Plant Jargon

Have you heard or read a term or phrase referring to a plant, part of a plant or something else to do with plants that you don't understand? 
We've put together a list of terms commonly used while referring to houseplants, and their definitions.

Don't see the word or term you need help with?  Let us know and we will add it to this page!


Let's start at the beginning of plants-
When we talk about Family, Genus and Species, we talk about the breakdown of how plants are classified.  We will use the ever popular Monstera Deliciosa to outline this breakdown. 

Family:  Monstera belong to the family Araceae, more commonly referred to as the arum family, or simply, aroids.  This family includes other commonly known genera such as Dieffenbachia, Aglaonema, Anthurium and Philodendron.  While they all share some similarities, especially in a botanical sense, they are not the same as one another, which is why families are then broken down in to different genera (plural of genus).  All are Araceae, or aroids, but each genus has their own unique characteristics.

Genus: The genus Monstera belongs to the aroid family, but have their own characteristics that set them apart from others.  There are 45 species of Monstera that this genus is broken down in to.

Species: Within the Monstera genus, those 45 species are identified as unique types of plants.  The 'Deliciosa' in Monstera Deliciosa is the species name to the genus Monstera.  While Monstera adansonii and Monstera siltepecana are all member of the Monstera genus, they are their very own species.  In some situations, such as Monstera Adansonii, there are also subspecies within the one species, each with their unique characteristics and appearance.  This is where the "wide form" and "narrow form" of Monstera Adansonii come from.

Now, let's discuss the different types of plants, based on how, where and from what they live.

Terrestrial:  A terrestrial plant is a plant that grows on, in or from the land. These are known as land plants and are what most people think of when they hear the word plant.

Epiphyte:  Simply put, an epiphyte is an organism, or plant, that lives on, and grows from the surface of a plant and gets it's water and nutrients from the air and surrounding area, without necessarily affecting the plant on which they grow from. They do not live in the ground as a terrestrial plant would. They are also different from parasites, as a parasite would use the host plant (the one it is growing from) as a source of nutrients.  The most common epiphytic plants are Tillandsia (Air Plants), mosses, orchids and some ferns.  Epiphytes can be broken down in to 2 major categories.

Holo-epiphyte:  A holo-epiphyte is a plant that will spend it's entire life without making contact with the ground.  It's whole life is spent out of dirt, or soil, living on, or in another plant.  Orchids and Tillandsia are the best examples of holo-epiphytes.  They will use their roots to attach to trees and shrubs, among other things, and take all of their nutrients and moisture out of the air.

Hemi-epiphyte: A hemi-epiphyte is a plant that will spend half of it's life without making contact with the ground.  These interesting plants will grow in the trees, from seed and/or offshoot, and grow, eventually sending out long roots.  These roots will grow very long, making their way to the forest floor, where they touch ground, and convert to terrestrial roots, anchoring them in place and feeding the plant even more.  Great examples of hemi-epiphytes can be found in the Philodendron and Thaumatophyllum genera.  These large plants can grow high in the canopy and have long aerial roots, making their way to the ground, where they will root down.

Semi-epiphyte: Semi-epiphyte is a term we use, that is not truly a classification of plants, but more of a description of a plant that can live terrestrial (in soil) or epiphytically.  A great example of this would be a Staghorn Fern.  Many times, you will see Staghorn ferns mounted to the side of a tree, or in houseplants, on a wooden slab.  These incredible ferns, among many others, are perfect epiphytes and get everything they need from the moist air around them.  On the other hand, they can be grown in, and thrive in, soil, or a soilless mixture such as peat moss.  Then, their roots will obtain the water and nutrients they need from the soil.  

Alright, we've covered the basics of the different plant types, now let's talk about plant parts. 

Stem: The main structure of a plant.  The stem is 1 of 2 main parts of any plant and provides movement of nutrients, growth of new living tissue and stability of leaves. The stem is broken down in to 2 parts: nodes and internodes.

Node: Nodes are the part of the plant stem in which leaves, buds or roots grow from.  Maybe the most well known example of nodes would be in Pothos and some Philodendron.  The part of the stem where leaves, flower buds and adventitious roots grow from.  

Internode: The internode is the second part of the plant stem, and is the area in between the nodes.

Root:  Roots make up the 2nd main part of a plant.  The anchor to the earth and the ability to absorb water and nutrients.  Roots are, with some exceptions you'll see below, at or below the earth surface.

Adventitious root: A root that emerges from a node of a plant for a number of different reasons.  Some adventitious roots grow from the first few nodes of a stem, deep in to the soil to provide added stability (Stilt Roots), while others grow vertically downward from horizontal branches and act as a type of pillar (Prop roots). Another form of an adventitious root, and probably the most commonly one seen in houseplants, is the climbing root.  These roots grow from the plant nodes, attaching themselves to some form of a support to climb up and over it.  This can be seen in Pothos, and climbing varieties of Philodendron, often grown up a totem or trellis.

Aerial root:  A root that is grown above the ground.  They are almost always adventitious. These roots can be found in a number of different plant species from Ficus to Philodendron.  They can be either negatively gravitropic (growing up, or out, away from the ground) or positively gravitropic (growing down, or out, towards the ground).  In many cases, aerial roots aid the plant by absorbing water from the dense, humid air.

Trichome: Trichomes are outward growths or appendages of a plant that can serve many purposes.  The most commonly talked about Trichomes in houseplants refer to the fuzz or hairs on Air Plants.  Trichomes can also be seen in Philodendrons and other plants, maybe most notable in Philodendron Squamiferum.  On Tillandsia, they are not as noticeable except in T. Tectorum, which appears and feels fuzzy and white.  These trichomes take in water from the moist air around them which is how Air Plants drink.

Bulb: A bulb is a short stem with scales, or leaf bases, that store food and nutrients during a period of dormancy.  Onions are a bulb, along with garlic and shallots.  In houseplants, bulbs are found in Amaryllis, lilies, and Oxalis.

Corm: A corm is usually confused with a bulb, but they are different.  A corm is the swollen end of the stem of a plant, under the surface of the soil, that is the storage center for the plant.  This is seen in Alocasia and Colocasia, among other plants.  The purpose of the corm is to store nutrients to withstand either winter or other prolonged periods of poor conditions. A corm is different from a bulb as they appear solid inside, where a bulb is made up of multiple layers. They are structurally, part of the plant's stem. 

Tuber: The most common tuber is a potato.  A tuber is an enlarged storage organ used by some plants to hold nutrients and food to withstand colder temperatures or longer periods of poor conditions. These tubers can survive underground for long periods of time, waiting to regenerate new shoots and growth, when conditions are better.  Additionally, tubers are used for propagation, as stolons grow off the tubers to create new roots, and another tuber.  This can be seen in houseplants with ZZ plants.  The tubers allow ZZ plants to go long periods of time with no water and are propagated by the stolons that grow new tubers, and therefore, a new plant, all underground.

Stolon: Also known as a runner, stolons are stems that grow at or under the soil surface that root at the nodes and form additional plants.  Strawberries are a great example of a plant with stolons.  The runners grow from one plant, out across the soil surface, to root and form another plant.  This is also seen in Strawberry Begonias, Sansevieria and ZZ Plants.

Caudex (Caudices):  A caudex is a stem, however, it is enlarged and used to store water and nutrients.  The most notable caudex in houseplants would be seen in the Desert Rose, however palms, ferns and cycads have them.


Alright, we've covered classification, types, and plant parts. Now, let's talk about the different plant growth patterns.

Mounding:  Plants that are referred to as mounding are ones that grow both vertically and horizontally, creating a mound.  This is seen more in outdoor, perennial plants, but in the houseplant world, it is more common in Sedum and certain types of cactus.  If you were to have 1 single plant, and it grows horizontally, but also puts off either new growth, or new plants, around it, vertically, it would create a mounding effect.

Trailing:  Trailing plants to just that - trail.  Tradescantia, Ivy, and String of Hearts are all great examples of this.  They grow long vines, trailing and, if on top of the soil, rooting at the nodes.  Many trailing plants are grown in hanging baskets, reaching incredible lengths and putting on a real show.

Bush: Normally referring to larger plants, especially Ficus and Hibiscus.  Bush refers to the natural, untrained growth habit.  In Fiddle Leaf Figs, we sell Bush, Standard and Column.  Both Standard and Column are trained to grow and look a certain way.  Bush growth is allowed to grow unmanaged and in the natural form of the plant.

Standard: A trained growth pattern where the lower leaves are removed as the plant grows taller, and the trunk is trained to grow straight up, vertically, to create a tree like or topiary effect.

Column: Another trained growth pattern where the trunk is trained to grow straight up, vertically, but the lower leaves are not removed, creating a column effect.

Here is a picture of 3 Ficus Lyrata (Fiddle Leaf Fig)
The farthest left is a standard, then a bush and last is a column.