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Botanical Glossary


The technical terms of botany are often difficult and obscure, but they represent an indispensable, precise shorthand when describing the physical attributes of plants. Without them, many more words would be needed to ensure a complete and accurate description. The following glossary defines the technical terms used widely in everyday botany, and you may even come across a few in some reference books.



Sagittate - Resembling an arrowhead in shape.

Samara - A winged fruit that does not split spontaneously. (e.g. maple).

Scale - A small, usually dry leaf that is closely pressed against another organ.

Scape - A leafless flower stalk that grows from the ground.

Sepal - A leaf or division of the calyx.

Serrate - Saw-toothed, with the teeth pointing toward the apex.

Sessile - Having no stalk.

Sheath- an expanded or tubular structure that partially encloses a stem or other organ.

Shoot - A stem or branch and its leaves, especially when young.

Shrub - A woody plant that produces no trunk but branches from the base.

Simple - Not compounded (leaves) or branched (stems, flower clusters).

Smooth - Not rough (compare glabrous).

Solitary - Not growing as part of a cluster or group.

Spadix - A fleshy spike.

Spathe - One or two bracts enclosing a flower cluster. (especially a spadix).

Spatulate - Shaped like a spoon, with a narrow end at the base.

Spike - A flower cluster in which sessile flowers grow along part of the length of the peduncle.

Spikelet - A small spike, particularly one of the few-flowered spikes making up the inflorescence of a grass.

Spore - A one-celled reproductive body produced by relatively primitive plants.

Spur - A slender, hollow projection from a petal or sepal.

Stamen - The male or pollen-bearing organ of a flower.

Strobile - A cone or cone-like structure.

Style - The slender, elongated part of a pistil.

Suture - A natural seam or groove along which a fruit splits.

Taproot - A single main root that grows vertically into the ground.

Terminal - Occurring at or growing from the end opposite the base. (compare lateral).

Ternate - Occurring in threes or divided into three parts.

Trifoliate - Having three leaves.

Trifoliolate - Having three leaflets.

Tripinnate - Descriptive of a pinnate leaf having pinnate leaflets with pinnate pinnules.

Tuber - A thick, fleshy part, usually of a rootstock.