Helpful Info

International Plant Name Index

Botanical Society of America

Plant Facts

Dictionary of common plant names

Botanical Glossary


ACUMINATE   tapering to a point.
ACUTE   sharply pointed but not drawn out.
ADPRESSED   lying flat for the length of the organ.
ADVENTITIOUS   applied to roots, those which do not arise from the radicle but from another part of the plant, usually the stem.
AESTIVATION   the manner in which the parts of the flower are folded before expanding.
AMPLEXICAUL   stem-clasping.
ANNUAL   a plant which completes its life cycle within a year.
ANNULUS   in some Stapelieae, the portion of the corolla which forms a fleshy, raised ring.
ANTHER   the part of the stamen which contains the pollen.
APICULATE   tipped with an apiculus, a short, sharp point.
ARISTATE  awned.
ASPERULOUS   slightly rough with little points.
ATTENUATE   tapered.
AWN   a stiff hairy bristle.
AXIL   the angle between the axis (stem or branch) and the part arising from it (leaf or bract).
AXILE   belonging to the axis, as in axile placentation.
AXILLARY   growing in an axil.


BIENNIAL   a plant that completes its full life-cycle in two years.
BIFID   divided into two parts.
BILABIATE   having two lips.
BISEXUAL having stamens and pistil in the same flower.
BRACT  a modified leaf associated with the flowering part of the plant.
BRACTEATE   possessing bracts.
BRACTEOLE   a small bract.


CADUCOUS shed at an early age, ie caducous leaves.
CALYX the outer series of leaf-like segments of the flower which is usually green in colour, it may be large and colourful, present or absent.  It encloses the flower while it is still a bud.
CAMPANULATE bell-shaped.
CANALICULATE   channeled.
CANDELABRIFORM   with a shape of a tall branched candle-stick.
CAPITATE   applied to an inflorescence in which the flowers form a head.
CAPITULUM   a small head (of flowers ) .
CAPSULE   a dry, dehiscent fruit.
CARPEL   a simple pistil consisting of ovary, style and stigma, or element of a compound pistil.
CARTILAGINOUS  sinewy, tough (in respect of leaf margins).
CAUDEX   the stem of a plant.
CELL   in the mesems, a chamber of the ovary.
CILIA hairs along the margin of a leaf or corolla lobe (as in many Orbea species)
CILIATE   fringed with hairs, as on the margin of the corolla lobes in some of the stapelieae .
CLADISTIC system of classification based on the phylogenetic and evolutionary history of groups of organisms. 
CLAVATE   club-shaped, thickened towards the top.
CLEISTOGAMOUS   applied to a flower in which fertilization occurs without the flower opening.
CONIC-CAPITATE   a cone-shaped head of flowers.
CONNIVENT  converging.
CORDATE  heart-shaped.
CORIACEOUS   leathery.
CORONA   in the stapelieae , a crown-like portion of the staminal column, usually with the inner and outer lobes.
CRENATE   notched or scalloped.
CRISPED   with a curled or twisted edge.
CUNEATE  wedge-shaped.
CYATHIUM   the inflorescence of euphorbia (plural: cyathia).
CYLINDRIC-ACUMINATE  elongated and tapering to a point.
CYME   an inflorescence in which the lateral axis grows more strongly than the main axis.


DEHISCE  to split open when ripe, as in a capsule
DECUMBENT laying or growing on the ground but the tips are erect or growing upright.
DECIDUOUS falling off or shed at a specific season or stage of growth.
DISCUS an enlarged area bearing numerous tiny flowers, ie the flower head of a composite plant like a daisy.
DISK an enlarged area bearing numerous tiny flowers, ie the flower head of a composite plant like a daisy.
DISTICHOUS   two rows of upright leaves, common in Gasteria seedlings


ELLIPTIC   having a shape of a flattened circle .
   without toothing, a smooth margin .
thinning of a plant due to lack of light.
EXSERTED   protruded beyond.
EXTRA-FLORAL   outside the flower


FALCATE   sickle-shaped.
FASCICLE  a cluster or bundle of flowers.
FILAMENT   the stalk of an anther.
FILIF0RM   thread-shaped.
FREE CENTRAL   the attachment of the ovules to an outgrowth arising from the base of the ovary.
FUSIFORM   thick, but tapering at both ends.


GEOPHYTE  a plant that stores food underground and has subterranean buds which form arial growth.
GLABROUS   smooth without any pubescence.
GLAUCOUS   sea-green or covered in bloom.
GLOBOSE   nearly spherical.


HABIT   general appearance of the plant.
HALOPHYTE  a plant that grows in salty soil.
HELIOTROPIC   growing towards sunlight.
HETEROPHYLLOUS  having leaves of different form.
HIRSUTE  hairy, with long distinct hairs.
HISPID   with rough hairs or bristles.
HYDATHODE water-secreting pore on leaf ( Craussulacae have them for the rapid absorption of water).
HYGROCHASTIC  applied to plants in which the opening of the fruits is caused by the absorption of water (98 percent of mesems have hygrochastic capsules).


IDIOBLAST   single specialized cell present in uniform tissue.
IMMACULATE  unspotted.
INCUMBENT  resting upon.
INDEHISCENT applied to fruit which remain unopened at maturity.
INFLEXED  turned abruptly inward.
INFLORESCENCE  a special branch-system which bears flowers.
INTERNODE  portion of the stem between two nodes.
INVOLUCRE  a ring of bracts that surround one to many flowers.


KEEL   a longitudinal ridge, at the back of the leaf.
KEELED-MARGINATE  the leaf-keel veers over to form a leaf-margin ( Aloineae).


LACERATE   torn.
LACINIATE  cut into narrow lobes.
LAMINA  the blade of the leaf.
LANCEOLATE  lance-shaped, tapering from a broad base to the apex.
LAX  loose or limp, not densely arranged.
LECTOTYPE   a specimen chosen after the original description to be the type.
LIGULATE   star shaped.
LIGNOTUBER woody tuber - tuberous rootstock.
LINEAR  narrow with nearly parallel sides.
LOCULUS   cavity or chamber of an ovary.



MACULATE spotted.
MARCESCENT withering without falling off.
MERICARP the partial fruit of a schizocarp.
MIMICRY protective resemblance to the surroundings, i.e. lithops amongst quartz patches.
MONOCARPIC   only flowering and fruiting once.
MONOCHASIAL a cyme in which the branching is continued by a single lateral branch.
MONOTYPIC a genus consisting of one species.


NAVICULATE boat-shaped.
NECROTIC applied to dead tissue.
NODE the part of the stem that gives rise to the leaf and bud.
NOMEN NUDUM the name of a taxon which has never been validated by a description.


OB- prefix indicates inversion.
OBTUSE with a blunt or rounded tip.
ORBICULAR flat with a circular outline, disc-like.
OVARY the part of the pistil which contains the ovules (immature fruit).
OVATE egg-shaped, usually with reference to two dimensions.
OVOID egg-shaped, usually with reference to three dimensions.
OVULE the young seed in the ovary.


PALMATE flat and lobed.
PANICLE a compound inflorescence in which the main axis bears lateral racemes or spikes.
PAPILLA a small soft superficial gland or protuberance.
PAPILLATE having papillae.
PAPILLOSE covered with papillae.
PARENCHYMA undifferentiated plant tissue composed of more or less uniform cells.
PARIETAL used of the attachment of ovules to the outer walls of the ovaries.
PEDICEL the stalk of the flower.
PEDUNCLE the axis from which the flower pedicel arises.
PELLUCID Admitting the passage of light; transparent or translucent
PELTATE   with the petiole attached to the lower surface of the leaf blade.
PENDENT hanging down.
PERENNIAL a plant that continues its life cycle for more than two years.
PERIANTH   the two outer whorls of the Angiosperm flower; commonly used when the calyx and the corolla are not readily distinguishable (as in monocotyledons).
PERSISTENT remaining attached to the plant, opposed to deciduous.
PETIOLE the stalks of the leaf.
PHYLLOPODIA persistent leaf bases present in some members of the crassulacae.
PINNATIFID a pinnately parted leaf, dividing almost to the midrib.
PLACENTA the organ which bears the ovules in the ovary.
PLACENTATION refers to the arrangement of the placentae and ovules in the ovary.
POLLINIA the paired, waxy pollen masses of the stapeliae.
PROCUMBENT trailing on the ground without rooting.
PROSTATE flat on the ground.
PRUINOSE having a waxy, powdery 'bloom'.
PUBERULOUS covered with a minute down.
PUBESCENT covered with short soft hairs.


RACEME an inflorescence with a single axis bearing pedicellate flowers.
REFLEXED abruptly bent backwards.
REPAND with slightly undulate margin.
REPLICATE folded back, as in the corolla lobes of duvalia.
RETICULATE having the appearance of a network.
RETUSED with blunted apex, as in the leaves of some haworthias.
REVOLUTE rolled back at the margin.
RHIZOME a prostrate or underground stem which generally grows horizontally.
ROSETTE used to describe a cluster of densely spiralled leaves.
ROSULATE having a rosette.
RUGOSE covered with wrinkles.


SCABROUS rough to the touch.
SCHIZOCARP a fruit which splits into multiple parts called mericarps.
SCORPOID applied to a cymose inflorescence in which the main axis appears to coil.
SECUND with the flowers all turned in the same direction, i.e. aloe ortholopha .
SEGMENTED constricted into divisions as in many euphorbias .
SEPAL a part of the calyx that is usually green
SERRATED with teeth on the margin.
SERRULATE with minute teeth on the margin.
SESSILE without a stalk.
SETACEOUS bristle-like.
SETATE with bristles.
SIMPLE unbranched.
SINUATE deeply wave (margin), tortuous.
SINUOUS undulating form.
SINUS an opening or groove, as between the bases of two petals.
SQUAMA structure resembling a fish scale.
SQUAMAE Pl. of squama.
SQUAMOSE covered in scales.
SQUAMOUS covered in scales.
SPATHULATE also written spatulate, shaped like a spatula with the distal end broad.
STAMEN the pollen-bearing male element of the flower.
STAMINODE a sterile or abortive stamen.
STIGMA the part of the stigma receptive to pollen.
STIPULE refers to the small appendages at the base of the leaf.
STOMA an aperture in the epidermis, plural stomata.
STOLON a runner or any basal branch which roots.
STYLE the part of the pistil between the stigma and ovary.
SUBCAPITATE   See capitate
SYNAPOMORPHY unique derived character.


TAXON the taxonomic group of plants of any rank.
TERETE circular in transverse section.
TERNATE in threes.
TESSELLATE formed of small squares.
TRANSPIRATION evaporation of water from the plant through leaf and stem pores.
TRICHOME a hair-like outgrowth of the epidermis.
TRIFID cleft into three pieces.
TRIGONOUS three-angled.
TRIPARTITE consisting of three parts.
TRUNCATE cut off as though shortened.
TUBERCLE a knob-like projection on the stem or leaf.


UMBEL an inflorescence of pedicellate flowers of almost equal length arising from the apex of the peduncle.
UNISEXUAL applied tom a flower having only stamens or pistil, as opposed to bisexual.
URCEOLATE shaped like a jug or pitcher.


VALVE one of the portions into which a capsule separates when ripe.
VIBRATILE capable of motion to and for.
VILLOSE covered with long, fine, soft hairs.
VISCID sticky.
VYGIE Afrikaans (local South African dialect) for a "small fig"; the common name for mesems; originally applied to the genus carpobrotus which produces small edible "figs".


WHORL a circle of leaves, sepals, stames or other organs around an axis.

Plant Names

A look at how plants are named and why they are classified in a specific group.

We have a man by the name of Carl von Linne, also known as Linneaus, to thank for the way we classify plants and animals.  Linneaus devised a system of categorizing animals and plants into specific groups.  The groups that are used the most amongst us laypersons are family, genera and species.  One (monotypic) or more varieties makes up a species, one or morespecies makes a genera, one or more genera makes a family.

  • Family
    Plants that belong to a family share general characteristics, a Genera contains plants with more specific characteristics.  For instance Tridentea, Hoodia, Stapelia and Huerniaall belong to the family Asclepiadaceae because they all have five-lobed flowers that smell rotten.
  • Genera
    The genera follows a family, eg Stapelia, plants in a certain genera share certain characteristics.  The genus Tridentea is made up of ascleps that outer corona lobes are three toothed.
  • Species (spp)
     is defined as plants that are capable of interbreeding with one another.  Thespecies part of the name also denotes a plant that is different from other plants in thegenera, eg. kwebenis
  • Variety (Var.)
    var. is a subdivision of a species consisting of naturally occurring or selectively bred populations or individuals that differ from the remainder of the species in certain minor characters, eg. Lithops hookeri var lutea.
  • Subspecies (subsp, ssp)
    subsp. is a subdivision of a species usually based on geographic distribution, eg.Conophytum bilobum ssp altum.

The person who discovered the plant first will be the one to name it.  The plant may be named after a person, place, distinguishing feature or anything the discoverer would like unless the name is already in use with another plant in the genus.  Some plant names end inae or ii, in latin ae is the feminine ending and ii is the male ending.