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The Glossary of Plant Terms | Expand Your Plant Knowledge

The Glossary of Plant Terms | Expand Your Plant Knowledge

Whether you’re a new plant parent or someone who knows their way around a garden bed, there’s always room to expand your plant knowledge! That’s why we’ve created a comprehensive plant glossary so you can learn everything, from Angiosperm to ZZ plant. Basically, so you can understand all the botanical talk.

Plant care: 101

Let's start off with the Plants in a Box Glossary of most-used terms. You'll see these on listings, in blog posts, and hear us talk all about them on our Youtube Channel.  


Soil is the loose surface material which covers most land. Soil is made up of organic and inorganic matter. Organic fractions come from decomposing vegetative matter such as leaves whereas inorganic fractions are derived from rocks. Rocks degrade to coarse sand,clay and silt. Soil also contains air, gases and water. The combination of these elements determines the soil type and structure you have. Different regions will have different soil qualities. Depending on what you are planting you may need to check the pH level of your soil. 

Potting mix

If you’re an indoor gardener, you should use potting mix instead of garden soil! Garden soil is an unknown quantity with differing pH, nutrients, water holding capacity and air porosity. Potting mix is specially designed for pot plants and containers and is actually soil-less. It’s made up of peat moss or bark for water retention, clean coarse sand as well as vermiculite, perlite, and other goodies to control nutrients, moisture, and drainage. There is a perfect mix for your succulents and cacti and one for just for your houseplants too. It is good to note, you pay for what you get with soil mixes.


At Plants in a Box, we are all about the tube stock! Tubestock are plants grown in smaller nursery grow pots to ensure they have a fully established root system. This way they’re ready to go in the ground or in a pot as soon as you get them home. Tubestock plants are little smaller than you’d be used to seeing at your local garden centre.   Tubestock  catch up to the bigger ones in no-time!


Plant’s roots were made to wander! If planted in the same pot or container for too long, plants can become root-bound (or pot bound). This means that the roots fill up the pot and begin growing in on themselves, getting super tangled in the process, forming in a circular motion. This makes it hard to pull your plant out away from the pot it is growing in. In bad cases, the roots will begin popping out of the top of the soil or cracking or bending its pot causing the plant to show signs of an underwatered plant. The plant may wilt quickly, may have yellow or brown leaves, especially near the bottom of the plant and may have stunted growth.

If the roots wrap around the rootball a little bit, the plant is only a little root-bound. If the roots form a mat around the rootball, the plant is very root-bound. If the roots form a solid mass with little soil to be seen, the plant severely root-bound. If your plant is root bound, you have a few choices. You can either repot into a larger container, prune the roots and repot in the same container or divide the plant.

Tip: make sure you trim and untangle the roots before putting it in its new home. There is a difference between good roots and root-bound plants.


The amount of water vapour in the air. Most plants enjoy higher levels of humidity because it reduces water evaporation keeps leafs healthy. Some plants, such as tropical plants and ferns, thrive on higher levels of humidity, whereas succulents and other low moisture plants prefer lower levels of humidity. 

You can easily create natural humidity in your home. A simple way to achieve this is to group your plants together - more plants aids in releasing more moisture in the air (and ferns dig that).

One option is to add a layer of small rocks or pebbles to the bottom of a large tray or planter and then cover them with water. Pop your potted fern (or ferns) on top and you’ve got yourself a little humid oasis.

And lastly, the bathroom is always our go-to for humidity.

Full sun 

Some like it hot! Full sun plants need direct, unfiltered sunlight for at least 6 hours a day. Finding the right spot for full sun plants can be tricky and you may need to reorganise your landscaping to give them more rays. 

Part shade

Balance is key! Part shade plants like between 3 to 6 hours of sun exposure each day, ideally in the cooler hours of the morning and early afternoon (e.g. full morning sun, but sheltered afternoon sun). Filtered light through the day is ideal.

Full shade

Sun sensitive! Full shade plants like indirect, or filtered sunlight all day long. They love the shade and very little if any, direct sunlight. You can create natural shade by planting taller shrubs and trees to shelter your full shade babies.

Frost tolerant  

Frost tolerant plants are resilient to frost, snow and cold temperatures down to -5°C for a day or two. They may look sad for a while afterwards, but they’ll bounce back when the weather turns.


Tougher than tough! Hardy plants are well adapted to cooler climates and can survive frost, snow and cold temperatures down to -15°C, or several days of temperatures down to -10°C.

Drought tolerant

A long time between drinks! Drought tolerant plants can deal with infrequent watering or rainfall. This makes them well suited to in parts of Australia that are prone to drought. Australian native plants are masters of the dry.

Blanched leaves

A sign of shock! Blanched leaves are leaves that have turned a faded or white-green. This can be a result of poor light conditions (or water deficiency in ferns). Leaves can also blanch from too much sun, or from being moved outdoors too suddenly (you’ve gotta introduce them slowly).


Snip goes the shears now, snip, snip, snip! Pruning is a great way to increase your plants’ health and ensure you get nice bushy growth. Always snip stems between nodes (internodes) and focus on removing terminal buds. In most cases, the terminal buds can suppress the growth of lateral (lower) buds. So if you want a plant that’s bushy, rather than tall and spindly, simply remove the apical meristem (tallest stem) of a plant and you can wake up those repressed laterals. 


Soaking is a great watering technique for smaller pot plants (under 10cm) and some epiphytes. To soak a plant, ensure the plant is in a pot with lots of drainage holes. Place the pot in a bowl and then pour water to moisten the soil completely. Keep pouring until the water level is 1-2cm from the pot’s base. Leave your pot there for between 1-2 hours. If the soil is completely saturated it can go back in its place. If not add a little more water.    


Re-potting is the process of moving your plant from one pot to another. You should always re-pot if a plant is outgrowing its current pot, going up a pot size (about 3-5cms each time). Some good indications are roots growing out of drainage holes or the pot tilting with the weight of the plant. But you don’t have to wait until then! It’s good practice to re-pot every few years, especially if you notice that potting mix is really dried out or water is pooling on the top of the soil and not absorbing.


Plant groupings: We are family! 

Here's some harder to pronounce terms (even we get tongue-tied!)


Gymnosperms are seed-bearing (or cone-producing) plants that don’t flower. The most famous gymnosperms are pine trees (or conifers), which are known for their iconic pinecones. But gymnosperms aren’t all about the conifers. There are non-coniferous (non pine-like) gymnosperms such as Ginkgo, Cycads, and Welwitschia. 


Any flowering plant! Angiosperms are the largest group of plants on the planet. But (just to be confusing) many plants that you wouldn’t think of as flowering actually are. Just because you’ve never seen a plant flower, doesn’t mean it’s not an angiosperm. Pothos, palms, calatheas and many other houseplants do flower, it just doesn’t happen much indoors. Some angiosperms also have modified flowers, that don’t look like flowers at all! Peperomias, for example, have simple cream-coloured flowers that look like stalks with no petals. Angiosperms can be further broken up into two main groups – dicots and monocots. 


Dicots, or dicotyledonous plants (sometimes called Eudicotyledons or Eudicots) are angiosperms that have a pair of leaves (known as cotyledons) in the embryo of the seed. There are about 175,000 known species of dicots including many common garden plants, shrubs and trees, like magnolias, roses and geraniums



Monocots, or monocotyledonous plants, are angiosperms (flowering plants) that only have a single leaf (cotyledon) in the embryo of the seed. There are around 60,000 species of monocots including important plant families such as orchids, irises, lilies, palms and true grasses



Plants that grows on other plants rather than in soil. But they’re not parasites, they’re independent (kinda like a millennial still living at home)! Epiphytes, such as Tillandsia Samantha, have special adaptations like modified roots or leaves to capture moisture and essential nutrients from the air and rain.


(we trust you with this one)
Basically, any plant that has adapted to living in dry environments. Common features of succulents are a waxy appearance or fleshy leaves, stems, or roots used to store water. Succulents love hanging out in full sun and can withstand weeks without watering. Common succulent varieties include Aloe, Echeveria and Haworthia, as well as the entire Cacti family. (Fun fact: All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti). Some plants that you might not suspect as succulents, such as ponytail palms and snake plants, are in fact succulents! 


Plants that complete their life cycle (flower and die off) in one growing season (usually Spring to Autumn). Sometimes these plants drop seeds that grow into new plants in the Spring. Plants that take two growing seasons to complete their life cycle before dying off are called biennials. 


Plants that stick around for at least two growing seasons. They do this by dying back or lying dormant during winter and then regenerating during the next growing season. While the top part of a perennial dies off, new growth will sprout from the plant’s existing root system. 


Many plant species come in several varieties. Varieties (or forms) occur when there’s a spontaneous mutation in one or several unrelated plant individuals (picture several pink daisies in a field of white). A good example of a species with lots of unique varieties is popular succulent species Crassula ovata. A cultivar, on the other hand, is a cultivated (human created) variety.

Plant physiology: From root to stem 


The first root to grow from a germinated (sprouting) seed. Sometimes called an embryonic root, a radicle grows directly downward to anchor the growing seedling into the soil. In gymnosperms and most dicots, the radicle will grow larger and eventually form the primary root of a taproot system. In monocots, this primary root will dissolve into a fibrous root system. 

Taproot system

A taproot is a thick long, primary root that grows deep into the soil. The taproot develops from the radicle (embryonic part) of the plant, growing thicker and stronger. Thinner, secondary roots grow out from this root and then even smaller tertiary roots grow out from there to form smaller rootlets, root caps and root hairs. Taproots support many plants including root vegetables (like carrots and parsnips), roses and some large trees and shrubs

Fibrous root systems

Even the greenest gardeners have seen fibrous roots (even if they don’t know it). Fibrous root systems are made up of thin, thread-like branched roots of the same size that bunch out directly from the base of the plant’s stem. Unlike a taproot system, fibrous roots systems are shallow and remain close to the surface of the soil. This root system is super common and occurs in all monocots. 

Adventitious roots

Adventitious roots are special roots that grow from parts of a plant that aren’t rooted tissue (e.g. a plant’s stem, branches or leaves). Adventitious roots usually grow above the ground’s surface and help the plant stabilise or adapt and overcome environmental stresses. Occasionally adventitious roots also function as true roots. For example, the adventitious roots along monstera and pothos stems can grab onto surfaces, holding the plant upright while also increasing nutrient absorption. 


A stem is a vertical axis of a plant, or more simply the place where nodes and buds grow. Stems have four main jobs: supporting and elevating leaves and flowers towards the light, storing nutrients, transporting nutrients and producing new growth. In most plants stems grow above the soil, but some plants have underground stems. 


A node is the part of the stem where leaves and buds attach. The nodes hold and promote the growth of buds, which then grow into leaves, flowers, cones (seedpods), roots or new stems. The spaces between each node are called internodes.


Buds are the place on the stem where new growth comes from. There is a terminal bud at the end of the stem, and often lateral buds as well, which are housed in nodes down the length of the stem. Buds are usually nestled into the stem, but in most cases, the node is more swollen than the rest of the stem. All buds contain meristem tissue.


Meristem is a special plant tissue that is responsible for all growth. There are three types of meristem tissue: apical meristem (growth at the tips of the plant, both top and bottom), intercalary meristem (growth between branches) and lateral meristem (growth in width, common in woody plants). Through a controlled hormone process, a plant regulates meristem to create new leaves, flowers, roots and shoots as needed.


The slender stalk that attaches the leaf to stem. Leaves can only sprout from buds on stems. Side note: looks can be deceiving! Some plants, like the ZZ plant, are tricksters and hide their true stems underground. What we see is actually the petiole.


Plant pups are asexually produced plants that are exact clones of their mother. Sometimes referred to as suckers, runners or clones, they are usually produced via an offshoot from the root or stem from their parent plant. Once they have grown to a decent size they can be detached and planted as an independent plant. 



Plants that are fleshy, rather than woody. Basically, any non-woody plant that’s not a vine. 


Variegation refers to atypical colours or patterning on a plant’s leaves or petals. These variegations are often highly desired by gardeners due to their visual appeal. Plants usually develop variegation due to a genetic mutation or a plastid mutation (overproduction or underproduction of chlorophyll). The most common variegation pattern is green with either white or yellow markings. . 

For example, Philodendron erubescens Pink Princess will produce pale pink foliage when exposed to more light. If the variation in the plastid (chlorophyll) related then the variegation could fade if the light conditions change (e.g. if there’s not enough light exposure). If the variegation is gene-related, only new growth will be less variegated.

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