Herbaceous vs. Woody Plants
Theophrastus (about 370 - 285 B.C.) is often called the "Father of Botany." He was a Greek
philosopher and naturalist, and pupil of Aristotle. He was the first person to publish an organized
classification of plants. In his Enquiry into Plants he described 480 plants, mostly cultivated, and
classified or arranged them into 4 groups:
1. Herbs (these were further grouped into annuals, biennials, and perennials)
This course covers Woody and Herbaceous plants.
A Woody plant is a perennial tree or shrub. The stem remains above ground during the winter.
About 50 % of the plants in the world are woody plants.
A Herbaceous perennial plant has stems that die back to the ground each year. A woody stem
also develops secondary tissue and increases in stem diameter.
Dendrology is a Forestry term used to describe the study of trees.
Silviculture or silvics is a Forestry term used to describe the culture or growing of forest trees.
Woody perennials can be divided into 3 main types:
1. Arborescent = Woody and tree-like in size, usually with a single main trunk or stem.
Some people define a tree as anything over 10 feet tall.
2. Shrubby or fruticose = Woody throughout and large, usually with several main stems.
3. Suffrutescent = A semi-shrub. A perennial plant with stems only woody at the base. The
woody stems only partially die back each year. Ex. Paeonia suffruticosa.
Herbaceous Plants are often divided into 3 types:
1. Annuals = Plants that complete their life cycle in one year. They grow from seed,
produce foliage, flower, and produce fruits and seed in one season.
Remember, many perennials that are not winter hardy are grown as annuals.
Sometimes these are called horticultural annuals.
2. Biennials = Plants that live for two years from seed. They flower only or mostly in the
second year. Alcea rosea or Hollyhock is a biennial, as is Daucus carota, the carrot.
Some perennials are short lived and resemble biennials in cultivation. Also, some
biennials are cold treated or otherwise manipulated so that they appear as annuals.
The common Pansy, Viola x wittrockiana, is often planted in the fall and flowers in
late winter or spring.
3. Herbaceous Perennials = Plants that live for 3 years or more. Some perennials are
short lived, others will grow well for many years. If grown from seed, many should
flower in the following season.