Plant and Seed Lingo

March 6, 2016 lawanda Newspaper Columns

Every occupation and hobby has its own unique language.  Newcomers can be confused by terms that they haven’t heard before, or haven’t heard used in a particular way.  Gardening is no different.  Here are a few terms to know before you buy plants or seeds.

  • Annual plants aren’t able to survive our winters so they grow, set seed and die all in one year.  Tomatoes, beans, dill, basil, zinnias, marigolds and petunias are annuals.  Some annual plants are self-seeding.  Seeds fall to the ground in autumn and in spring they germinate to produce what are called “volunteer” plants.  Dill is a notable volunteer.
  • Biennial plants live two years.  They spend the first year developing roots and leaves.  The second year they flower and set seed.  Carrots and parsley are actually biennial if left in the ground over winter.  Black-eyed Susan and Sweet William are also biennial.
  • Perennial plants live several years to hundreds of years.  Asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, hostas, sedum, lilacs, and oak trees are all perennials.
  • Heirloom seeds are those from plants that have been around at least 50 years.  Often they are passed down in a family or community just like Grandma’s pearl necklace.  When seeds are saved and replanted, new plants are exactly the same as parent plants.  Heirloom plant pollen is carefully kept separate from other plants of the same species usually by planting them some distance apart.  For example, a Brandywine tomato might be planted at one end of the garden and a Cherokee Purple at the other.
  • Open-pollinated plants are those that have been pollinated by wind, birds, insects or humans.  All heirloom plants are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. When pollen is shared between varieties of the same species and seeds are saved, plants adapt to local growing conditions over the generations.
  • Hybrid plants are those that result from deliberate cross pollination by humans between two different varieties or species with the intention of breeding for a desired trait such as size, vigor or disease resistance.  Seeds saved from hybrid plants are genetically unstable and do not grow true to the parent plant.  Examples are ‘Peaches and Cream’ sweet corn, Wave petunias, Concord grapes, French hybrid lilacs, ‘Cottonless’ cottonwood, and ‘Ruby Mac’ apples.
  • Cultivar is short for “cultivated variety.”  This includes ornamental plants like roses and peonies as well as most everything we find in the vegetable garden.
  • Native plants are those that were growing in a particular location before European settlement.  These are the plants that native animals, birds, insects and even fish depend upon for survival.  Native plants are well adapted to the soil and climate of their home location and thrive without added fertilizer and water.
  • Native cultivars, or nativars, are not native plants.  They have been changed by human intervention and as a result are unlikely to provide the benefits to the ecosystem that the original native plant supplied.  Examples of nativars are ‘Glow Girl’ spirea and ‘Rainbow Marcella’ echinacea.

 

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