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Published June 08, 2015, 07:48 AM

Growing Together: Knowing botany terms increases gardening success

Directions accompanying strawberry plants usually specify the crown must be located at the correct level for proper growth. That's fine, if you know the definition of a crown. I chuckle when plant people use terminology as though the whole world majored in college botany.

By: Don Kinzler, Forum News Service

Directions accompanying strawberry plants usually specify the crown must be located at the correct level for proper growth. That's fine, if you know the definition of a crown. I chuckle when plant people use terminology as though the whole world majored in college botany.

Familiarity with just 40 plant terms unlocks a whole world of green thumb success. For example, if we're told to examine the health of next year's buds by looking in the axils, we won't be taken aback by a word that sounds like a car part.

An unknown plant's identity can be solved by observing whether leaves are alternate or opposite. Terminal growth makes better geranium cuttings. We can determine if a tree is dead or alive by examining the cambium layer. But only if we're familiar with the key word.

Test your botanical IQ by seeing if you can describe the following terms before you peek at their definitions.

Annual: A plant whose life cycle is completed in one growing season in which they grow from seed, flower, and then die during winter. Petunias, marigolds, zinnias.

Biennial: Grow from seed one year, and if allowed to remain during winter, they'll flower and produce seed the second season. Hollyhocks, carrots, onions.

Perennial: A plant capable of living more than two years.

Herbaceous: Plant that's non-woody. Most perennial flowers.

Tree: Woody plant with one main trunk, sometimes multiple. Generally considered growing taller than 12 feet.

Shrub: Woody plant, usually with multiple stems less than 12 feet high.

Vine: Plants with long, trailing stems. Some cling by twining around support. Others have tendrils and suction cups to attach to wood or masonry.

Stem: Part of the plant from which leaves and buds arise. Its interior transports water and nutrients.

Node: Area of the stem, usually swollen, from which leaves arise.

Crown: Compact region between above-ground parts and the roots, usually near soil surface, from which new shoots arise. Strawberry, dandelion, rhubarb, hosta.

Cambium: Thin layer in stems and branches between outer brown/gray bark and inner white wood, visible by scratching outer bark. Healthy, live cambium should be green, not brown.

Spur: Short, stubby twigs arising from branches, on which flowers and fruits like apples are born.

Stolon: Above-ground horizontal stem, sometimes called a runner, by which the plant spreads. Strawberries, spider plants.

Rhizome: Underground horizontal stem of a spreading plant. Quackgrass.

Tuber: Underground swollen stem with buds called "eyes." Potato, dahlia.

Bulb: Underground stem divided into layers called "scales." Lily, onion, tulips.

Corm: Underground bulb-like stem with no scales. Gladiolus.

Cane: Stem that's pithy and often lives only a few years. Raspberry, rose.

Sucker: Secondary shoots, often unwanted, that arise from the roots or lower stem of a plant.

Blade: Expanded, conspicuous part of the leaf.

Petiole: The stalk that attaches the widened leaf blade to a branch or stem.

Axil: The angle between the leaf petiole and the branch or stem to which it's attached. Buds are usually located in the axils.

Simple Leaf: Leaf blade is one continuous single unit.

Compound Leaf: Each leaf is composed of smaller leaflets. In autumn the leaf falls as a unit.

Leaf Margin: Outer edge of the leaf,

Serrate Leaf: Margin has teeth.

Entire Leaf: Margin is smooth, with no teeth or lobes.

Veins: Thin "lines" on leaf that conduct water and nutrients.

Opposite Leaves: Leaves are arranged directly opposite each other along a stem in pairs.

Alternate Leaves: Leaves are arranged in alternating steps along a stem, with only one leaf at each node.

Bud: Small round or round-pointed knob located in leaf axils or at the tips of stems containing undeveloped future leaves or flowers.

Leaf Buds: Less plump and more pointed than buds containing future flowers.

Flower Buds: More plump and rounded than leaf buds.

Terminal Buds: Located at tip of stem. Their dominance can cause side buds to remain dormant. "Pinching" terminals allows multiple side buds to begin growth which helps plants like chrysanthemums become more "bushy."

Lateral Buds: Buds located along sides of stems.

Taproot: A main root that elongates downward. Carrot, parsnip, oak, walnut.

Lateral Fibrous Roots: Root system develops outwards sideways. Most trees, shrubs, and perennials.

Pistil: Female part of the flower upon which pollen lands.

Stamen: Male part that contains pollen-producing yellow anthers held on a filament.

Pollination: Transfer of pollen to the female part of a flower by insects or wind.

Cross-Pollination: When pollen from a flower of one plant is transferred to a flower on a different plant.

Self-Pollination: When pollination occurs within the same flower, or the same plant.

Self-Fertile: Plants that don't need pollen from a second individual to produce fruit. A single plant can fruit with it's own pollen. Strawberry, raspberry, tomato.

Germination: When a seed resumes active growth and "sprouts."

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Tune in to his weekly radio segment from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WDAY Radio 970. Readers can reach him at