.

Apex: The tip.

Appressed: Pressed flat or close up against something.

Aril: An outer covering or appendage of some seeds.

Ascending: Rising upward gradually from a prostrate base.

Awn: A bristle characteristic of the spikelets in some grasses.

Axil: The more-or-less V-shaped angle made by the junction between a leaf and a stem or twig.

Axillary: Growing from an axil.


Basal rosette: Leaves radiating directly from the crown of the root.

Berry: A stoneless, pulpy fruit containing one or more embedded seeds (e.g. grape).

Biennial: A plant which forms leaves in the first year, produces a flowering shoot in the second year, flowers, sets seed and dies.

Bilabiate: Two-lipped.

Bipinnate: Pinnate, with pinnate leaflets.

Blade: The broad, thin part of a leaf or petal.

Bloom: A powdery, whitish coating on leaves, stems, or fruit.

Bracts: The leaflike structures of a grouping or arrangement of flowers (inflorescence). A green leaf-like structure which has a flower in its axil, and which may remain on the plant with the fruit. Bracts vary enormously in size, shape and function.

Bud: A protuberance on a stem, from which a flower, leaf or shoot develops.


Calyx: The sepals collectively; the external floral envelope, usually consisting of layered, fleshy leaves and membranes.

Capsule: A dry, many-seeded, spontaneously splitting fruit that arises from a compound pistil.

Carpel: The wall of a simple pistil, or part of a wall of a compound pistil.

Catkin: A drooping spike of small flowers characteristic of some deciduous trees. Male catkins produce pollen; female catkins are pollinated and then develop into fruiting catkins which bear seeds. A spike-like flower cluster that bears scaly bracts and petal-less, unisexual flowers.

Cauline: Relating to or growing on a stem.

Clasping: Partly or completely surrounding the stem.

Claw: The narrow, curved base of a petal or sepal in some flowers.

Compound: Made up of two or more definable parts.

Compound pistil: A pistil made up of two or more partially or completely united carpels.

Cone: A rounded, more or less elongated cluster of fruits or flowers covered with scales or bracts.

Corm: A bulblike but solid, fleshy underground stem base.

Corolla: The petals of a flower, which may be separate or joined in varying degrees.

Corymb: A generally flat-topped flower cluster with pedicels varying in length, the outer flowers opening first.

Creeper: A shoot that grows along the ground, rooting all along its length.

Crenate: Having rounded teeth along the margin.

Culm: The hollow stem of grasses and bamboos.

Cyme: A branching, relatively flat-topped flower cluster whose central or terminal flower opens first, forcing development of further flowers from lateral buds.


Deciduous: Falling off each season (as leaves); bearing deciduous parts (as trees).

Decompound: Divided several or many times; compound with further subdivisions.

Decumbent: Lying on the ground but having an ascending tip.

Decurrent: Descriptive of leaves whose edges run down onto the stem.

Dentate: Sharply toothed, with the teeth pointing straight out from the margin.

Digitate: Compound, with the elements growing from a single point.

Dilated: Expanded, broadened, flaring.

Disk flower: One of the tubular flowers or florets in the center of the flower head of a composite flower such as the daisy.

Dissected: Cut into fine segments.

Doctrin of Signatures: A concept popular in the 15th century, espoused that God revealed an herb's medicinal purpose by providing special markings on the plant. There are many herbs that indeed support this theory. For example, the leaves of the lungwort plant, an excellent treatment for upper respiratory infections and lung ailments, have spotted markings that are characteristic of delicate lung tissue. The root of the ginseng plant, an herb reputed to be good for nearly every organ system, resembles the shape of the human body.

Double: Descriptive of flowers that have more petals than normal.

Doubly serrate: Serrate, with small teeth on the margins of the larger ones.

Drupe: A fleshy fruit containing a single seed in a hard "stone" (e.g. Peach).


Entire: Having no teeth or indentations.

Evergreen: Retaining green foliage for more than one season.


Filiform: Threadlike.

Floret: A very small flower, especially one of the disk flowers of plants in the composite family.

Frond: The leaf of a fern.

Fruits: The seed bearing part of a plant. Different kinds of fruits include: Berry: a juicy fruit which usually contains several seeds. Capsule: a dry or fleshy fruit which splits open to release the seeds. Nutlet: a hard dry fruit containing a single seed. Pod: a long dry fruit, usually containing several large seeds, which splits open along one or both seams to release the seeds.

Funnelform: Descriptive of a flower whose corolla tube widens gradually and uniformly from the base.


Galea: The hooded portion of the perianth in some irregular or bilabiate flowers.

Galeated: Helmeted; having a helmetlike part, as a crest, a flower, etc.; helmet-shaped

Gemma (pl. gemmae): A young bud from which plants vegetatively reproduce.

Geniculated: Abruptly bent.

Gibbous: Swollen on one side.

Glabrous: Not hairy.

Glandular: Having glands, which secrete sticky substances.

Glaucous: Covered with a fine, white, often waxy film, which rubs off.

Globose: Approximately spherical.

Grain: Achene-like fruit, but with the seed not loose.


Head: A flower spike or raceme shortened to form a compact, flattened to globose cluster.

Herb: A plant that has no woody tissue and that dies down to the ground at the end of a growing season.

Herbaceous: Non-woody, herb-like.

Hesperidium: A partitioned berry with a leathery, removable rind (e.g. Orange).

Hoary: Closely covered with short and fine whitish hairs.


Incised: Sharply and irregularly slashed or cut.

Indigenous: Native; naturally occurring.

Inflorescence: Technically, the way flowers are arranged in a cluster; generally, a flower cluster.

Internode: The part of a stem or branch between nodes.

Interrupted: Descriptive of a structure, the pattern or sequence of whose elements is broken by the insertion of other elements.




Lanceolate: Widening to a maximum near the base and tapering to a point at the apex.

Lateral: Occurring on or growing from the side (compare terminal).

Leaf: A vegetative organ which, when complete, consists of a flat blade, a petiole or stalk, and (usually two) small leafy appendages at the base of the petiole.

Leaflet: A division or part of a compound leaf.

Legume: A one-celled fruit that splits along two sutures or seams (e.g. pea).

Liana: A vigorous woody vine (usually refers to tropical vines).

Linear: Long and narrow, with nearly parallel sides.

Lip: One of the parts in a corolla or calyx divided into two unequal parts.

Lobe: A part of division, especially when rounded, of an organ.

Lyrate: Lobed to resemble a lyre, with the terminal lobe largest and the lower lobes smaller.



Node: A point on a stem at which leaves are produced.

Nut: A hard-walled, one-seeded fruit that does not split spontaneously (e.g. hazelnut).


Ob- : A prefix that indicates reversal of the usual orientation (e.g. oblanceolate means widening gradually from the pointed base to a maximum near the apex, which may be more or less rounded).

Oblong: Longer than wide and rounded at the ends, with nearly parallel sides for much of the length.

Obovate: oval, but broader toward the apex; refers to leaf shape.

Obtuse: Rounded or blunt.

Opposite: Growing two to a node on opposite sides.

Orbicular: Circular or approximately round.

Oval: Broadly elliptical.

Ovate: Oval, but broader toward the base; egg-shaped.

Ovoid: Another term for Ovate (above).


Palmate: With 3 or more leaflets, nerves, or lobes radiating from a central point; compounded, divided, lobed, or ribbed so that the divisions or ribs spread out like fingers from a single point.

Panicle: A branching flower grouping, with branches that are usually racemes.

Papilionaceous: Descriptive of a flower whose petals are arranged to resemble a butterfly.

Pedicel: The stalk of one flower in a cluster.

Peduncle: The stalk of a flower cluster or of a solitary flower.

Peltate: Having a stalk attached at or near the middle.

Perennial: A plant which lives from year to year, starting into growth again each spring. Some perennial plants are herbaceous and dies down each year, remaining dormant beneath the ground throughout the winter. Others are trees or shrubs; some lose their leaves in winter (deciduous trees), while others retain their leaves throughout the year and their growth slows down in winter (evergreen trees).

Perfect (flower): A flower that has a full complement of male and female parts as well as floral envelopes (petals and sepals).

Perfoliate: A leaf that appears to be perforated by the stem.

Persistent: Remaining on the plant; not falling off readily.

Petal: One unit of the corolla.

Petiole: The stalk of a leaf.

Pinna: Plural pinnae; a leaflet or primary division of a pinnately compound leaf.

Pinnate: A featherlike arrangement; usually refers to a compound leaf with leaflets arranged on each side of a central axis.

Pinnatifid: Split about halfway to the midrib, such that the divisions are pinnately arranged.

Pinnule: One of the divisions of a pinnate leaflet in a bi-pinnate leaf.

Pistil: The female reproduction organ of a flower.

Pod: Generally, a dry fruit that splits open.

Pome: A fleshy fruit with a central seed-bearing core (e.g. apple).

Procumbent: Growing along the ground without rooting, and having ascending tips.

Prostrate: Growing flat along the ground.

Pubescent: Covered with down or soft, short hairs.

Punctate: Having translucent spots or depressions.

Raceme: An unbranched, elongated flower grouping, with individual flowers on distinct stalks.



Rays (ray flowers): The straplike, often sterile flowers (commonly called "petals") surrounding the flowerhead (disk) off a plant in the composite family. (Examples: the yellow rays of sunflowers, or the purple rays surrounding the cone of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea).

Receptacle: The end of the stem or stalk on which the flower parts are borne.

Rhizome: A perennial creeping underground portion of a stem which may look like a root; producing shoots on top and roots beneath; different from a root in that it has buds, nodes, and scaly leaves; rootstock.

Rootstock: Rhizome.

Rosette (basal): Leaves radiating directly from the crown of the root.

Runner: A thin stem or shoot growing along the ground and producing roots at the nodes.


Sagittate: Resembling an arrowhead in shape.

Samara: A winged fruit that does not split spontaneously (e.g. maple).

Saprophytic: A plant (usually lacking chlorophyll) that lives on dead organic matter.

Scale: A small, usually dry leaf that is closely pressed against another organ.

Scape: A leafless flower stalk that grows from the ground.

Sepal: The individual divisions of the calyx (outer floral envelope).

Serrate: Saw-toothed, with the teeth pointing toward the apex.

Sessile: Lacking a stalk, such as a leaf or flower with no obvious stalk.

Sheath: An expanded or tubular structure that partially encloses a stem or other organ.

Shoot: A new young growth; a stem or branch and its leaves.

Shrub: A woody plant that produces no trunk but branches from the base.

Silique: A term applied to the peculiar seedpod structure of plants in the mustard family.

Simple: Not compound (leaves) or branched (stems, flower clusters).

Smooth: Not rough (compare glabrous).

Solitary: Not growing as part of a cluster or group.

Spadix: A thick, fleshy flower spike (usually enveloped by a spathe), as in members of the arum family (Skunk Cabbage, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Dragon Arum, etc.).

Spathe: A modified, leaflike structure surrounding a spadix, as in members of the Arum family (Skunk Cabbage, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Dragon Arum, etc.).

Spatulate: Shaped like a spoon, with a narrow end at the base.

Spike (flower): An unbranched, elongated flower grouping in which the individual flowers are sessile (attached without stalks).

Spikelet: A small spike, particularly one of the few-flowered spikes making up the inflorescence of a grass.

Spore: A one-celled reproductive body produced by relatively primitive plants.

Spur: A slender, hollow projection from a petal or sepal.

Stamen: The pollen-bearing anthers with attached filaments (sometimes without filaments); the male organ of a flower.

Stipule: Appendages (resembling small or minute leaves) at the base of leaves of certain plants.

Strobile: A cone or conelike structure.

Style: The slender, elongated part of a pistil.

Subshrub: Somewhat or slightly shrublike; usually a plant with a stem that is woody at the base, but mostly herbaceous.

Suture: A natural seam or groove along which a fruit splits.


Taproot: A single main root that grows vertically into the ground.

Tendrils: A modified leaf or branch structure, often coiled like a spring, used for clinging in plants that climb.

Terminal: Occurring at or growing from the end opposite the base (compare lateral).

Ternate: Occurring in threes or divided into three parts.

Trifoliate: Having three leaves.

Trifoliolate: Having three leaflets.

Tripinnate: Descriptive of a pinnate leaf having pinnate leaflets with pinnate pinnules.

Tuber: A swollen root or underground stem or rootstock, which forms a food store for the plant.


Umbel: A flower grouping with individual flower stalks or floral groupings radiating from a central axis; often flat-topped and umbrella-like.


Valve: One of the parts into which a capsule divides when splitting.


Whorl: A circular arrangement of three or more leaves, flowers, or other parts at the same point or level.




Important Disclaimer
The information on this web site is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any diseases. Any information presented is not a substitute for professional medical advice and should not take the place of any prescribed medication. Please do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consultation with your physician.

A to Z of Alternative Therapies
A to Z of Herbal Actions
A to Z of Herbs
A to Z of the Language of Flowers
A to Z of Latin Names
A to Z of Medical Terms
A to Z of Vitamins and Minerals