1 General explanations and Credits

2 General terms

2.1 Two-dimensional shape

2.1.1 Outline

2.1.2 Apex

2.1.3 Base

2.1.4 Incision

2.1.5 Margin

2.2 Three-dimensional shape

2.2.1 Solidity + solid form

2.2.2 Cross section shape

2.3 Other

2.3.1 Position + surface shape

3 Morphological terms

3.1 General

3.1.1 Surface structure

3.1.2 Texture + other

3.1.3 General elementes + armament

3.2 Indumentum

3.3 Growth form

3.3.1 General

3.3.2 Lifetime

3.3.3 Special

3.4 Subterranean and aerial parts

3.4.1 Subterranean parts

3.4.2 Aerial parts

3.5 Synflorescence (type)

3.6 Heads, receptacle + flower

3.7 Achene + pappus


1 General explanations and credits

General explanations

  • Hyphenated character states, such as "triangular-ovate", refer to transitional character states. They must not be confused with character state ranges, which are consistently denoted as, e.g. "triangular to ovate".
  • The prefix "sub-" diminishes a character state: e.g. subglabrous means nearly glabrous.


Advice for the definitions and artworks for the illustrations (by Michael Rodewald, Berlin) of terms explained in this glossary have been sought in various sources. Where the usage of terms differs between sources, the Portal editors decided as they think best. Feedback is most welcome.

The following glossaries have been the main sources:

  • Beentje H. & Cheek M. 2003: Glossary. Flora of Tropical East Africa. – Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens.
  • Hewson H. J. 1988: Plant indumentum. A handbook of terminology. – Austral. Fl. Fauna Ser. 9.
  • Stearn W. T. 1986: Botanical Latin, ed. 3. – Newton Abbot: David & Charles.

2. General terms

2.1.1 Outline

elliptic broadest at the middle with two equal rounded ends, the sides more gently rounded (1-5, 7-11)


longer than broad, with the margins parallel for most of their length (12-17, 19-24)



narrow and much longer than wide, with parallel margins (12, 24)



egg-shaped, about twice as long as broad, with the wider part below the middle (36-44)



= narrowly ovate (36, 37)



egg-shaped with the broadest part near the apex (45-53)

spathulate = oblanceolate = narrowly obovate (45, 46)


having three angles, like a triangle (72-83)



shaped like a ± equal-sided triangle (78-79)


2.1.2 Apex

acute sharp, sharply pointed, the margins near the tip being almost straight and forming an angle of < 90°;
opposite: obtuse
acuminate tapering to a long tip (usually of leaf tips)


mucronate ending abruptly in short stiff point


obtuse = blunt; not pointed; opposite: acute


rounded smoothly curved, without abrupt angels


truncate ending abruptly in a more or less straight line, as if cut off



2.1.3 Base

cuneate tapering gradually, wedge-shaped
truncate ending abruptly in a more or less straight line, as if cut off
attenuate gradually tapering over a long distance
cordate deeply notched so the whole base has a slight heart-shape
hastate with 2 ± triangular lobes diverging from the petiole apex
sagittate with 2 acute lobes, like an arrow-head
oblique when the two sides of the leaf are unequal near the base
peltate round and attached in or near the centre; of a leaf, with the petiole attached to the blade, away from the margin
auriculate embracing/clasping the stem with ear-like structures


= amplexicaul; embracing the stem, e.g. the leaf base extending to the side of the stem opposite to the main blade  
semi-amplexicaul embracing half of the stem  
decurrent extending downwards; said of leaf edges when they continue down the stem as wings or raised lines



2.1.4 Incision

entire not divided
pinnate divided into a central axis and several lateral ribs or leaflets (like a feather)  
pinnatilobed pinnately lobed = pinnately divided,
depth of incision not specified
pinnatifid pinnately divided clearly less than halfways,
with shallow lobes
runcinate pinnatifid with the lobes pointing towards the base
pinnatipartite pinnately divided to about halfway
pinnatisect pinnately divided almost to midrib
lyrate = lyriform; = lyre-shaped; pinnately divided with a large terminal lobe and being sinuate laterally
lyrate-pinnatifid = lyrately pinnatifid  
lyrate-pinnatisect lyrately pinnatisect  

2.1.5 Margin

entire smooth, unbroken by serrations, teeth or other irregularities
prominently toothed with acute symmetrical projections
finely toothed
lacerate torn at the margin, irregularly lobed, as if torn
laciniate cut into slender lobes or drawn-out teeth
pectinate like a comb, with very close narrow and parallel divisions
toothed like a saw, with regular acute and angled teeth
minutely serrate
sinuate when the margin is uneven, with rather deep rounded sinusoidal undulations
spinose with spines
undulate wavy
ciliate bearing a fringe of hairs along the margin

2.2.1 Solidity and solid form

a. Solidity

hollow unfilled; opposite: medullary  
medullary pith-filled; opposite: hollow  

b. Solid form

cylindrical = cylindric; like a cylinder, i.e. long and narrow with a circular cross-section
campanulate bell-shaped; with a tube about as long as wide, and a flaring limb
clavate = club-shaped; thickened towards the upper end
ovoid egg-shaped, with the broad part below the middle/nearest the base
obovoid egg-shaped, with broadest part towards the apex
fusiform = spindle-shaped; thick, but tapering towards both ends
turbinate top-shaped, obconical and narrowed towards the point
hemispherical = plano-convex; in the shape of half a sphere or globe
funnel-shaped = funnel-form = infundibuliform; proximally tubular, abruptly widening to a wider distal part

2.2.2 Cross section shape

terete circular in cross-section, lacking grooves or ridges
angular = angulate; with an edge, as where two planes meet
triangular with 3 edges  
ribbed with longitudinal, distinctly convex elevations  
sulcate grooved, furrowed with longitudinal grooves  
winged with flattened to blade-like expansions
canaliculated = channelled; with a longitudinal channel or groove  

2.3.1 Position and surface shape

a. Position

retrorse = pointed downwards = recurved; bent abruptly backward or pointed towards the proximal part;
opposite: antrorse
antrorse pointing towards the distal end, upwards or forwards; opposite: retrorse


spreading = patent; held at 90° from the subtending axis  
spreading-erect = erecto-patent; held at 45° from the subtending axis)  

b. Surface shape

flat having a horizontal surface  
convex with a rounded surface, like the outside of a bowl; opposite: concave
concave hollow, as the inside of a bowl; opposite: convex

3.1.1 Surface structure

pitted with small depressions (pits)  
alveolate with pits looking like a honeycomb
foveolate minutely pitted
areolate divided into distinct spaces by boundary lines  
smooth even  
wrinkled = rugose
muricate rough, with short hard pointed protuberances
striate with several fine, parallel, longitudinal grooves
tuberculate covered with wart-like protuberances or knobs
verrucose warty

3.1.2 Texture and other

a. Texture

leathery = coriaceous; as tough as leather  
scarious = membranaceous = membranous)  thin and dry, not green  
cartilaginous = cartilagineous = callose; hard and tough, but slightly bendy  
b. Other
homomorphic units (e.g. achenes, pappus bristles) uniform (including minor gradual differences)  
heteromorphic units not uniform, with structural differences  
dimorphic two different types of units (e.g. outer and inner achenes of a head)  
uniseriate in a single whorl or series  
biseriate in two whorles or series  

3.1.3 General elements and armament (hairs)

a. General elements

trichome an epidermal outgrowth
bristle = seta; a stiff, rigid trichome  
hair an elongated single-celled or multi-celled trichome, without vascular tissue  
papilla trichome; a small elongated extension of one epidermal cell  
scale trichome; rather small, flat extension on the surfaces  
prickle a sharp outgrowth from the surface of a plant, involving several layers of cells but not containing a vein, detachable without tearing the organ
spine = thorn; a stiff, sharp-pointed structure, formed by modification of a plant organ, e.g. a lateral branch or a stipule, detachable only with tearing the organ

b) Armament (hairs)

forked hair
(= bifid) divided at the tip in two (usually equal) parts by a median cleft
stellate hair star-shaped, with numerous arms radiating outwards

3.2 Indumentum (trichome cover)

glabrous without hairs, scales or other indumentums  
glabrescent becoming glabrous or nearly so  
arachnoid = cobwebbed; cobweb-like, tangled cottony, the hairs in several directions and tangling
cottony with long, soft, weak, filamentous hairs, somewhat flocculent and entangled
floccose bearing tufts of soft hairs or wool which tend to rub off and adhere in small masses
hirsute bearing coarse, stiff, long hairs


= setose; with stiff hairs or bristles, rough to the touch

= strigillose; minutely hispid

papillose bearing papillae
pilose hairy, the hairs soft and clearly separated but not sparse
pubescent covered in fine, short, erect hairs
puberulous = puberulent; shortly pubescent


= scabrous; rough to the touch, usually from the presence of minute stiff hairs
scabridulous minutely scabrid
silky = sericeous; with closely appressed, soft, straight, fine hairs and somewhat shiny
strigose with sharp, stiff hairs appressed to the surface
tomentose densely covered in short soft hairs, these somewhat curly and matted
velvety very densely covered with fine, short, soft, erect hairs
villose = villous; shaggy, with long soft hairs
woolly = lanate = lanuginose; with tangled long hairs
glandular covered with glands or with a zone of secretion-producing tissue
viscid sticky  
scaly bearing scales  

3.3.1 Growth form (general)

tree perennial woody plant with secondary thickening, with a clear main trunk. The distinction between tree and shrub is fluid, but generally accepted to be dependent on the single trunk, and on height, a tree being at least 2-3 m tall.  
shrub self-supporting woody plant branching at or near the ground or with several stems from the base; also used for plants with a single stem but then ‘quite short’ (< 2 m)  
subshrub shrub, with basally woody, apically herbaceous stems  
rosette shrub branches all formed by the woody rosette axes, densely covered with the scars of the former rosette leaves, and with the leaves arranged in terminal rosettes  
dwarf shrub shrub c. < 0.5 m tall  
herb plant without persistent woody stem above ground  
rosette herb herb with a permanent leaf rosette  

3.3.2 Growth form (lifetime)

annual completing its life cycle within one year or one growing season  
biennial taking 2 years from seedling stage to maturity, seed-set and death, usually hibernating in the rosette stage  
pauciennial living for a few years  
perennial living for several to many years  

3.3.3 Growth form (special)

scapose with a scape; said of herbs with a basal rosette and an head rising from the centre of the rosette on a leafless stalk
acaulescent = acaulous; without a stem (or without a visible stem)  
cushion-forming many plants growing close together, forming a dense rounded mass  
rhizomatous with an underground stem (rhizome)  
climbing growing upwards by attaching itself to other structures which are used as supports  
scoparious shaped like a broom, with several closely set, upward-pointing stems  
procumbent trailing or spreading along the ground but not rooting at the nodes
ascending growing erect after an oblique or semi-horizontal beginning

3.4.1 Subterranean parts

rhizome underground stem, as distinct from root; distinguished by its nodes, buds or scale-like leaves; growing either horizontally or oblique (ascending)  
taproot the primary root, going straight down  
secondary root a root branching from the primary root  
tuberous root = tuber; a swollen root or branch of a root acting as a reserve store of nourishment or water  
root-born shoot an elongated stem (shoot), which can arise from both the taproot and the lateral roots  

3.4.2 Aerial parts

caudex often woody, persisting shoot structure of perennial rosette plants. The rosette shoot terminates with a short-lived herbaceous flowering stem and axillary buds consecutively continue the growth of the primary rosette shoot. The result is a rosette axis, densely covered marchescent leaves or the scars of the former rosette leaves, which may become elongated, woody and branched, the plants becoming few-rosetted.  
flowering stem the flowering stem is leafless or leafy, branched to certain extends or unbranched and its growth is terminated by the flower heads, which are disposed in varies ways, described as types of synflorescences.  
scape the scape is an unbranched, essentially leafless and nodeless stalk of a single flower head, arising from a caudex or rhizome.  

3.5 Synflorescence (capitulescence, secondary inflorescence)

  The disposition of the flower heads in certain structures is often described with the terminology otherwise used for the disposition of single flowers in inflorescences. The application of the inflorescence terminology to the disposition of flower heads is, however, inaccurate, as both are not homologous. The disposition of heads is therefore termed synflorescence and the superficial resemblance of certain types of disposition with such in inflorescences is expressed by terms alluding to this similarity with the suffic "-form".

Synflorescence type

racemiform a main axis produces a series of heads on lateral peduncles; the oldest at the base and the youngest at the top; shaped somehow like a raceme
paniculiform the main axis has several lateral branches, each of which carries several heads; somehow like a panicle
corymbiform a main axis produces a series of heads on branched lateral axes that start from different points of the main axis but all reach to almost the same level; shaped somehow like a corymb (pseudoumbel)
spiciform a main axis produces a series of sessile heads; somehow like a spike
syncalathium secondary head with sessile (primary) heads on a secondary receptacle  
virgate refering to a single branch: long, slender, unbranched, shaped like a rod  
intricate dense, tangled  
divaricate zig-zag  
indeterminate with the lower or outer flowers opening before the upper or inner ones, and with the floral axis continuing to grow indefinitely  

3.6 Heads, receptacle + flower

a. Position of heads

pendent = pendant = pendulous = drooping; hanging or inclining downward  

b. Receptacle

paleate = paleaceous = scaly; with chaffy scales amongst the flowers  
epaleate without scales  
bristly with stiff strong hairs  
naked lacking scales and bristles  

c. Flowers shape

ligulate corolla with a tubular base and a 5-toothed ligule  
tubular cylindrical and hollow, with a 5-lobed limb  

3.7 Achenes and pappus

a. General

achenes = cypsela; a small dry thin-walled fruit, not splitting when ripe, and containing a single seed
pappus a series of bristles, hairs or scales on the apex of the achene  

b. Pappus persistence

persistent remaining in place, not falling off; opposite: caducous  
caducous falling off soon after formation; opposite: persistent  

c. Pappus texture

fragile easily broken or damaged  
flexible = soft; capable of being bent, usually without breaking  

d. Pappus type

paleaceous = paleate; composed of scales, that are laterally fused hairs  
setaceous bristle-like, narrow and stiff  

e. Pappus bristle type

bristle trichome-like pappus element composed of a certain smaller or larger number of cells in cross section shape usually attenuate distally  
fimbria pl. fimbriae, side projection (= lateral projection)  
scabrid = scabridulous; rough, with very short fimbriae  
denticulate = toothed; with short teeth-like fimbriae  
barbellate = long-toothed; with long teeth-like fimbriae, few times longer than diameter of the bristle  
plumose with fimbriae many times longer than the diameter of the seta  
  feather-like fimbriately plumose
fimbriae arranged in one plane as is the case in a true feather
  stiffly fimbriately plumose
with stiff fimbriae pointing in all directions like a bottle-brush, each fimbria consisting of a single giant tubular cell resembling a macaroni
  softly fimbriately plumose
with soft and often interwined fimbriae pointing in all directions and consisting of a row of flattened cells resembling cotton fibers or knitting wool along the seta