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Definitions for Dummies


 Wildflower Index

This is not a dictionary or encyclopedia, simply my way of remembering more than my brain will hold.


Plants Are Not All The Same

Flower Structure

Plant Reproduction




Classification of Life Forms

Until the 19th century, people thought life forms came in only two kinds: plants and animals. Study revealed that concept too simplistic. Now we have five or six main groups (kingdoms) and biologists still debate if that is enough or divided correctly. Classification of life forms is an ongoing problem. Take the viruses, they are not technically alive but often act like they are, so some people give them their own kingdom.

----------Division (for plants) or Phyla (for everything else)

The Kingdoms

Monera (Bacteria)     Protista (Protist)     Fungi (Fungus)     Plantae (Plant)     Animalia (Animal)     Viruses (Virus)

The main issue today is genetic heritage. Are the life forms grouped together truly related or do they just look alike?

Plants Are Not All The Same

Annual = a life cycle only one year long. These plants grows from seed, produces seed, then die in one year. The next generation come from the seed.

Perennial = a life cycle of more than one year. These plants have yearly or multi-yearly fruiting cycles. A few grow for many years but die in the year they make fruit.

Deciduous = leaves die, fall off, and the plant becomes dormant in the autumn. New leaves grow in the Spring.

Evergreen = leaves stay green through the winter. They fall as new leaves form.

Epiphyte = like moss - plant which grows upon a host but does not draw food or water from it.

Parasite = like mistletoe - an organism that obtains its food or water from a host organism without benefiting, and often hurting, the host.

Myco-heterotrophic = an organism that receives all its nutrients through (feeds off of) a symbiotic relationship with a decaying fungus. The fungus would be a saprophyte.

Mycorrhiza, Mycorrhizal = symbiotic association of the mycelium of certain fungi with the root cells of some vascular plants.

Saprophyte = an organism that receives all its nutrients through (feeds off of) decaying organic matter.

Peloria, Peloric = abnormality in the standard structure. This can be a deformity that is in a single flower of only one plant or it can be a variation that produces viable offspring. Horticulturalists use this natural mutation to bred new varieties.

Flower Structure

Flower parts are in whorls, some plant families do not have all the parts or male and female are on different flowers or plants. The arrangement of these parts often defines the family.  Grass are flowering plants, but their flower parts are modified or absent.

Starting from the middle

1) Pistil = female structure - Stigma (sticky pollen collector), Style (tube), Ovary (produces seed).

2) Stamen = male structure - Anther (pollen producer) held up by a filament.

3) Corolla = whorl of Petals = pretty part.

4) Calyx = whorl of Sepals = part that holds up the petals.

5) Involucre = whorl of Bracts(called a Phyllary in the Asteraceae) = leafy structures below the flower or flower grouping. Not part of the flower itself. Spathe = leafy or petal-like bract (or bracts) that encloses or partially encloses the flower.

6a) Peduncle = Main stem that attaches to a single flower or the central stem of a cluster.

6b) Pedicel (pedicle) = stem that attaches to a single flower inside a cluster. These branch off the peduncle. Or the the main stem of a grass spikelet.

Pappus (modified calyx) = hairs attached to the fruit of the Asteraceae. (the fluffy part of the dandelion)

Perianth = made up of the Corolla (petals) and Calyx (sepals) especially when they appear similar. There are many arrangement types of perianth. They are used to describe the form of the flower,

3-merous, 4-merous = refers to the number of sepals and petals in a perianth. This term is only used when the number of petals equals the number of sepals. If a flower is described as 4-merous, it will have four sepals and four petals.

Tepals = when the Corolla (petals) and Calyx (sepals) are not clearly differentiated. They look and act like petals.

Flower Structure of Grass

Starting from the middle

1) Pistil = female structure, typically one - Stigma (sticky pollen collector) is bi-lobed and feather-like, Ovary produces one seed (grain).

2) Stamen = male structure, typically three - Anther (pollen producer) held up by a filament.

3) Pappus (modified calyx) = may be scales or hairs.

4) Lemma and Palem (modified bract) = encloses the stamens and pistil.

Arrangement of Flowers

Inflorescence can be any of the following: 1) one flower, 2) a cluster of flowers, 3) arrangement of flowers on an axis.

These are only a few of the many inflorescence types

Solitary = like a tea rose - single flower on a peduncle (not a daisy).

Head = like a daisy - one "flower" made up of a dense cluster of tiny flowers. Often the outer ring of tiny flowers have an elongated petal which forms the ray petals.

Spike = like Blue Sage - branchless stem (peduncle) with multiple flowers without pedicels, blooms from the bottom up.

Raceme = like a Bluebonnet - branchless stem (peduncle) with multiple flowers on pedicels, blooms from the bottom up.

Umbel = like wild carrots - flat (sometimes rounded) dome of flowers, pedicels start at a common point. Each flower/pedicel are sometimes called "rays".

Plant Reproduction

Apomixis = asexual reproduction where the embryo grow in egg cells without being fertilized by pollen - a clone


Leaves are the parts of plants generally used to produce photosynthesis.

A few Leaf Shapes:

Deltoid = rounded triangle

Lanceolate = long, wide base

Linear = long, thin

Elliptic = long, widest at middle

Oblanceolate = long, widest near the apex end, sharp apex

Oblong = long, evenly wide, round to pointed apex

Obovate = nearly round, narrow base

Ovate = long round, evenly wide

Ovate = long round, wide base and narrowing apex

Spatulate = long, widest at the round apex, narrow base

A few Margin Shapes:

Entire = no teeth, lobes, or divisions

Cleft = irregularly lobed, cut halfway to the center

Bipinnatifid = deeply lobed; lobes are lobed

Dentate = large sharp evenly spaced teeth pointing outward not forward

Denticulate = small sharp evenly spaced teeth pointing outward not forward

Lobed = irregularly lobed, cut less than halfway to the center

Serrate = large sharp evenly spaced teeth pointing forward

Serrulate = small sharp evenly spaced teeth pointing forward

Sinuate = wavy margined

A few Leaf Divisions:

Simple = one leaf

Pinnate = compound; leaflets arranged along opposite sides of axis

Palmate = compound; leaflets arranged radial from one point

Bipinnate = pinnate compound with compound leaflets

A few Stem Arrangements:

Alternate = one leaf per node; each node faces opposite directions

Basal = leaves grow at the base of the stem

Opposite = two leaves per node; leaves on opposite sides of stem

Rosette = radiating leaves near base of the stem

Whorled = three or more leaves per node; leaves circle stem

A few Apex Shapes:

Acute = pointed apex with straight sides

Emarginate = notched apex

Obtuse = wide rounded apex

Mucronate = apex with an abrupt point or spine (mucro)

A few Leaf Bases:

Attenuate = narrow pointed base

Cordate = heart shaped notch at base

Rounded = round base

A few Vein Patterns:

Reticulate or net-veined = intersecting veins

Parallel-veined = parallel to axis

Ribbed = prominent ribs or veins


Petiole = stalk of a leaf

Petiolulate = stalk of a leaflet


Capitate = have a blunt or round "pin-head" at end

Spreading-pilose = with long, soft, more or less straight hairs

Stellate = radiate from central point, star-like


Division of Fungi

Basidiomyccota = fungus with gills or pores. They have spores that are attached to specialized cells called basidia. You will need a good microscope to see these cells.

Ascomycota = produce spores in specialized cells called asci, that typically hold about 8 spores like a bean pod. This is the largest phylum of fungi. There are some that are "mushroom-like" but the caps are covered in ridges or the cup folds upward.

 Wildflower Index


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