Herbaceous plant

Last updated
Lysimachia latifolia (Broadleaf starflower) is a perennial herbaceous plant of the ground layer of forests in western North America. Trientalis borealis 1177.JPG
Lysimachia latifolia (Broadleaf starflower) is a perennial herbaceous plant of the ground layer of forests in western North America.

Herbaceous plants are vascular plants that have no persistent woody stems above ground. [1] [2] This broad category of plants includes many perennials, and nearly all annuals and biennials. [3]


Definitions of "herb" and "herbaceous"

The fourth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines "herb" as:

  1. "A plant whose stem does not become woody and persistent (as in a tree or shrub) but remains soft and succulent, and dies (completely or down to the root) after flowering";
  2. "A (freq. aromatic) plant used for flavouring or scent, in medicine, etc.". (See: Herb)

The same dictionary defines "herbaceous" as:

  1. "Of the nature of a herb; esp. not forming a woody stem but dying down to the root each year";
  2. "BOTANY Resembling a leaf in colour or texture. Opp. scarious". [4]

Botanical sources differ from each other on the definition of "herb". For instance, the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation includes the condition "when persisting over more than one growing season, the parts of the shoot dying back seasonally". [5] However, some orchids, such as species of Phalaenopsis are described in some sources (including the authoritative Plants of the World Online) as "herbs" but with "leaves persistent or sometimes deciduous". [6] [7] In the glossary of Flora of the Sydney Region, Roger Charles Carolin defines "herb" as a "plant that does not produce a woody stem", and the adjective "herbaceous" as meaning "herb-like", referring to parts of the plant that are green and soft in texture". [8] [9]


Herbaceous plants include graminoids, forbs, and ferns. [10] Forbs are generally defined as herbaceous broad leafed plants, [11] while graminoids are plants with grass-like appearance including the true grasses, sedges, and rushes. [12] [13]

Herbaceous plants most often are low growing plants, different from woody plants like trees and shrubs, tending to have soft green stems that lack lignification and their above-ground growth is ephemeral and often seasonal in duration. [14] By contrast, non-herbaceous vascular plants are woody plants which have stems above ground that remain alive, even during any dormant season, and grow shoots the next year from the above-ground parts these include trees, shrubs, vines and woody bamboos. Banana plants are also regarded as a herbaceous plant because the stem does not contain true woody tissue. [15]

Some herbaceous plants can grow rather large, such as the genus Musa , to which the banana belongs. [16]

Habit and habitat

Senecio angulatus, a herbaceous scrambler and climber Senecio angulatus on fence.jpg
Senecio angulatus , a herbaceous scrambler and climber

Some relatively fast-growing herbaceous plants (especially annuals) are pioneers, or early-successional species. Others form the main vegetation of many stable habitats, occurring for example in the ground layer of forests, or in naturally open habitats such as meadow, salt marsh or desert. Some habitats, like grasslands and prairies and savannas, [17] are dominated by herbaceous plants along with aquatic environments like ponds, streams and lakes.

The age of some herbaceous perennial plants can be determined by herbchronology, the analysis of annual growth rings in the secondary root xylem. [18]

Herbaceous plants do not produce perennializing above ground structures using lignin, which is a complex phenolic polymer deposited in the secondary cell wall of all vascular plants. The development of lignin during vascular plant evolution provided mechanical strength, rigidity, and hydrophobicity to secondary cell walls creating a woody stem, allowing plants to grow tall and transport water and nutrients over longer distances within the plant body. Since most woody plants are perennials with a longer life cycle because it takes more time and more resources (nutrients and water) to produce persistently living lignified woody stems, they are not as able to colonize open and dry ground as rapidly as herbs.

The surface of herbs is a catalyst for dew, [19] [20] which in arid climates and seasons is the main type of precipitation and is necessary for the survival of vegetation, [21] [22] i.e. in arid areas, herbaceous plants are a generator of precipitation and the basis of an ecosystem. Most of the water vapor that turns into dew comes from the air, not the soil or clouds. [23] [24] The taller the herb (surface area is the main factor though), the more dew it produces, [25] [26] so a short cut of the herbs necessitates watering. For example, if you frequently and shortly cut the grass without watering in an arid zone, then desertification occurs, as shown here.

Types of herbaceous plants

Herbaceous plants include plants that have either an annual, biennial, or perennial life cycle. Annual herbaceous plants die completely at the end of the growing season or when they have flowered and fruited, and then new plants grow from seed. [27] Herbaceous perennial and biennial plants may have stems that die at the end of the growing season, but parts of the plant survive under or close to the ground from season to season (for biennials, until the next growing season, when they grow and flower again, then die).

New growth can also develops from living tissues remaining on or under the ground, including roots, a caudex (a thickened portion of the stem at ground level) or various types of underground stems, such as bulbs, corms, stolons, rhizomes and tubers. Examples of herbaceous biennials include carrot, parsnip and common ragwort; herbaceous perennials include potato, peony, hosta, mint, most ferns and most grasses. [28]

Related Research Articles

Shrub Small- to medium-sized perennial wood plant

A shrub is a small-to-medium-sized perennial woody plant. Unlike herbaceous plants, shrubs have persistent woody stems above the ground. Shrubs can be either deciduous or evergreen. They are distinguished from trees by their multiple stems and shorter height, less than 6–10 m (20–33 ft) tall. Small shrubs, less than 2 m (6.6 ft) tall are sometimes termed as subshrubs. Many botanical groups have species that are shrubs, and others that are trees and herbaceous plants instead.

Deciduous Trees or shrubs that lose their leaves seasonally

In the fields of horticulture and botany, the term deciduous means "falling off at maturity" and "tending to fall off", in reference to trees and shrubs that seasonally shed leaves, usually in the autumn; to the shedding of petals, after flowering; and to the shedding of ripe fruit. The antonym of deciduous in the botanical sense is evergreen.

Grassland Area with vegetation dominated by grasses

Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae). However, sedge (Cyperaceae) and rush (Juncaceae) can also be found along with variable proportions of legumes, like clover, and other herbs. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica and are found in most ecoregions of the Earth. Furthermore, grasslands are one of the largest biomes on earth and dominate the landscape worldwide. There are different types of grasslands: natural grasslands, semi-natural grasslands, and agricultural grasslands. They cover 31–43% of the Earth's land area.

Alpine tundra Biome found at high altitudes

Alpine tundra is a type of natural region or biome that does not contain trees because it is at high elevation. As the latitude of a location approaches the poles, the threshold elevation for alpine tundra gets lower until it reaches sea level, and alpine tundra merges with polar tundra.

Forb Herbaceous, broad-leaved flowering plant

A forb or phorb is a herbaceous flowering plant that is not a graminoid. The term is used in biology and in vegetation ecology, especially in relation to grasslands and understory. Typically these are dicots without woody stems.

Perennial plant Plant that lives for more than two years

A perennial plant or simply perennial is a plant that lives more than two years. The term is often used to differentiate a plant from shorter-lived annuals and biennials. The term is also widely used to distinguish plants with little or no woody growth from trees and shrubs, which are also technically perennials.

Subshrub Short woody plant

A subshrub or dwarf shrub is a short shrub, and is a woody plant. Prostrate shrub is a related term. "Subshrub" is often used interchangeably with "bush".

<i>Alchemilla alpina</i> Species of flowering plant

Alchemilla alpina, commonly known as alpine lady's-mantle, is an arctic-montane herbaceous perennial plant native to Europe and Southern Greenland.

Ephemeral plant

An ephemeral plant is one marked by short life cycles. The word ephemeral means transitory or quickly fading. In regard to plants, it refers to several distinct growth strategies. The first, spring ephemeral, refers to perennial plants that emerge quickly in the spring and die back to their underground parts after a short growth and reproduction phase. Desert ephemerals are plants which are adapted to take advantage of the short wet periods in arid climates. Mud-flat ephemerals take advantage of short periods of low water. In areas subjected to recurring human disturbance, such as plowing, weedy ephemerals are very short-lived plants whose entire life cycle takes less than a growing season. In each case, the species has a life cycle timed to exploit a short period when resources are freely available.

<i>Solidago canadensis</i> Species of flowering plant

Solidago canadensis, known as Canada goldenrod or Canadian goldenrod, is an herbaceous perennial plant of the family Asteraceae. It is native to northeastern and north-central North America and often forms colonies of upright growing plants, with many small yellow flowers in a branching inflorescence held above the foliage. It is an invasive plant in other parts of the continent and several areas worldwide, including Europe and Asia. It is grown as an ornamental in flower gardens.

This page provides a glossary of plant morphology. Botanists and other biologists who study plant morphology use a number of different terms to classify and identify plant organs and parts that can be observed using no more than a handheld magnifying lens. This page provides help in understanding the numerous other pages describing plants by their various taxa. The accompanying page—Plant morphology—provides an overview of the science of the external form of plants. There is also an alphabetical list: Glossary of botanical terms. In contrast, this page deals with botanical terms in a systematic manner, with some illustrations, and organized by plant anatomy and function in plant physiology.

Barren vegetation Area of land where plant growth may be limited

Barren vegetation describes an area of land where plant growth may be sparse, stunted, and/or contain limited biodiversity. Environmental conditions such as toxic or infertile soil, high winds, coastal salt-spray, and climatic conditions are often key factors in poor plant growth and development. Barren vegetation can be categorized depending on the climate, geology, and geographic location of a specific area.

Plant life-form schemes constitute a way of classifying plants alternatively to the ordinary species-genus-family scientific classification. In colloquial speech, plants may be classified as trees, shrubs, herbs, etc. The scientific use of life-form schemes emphasizes plant function in the ecosystem and that the same function or "adaptedness" to the environment may be achieved in a number of ways, i.e. plant species that are closely related phylogenetically may have widely different life-form, for example Adoxa and Sambucus are from the same family, but the former is a small herbaceous plant and the latter is a shrub or tree. Conversely, unrelated species may share a life-form through convergent evolution.

Woody plant Plant that produces wood and has a hard stem

A woody plant is a plant that produces wood as its structural tissue and thus has a hard stem. In cold climates, woody plants further survive winter or dry season above ground, as opposite to herbaceous plants that die back to the ground until spring.

Plant stem Structural axis of a vascular plant

A stem is one of two main structural axes of a vascular plant, the other being the root. It supports leaves, flowers and fruits, transports water and dissolved substances between the roots and the shoots in the xylem and phloem, stores nutrients, and produces new living tissue.

Weed Plant considered undesirable in a particular place or situation

A weed is a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation, "a plant in the wrong place". Examples commonly are plants unwanted in human-controlled settings, such as farm fields, gardens, lawns, and parks. Taxonomically, the term "weed" has no botanical significance, because a plant that is a weed in one context is not a weed when growing in a situation where it is wanted. In the same way, volunteer crops (plants) are regarded as weeds in a subsequent crop. The term weed is also applied to any plant that grows or reproduces aggressively, or is invasive outside its native habitat.

Herb Plant used for food, medicine or perfume

In general use, herbs are a widely distributed and widespread group of plants, excluding vegetables and other plants consumed for macronutrients, with savory or aromatic properties that are used for flavoring and garnishing food, for medicinal purposes, or for fragrances. Culinary use typically distinguishes herbs from spices. Herbs generally refers to the leafy green or flowering parts of a plant, while spices are usually dried and produced from other parts of the plant, including seeds, bark, roots and fruits.


Herbchronology is the analysis of annual growth rings in the secondary root xylem of perennial herbaceous plants. While leaves and stems of perennial herbs die down at the end of the growing season the root often persists for many years or even the entire life. Perennial herb species belonging to the dicotyledon group are characterized by secondary growth, which shows as a new growth ring added each year to persistent roots. About two thirds of all perennial dicotyledonous herb species with a persistent root that grow in the strongly seasonal zone of the northern hemisphere show at least fairly clear annual growth rings.

Herbfields are plant communities dominated by herbaceous plants, especially forbs and grasses. They are found where climatic conditions do not allow large woody plants to grow, such as in subantarctic and alpine tundra environments. Herbfield is defined in New South Wales (Australia) government legislation as native vegetation that predominantly does not contain an over-storey or a mid-storey and where ground cover is dominated by non-grass species. The New Zealand Department of Conservation has described herbfield vegetation as that in which the cover of herbs in the canopy is 20–100%, and in which herb cover is greater than that of any other growth form, or of bare ground.

<i>Aeluropus lagopoides</i> Species of grass

Aeluropus lagopoides, sometimes called mangrove grass or rabbit-foot aeluropus, is a species of Eurasian and African plant in the grass family, found primarily in salty soils and waste places.


  1. Flora of the British Isles, Clapham, Tutin, and Warburg, 2nd edition
  2. Richard N. Arteca (14 February 2014). Introduction to Horticultural Science. Cengage Learning. pp. 584–. ISBN   978-1-111-31279-4.
  3. Solomon, E.P.; Berg, L.R.; Martin, D.W. (2004). Biology . Brooks/Cole Thomson Learning. ISBN   978-0-534-49547-3.
  4. Shorter Oxford English dictionary on historical principles (6th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007. pp. 1236–1237. ISBN   978-0-19-920687-2.
  5. "Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation". Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  6. "Phalaenopsis". Flora of China. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  7. "Phalaenopsis - General Description". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  8. Carolin, Roger C.; Tindale, Mary D. (1994). Flora of the Sydney region (4th ed.). Chatswood, NSW: Reed. p. 23. ISBN   0-73-010400-1.
  9. "Glossary of Botanical Terms". Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  10. Kailash Chandra Bebarta (2011). Dictionary of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 224–. ISBN   978-81-8069-719-7.
  11. Wilson G. Pond (16 November 2004). Encyclopedia of Animal Science (Print). CRC Press. pp. 425–. ISBN   978-0-8247-5496-9.
  12. Iain J. Gordon; Herbert H.T. Prins (14 September 2007). The Ecology of Browsing and Grazing. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 220–. ISBN   978-3-540-72422-3.
  13. Brian R. Chapman; Eric G. Bolen (31 August 2015). Ecology of North America. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 98–. ISBN   978-1-118-97154-3.
  14. Andrew J. Lack; David E. Evans (2005). Plant Biology. Garland Science. pp. 199–. ISBN   978-0-415-35643-5.
  15. "Is A Banana A Fruit Or A Herb? | Lexico". Lexico Dictionaries | English.
  16. Picq, Claudine & INIBAP, eds. (2000). Bananas (PDF) (English ed.). Montpellier: International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantains/International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. ISBN   978-2-910810-37-5. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 11, 2013. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  17. Patrick L. Osborne (31 August 2000). Tropical Ecosystems and Ecological Concepts. Cambridge University Press. pp. 50–. ISBN   978-0-521-64523-2.
  18. Hiebert-Giesbrecht, Mickel Randolph; Novelo-Rodríguez, Candelaria Yuseth; Dzib, Gabriel Rolando; Calvo-Irabién, Luz María; Arx, Georg von; Peña-Rodríguez, Luis Manuel (2017-11-09). "Herb-chronology as a tool for determining the age of perennial forbs in tropical climates". Botany. doi:10.1139/cjb-2017-0167.
  19. Erell, Evyatar (2005). "Predicting air temperatures in city streets on the basis of measured reference data" (PDF). University of Adelaide, South Australia.
  20. Xu, Yingying (2017). "A Novel method for monitoring urban dew condensation and its application". Tehnički Vjesnik. 24 (5). doi:10.17559/TV-20170727025640.
  21. Wang, Chengdong (2017). "Formation and influencing factors of dew in sparse elm woods and grassland in a semi-arid area". Acta Ecologica Sinica. 37 (3): 125–132. doi:10.1016/j.chnaes.2017.06.004.
  22. Uclés, O (2013). "Role of dewfall in the water balance of a semiarid coastal steppe ecosystem". Hydrological Processes. 28 (4): 2271–2280. doi:10.1002/hyp.9780.
  23. Shiklomanov (2004). "Experimental research on the role of dew in arid ecosystem of Gobi desert, inner Mongolia". Research Basins and Hydrological Planning. ISBN   9781439833858.
  24. Wen, XueFa (2011). "Dew water isotopic ratios and their relationships to ecosystem water pools and fluxes in a cropland and a grassland in China". Ecosystem Ecology. 168 (2): 549–561. doi:10.1007/s00442-011-2091-0. PMID   21822725. S2CID   11954532.
  25. Sudmeyer, R.A. (1994). "Measured dewfall and potential condensation on grazed pasture in the Collie River basin, southwestern Australia". Journal of Hydrology. 154 (1–4): 255–269. Bibcode:1994JHyd..154..255S. doi:10.1016/0022-1694(94)90220-8.
  26. Xiao, H. (2009). "Effect of vegetation type and growth stage on dewfall, determined with high precision weighing lysimeters at a site in northern Germany". Journal of Hydrology. 377 (1–2): 43–49. Bibcode:2009JHyd..377...43X. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2009.08.006.
  27. Levine, Carol. 1995. A guide to wildflowers in winter: herbaceous plants of northeastern North America. New Haven: Yale University Press. page 1.
  28. "Herbaceous Plants Examples". Biology Dictionary. 2018-04-02. Retrieved 2022-04-30.