We earn admiring murmurs when we display our garden's produce
in vases and on plates.
Why don't we stir up a bit of that admiration by tossing a nifty
horticultural term or two on the table during the next Scrabble
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*Asterisked words are further explained in an interactive puzzle
Plus one nifty word that came looking for a place here. We
couldn't grant it permanent residency, but:
Bissextile: adjective; A leap year.
This bisextile year is even more unusual
than some leap years, in that it has 53 Sundays and three
Friday the 13th's.
Scrabbling terms are listed in alphabetical order.
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Abscise: verb; ab SYZ; to
separate naturally, as a
leaf from a twig, a spent petal from a flower
structure or fruit from a branch;
When the leaves abscise, the sun can reach in
to warm us.
Abscission layer: noun; ab SIZhun; the corky material a woody
plant produces to separate the twig from the leaf stalk, flower or
In fall an abscission layer stoppers the openings
where sap from the wood entered the leaf veins, and
where starch flowed from leaf to wood.
Axil: noun; AKS
il; the angle formed by the branch and the leaf stalk that departs
In the leaf axil in autumn are axillary buds, which
are compressed shoots that will develop into a
branch or a flower cluster.
Right: Arrows point to an axillary leaf bud
also to a terminal bud cut open so you can see
its flowering shoot.
Burl: noun; BUHRL;
A rounded knotty growth on a tree, sometimes created as the tree
grows over damage caused by fungi, insects or mites. Prized by
carvers as very hard wood with interesting character when
Have you noticed that lumpy looking tree, with the
burl that looks like a face?
carpo-; adjective; fruit, referring to
When we see -carp in a plant's scientific name we
know there is something significant about the fruit, as in the
American tree holly named Ilex opaca
'Xanthocarpa' for its yellow berries.
(Now, hold those Scrabble tiles: This is a departure from our usual
list. -carp and -carpo are not complete words but elements to be
combined with other words.)
CAR pul; a seed production chamber within the pistil of a flower; a
pistil may have just one or a number of carpels and the number may
be an identifying characteristic of the species;
An apple usually has one pistil with five
Coriaceous: adjective; COR ee AY shus; leathery
in look or feel;
Some orchid species are known for their
Cyme: noun; rhymes
with TIME; an arrangement of flowers on a stem where the individual
peduncles (stalks) attach at various spots on the main stem and
then rise variously to create a broad, flat topped flower cluster
with a central bud which opens first;
Many lace-cap flowers are arranged in
Dioecious: adjective; dy EE shus;
Having male and female flowers on separate plants;
Since ginkgo trees are dioecious, if your tree is
producing fruit you know that it's a female tree and also that
there must be a male nearby which is contributing pollen.
DROOP; fruit with (usually) one single hard seed, such as in the
Rose family: cherry, peach or the compound drupe
If you bite down on a cherry pit or a raspberry seed you
understand why drupe is also called a stone
ee KLOHZ; Emerge from an egg, specifically applied to insect
It's hard to kill an insect that's sheltered within an egg but if
you apply an oil just before the eggs eclose, the
young insects emerge through a film of oil that can kill by
clogging their airways.
Epicormic: adjective; EHPUH kor mik;
Growth that arises from a dormant bud exposed to light and
When the "poor circulation" of old age, or borer infestation,
girdling or physical damage interfere with the passage of starch
from the leaves that produce it to the needy wood and roots of a
tree, the canopy thins, light penetrates to the previously shaded
trunk and epicormic shoots may suddenly burst from
under the bark.
noun; EHP uh fight; a plant that grows non-parasitically upon
another plant, or on an object, obtaining its moisture and
nutrients from air, rain and accumulated debris; adjective,
Orchids, ferns and bromeliads are the well-known
epiphytes of the tropics, while in the temperate
regions most epiphytes are mosses, lichens and
ess PAL yur; also ess PAL yay; also other acceptable
noun; a plant trained to grow flat against a
building or other support, or the support a flat trained plant
Let's grow an espalier on that wall. (More...)
verb; to train to grow flat, or to furnish
with a flat-trained plant.
I espaliered that pear tree; I'm thinking of
espaliering that wall.
Extirpate: verb; EK stur payt;
to wipe out;
When we alter environments in a region we may
extirpate species that cannot adapt.
(Note: Extirpation can occur in just one portion of a
species' range, while extinction is to be eliminated completely
from the world.)
Genotype: noun; JEE noh typ;
the genetic makeup of a living thing, passed from one generation to
the next, used as a blueprint for building and maintaining a living
Within a plant species that occurs across a geographic area
with diverse climate and features, there are almost certainly
numerous distinct genotypes that are local
specialists such as very cold resistant plants in the colder part
of the range, later blooming plants where the season is longer,
shorter plants in mountainous regions, individuals tolerant of
Grex: noun; GREX; a collective term for
varieties of a plant that have the same hybrid origin; (also, as a
verb, to grumble or complain shrilly);
The orchids that come from crosses between species of
Brassavola, Cattleya and Laelia are the x
Even great taxonomists have been known to grex
about the difficulty of keeping order among the 20,000 species of
the Orchid family.
noun; INZ tar; a stage of development in the life of an
insect, usually marked by enlargement and molt -- the shedding of
an exoskeleton. Also, an individual immature insect.
Some insects progress through several instars before assuming
their adult appearance; a gardener may not recognize the instar if
he or she is only familiar with the mature insect.
noun; LITH oh fight; a plant that grows on rock, a plant with a
hard stony structure, or a plant-like organism that fits either
description; adjective, lithophytic;
Some orchids such as the tiny one pictured here are
lithophytes, growing well on rock faces.
Marcescent: adjective; mar
SES ent; withering but not falling off, as a blossom that persists
on a twig after flowering or leaf that hangs on after it's no
Many oaks have marcescent leaves, especially on the juvenile
branches that have not yet produced flowers.
Below: This chestnut-leaf oak (Quercus prinus) has
marcescent leaves still clinging from the previous year even after
its spring flowers turn brown.
MID rib; the central vein of a leaf (arrow, right), usually
continuous with the leaf stalk;
Some leaves have one central vein or midrib, others have
several main veins splayed like a fan.
Monoecious: adjective; muh NEE shus;
having both male and female structures on the same plant.
Dogwoods are monoecious, so if the tree is
healthy enough to flower it should also produce its red
Parthenocarpy: noun; PAR thu no
KAR pee; the production of fruit without fertilization;
Parthenocarpy and parthenocarpic plants are a
mystery that gives us seedless bananas, oranges, persimmon,
pineapple and grape.
Permaculture: noun; PUR
mah kul chur; The development of food-producing ecosystems intended
to be sustainable and self-sufficient;
We can create a permaculture that will outlive us by planting a
property with hardy trees, shrubs, vines and other perennials that
produce a variety of edible fruits and nuts for humans and
noun; PEH tee ohl; the stalk by which a leaf is attached to a
Call it a leafstalk or call it a petiole,
Phenology: noun; fu NAHL uh jee; the
study of the influence of climate on biological phenomenon such as
variations in fur, bark, or flower;
When we wander around a friend's garden in a different
region from our own, remarking on things like stouter junipers with
thicker bark in an oceanside setting, we are studying
phenology. We may even see its influence on
our own windowsill.
Pinnate; adjective; PIN nayt; resembling a feather,
especially in having similar
parts arranged like barbs on opposite sides of an
Many fern fronds have a pinnate
PISS tuhl; female reproductive part of a flower.
A female holly plant's flowers are called pistillate because they
have only a pistil and no pollen producing
part. (Further illustration here... and here.)
rhymes with teach; woody plants with living branches deliberately
woven together, especially when two different individuals' branches
are held pressed together until they form grafts.
Pleached: adjective; woody plant branches pressed
together over time so that cambium layers unite
We pleach branches from two pears to form an arch over a walkway,
and when those limbs graft to one another, we have formed a living,
RAY kus; a main axis or shaft, such as the main stem of a
multi-part (compound) leaf;
After all the tiny leaflets fall from the locust leaf, then the
twig-like rachis falls, much to the irritation of those who dislike
how its kind tangle in the rake's tines.
Below, right: Arrows mark the beginning and end of the Aralia
elata 'Vaiegata' rachis, which is the beginning and end of a
single leaf composed of many leaflets.
ray SEEM; arrangement of flowers in a cluster in which flowers are
attached to the main stem by their individual peduncles and the
stem tip continues to produce new buds above open- and spent
Many flowers that gardeners
refer to as "spikes" are actually
including snapdragon and delphinium. (Further
illustration here and here.)
noun; RY zohm; A stem that grows along the ground or just below
ground and develops roots from its lower side, leaves and flowering
stalks from the upper surface. The plant that grows rhizomes is
described as rhizomatous. Rhizomes are usually distinguished from
another root-stem, the stolon, by their thickness -- a result of
being a starch storage organ -- and their position mostly below
When we split pieces of a bearded iris clump
to make new plants people often call the
rhizomes iris "bulbs" or iris "roots."
Rive: verb; RYV;
To break into pieces, as by a blow; cleave or split
When you use a hammer to rive the black walnut's shell, there are
far more pieces to pick up than otherwise!
verb; SKUH ful; to move with a quick shuffling gait, scurry, poke
at or disturb, scuff;
We hope a child learns to
scuffle joyfully in fall leaves, and doesn't think the term means
only 'to brawl'.
noun; SEE pul; modified leaves which cover a flower bud, then
remain beneath the flower after it opens;
Many flowers have distinctive sepals which
subtend the blossom; one example is the florist's carnation. ( Further
SEP tum; thin divider between two cavities or masses of tissue,
such as the thin, hard divider between kernels in a
Don't you hate it when you're cracking nuts for cookies and that
hard, stab-your-gums septum falls in and hides among the nut
Silicle: noun; SIL luh kul;
type of flattened, round or oval, many-seeded pod peculiar to the
Mustard family, it splits open along both margins when ripe;
shorter and more disk-like than the elongated but otherwise similar
Compare the papery, disk-like silicles
that bear the seeds of weedy shepherd's purse to those of
candytuft (Iberis) and money plant
(Lunaria annua), and you know the three are related.
STAY mun; part of the flower where pollen is produced;
The stamen is considered the "male" portion of a
flower and consists of a filament which is topped by an anther
where pollen grains develop. (Further illustration.)
rhymes with PIPE; the stalk of a mushroom, also the stalk of a fern
or seaweed frond;
Characteristics of the stipe are often useful
in identifying mushrooms in the field. ( Further
Stipule: noun; STiP yool;
outgrowth from the sides or base of a leafstalk;
If you have plucked an entire rose leaf rather than
just one leaflet of many, you will see a stipule
at the base of the petiole.
STOH lun; a stem that runs horizontally on or just below the soil
surface, rooting from its underside and producing stems from its
upper side. Usually distinguished from another such root-stem, the
rhizome, by its ability to grow completely above ground and the
rhizome's greater tendency to thicken and store starch.
The stems of stoloniferous plants are called stolons or sometimes
runners... and often gardeners call them "trouble" for rampant
expansion of their plant's territory.
noun; TEE pul; modified leaves that cover a flower bud (usually
called sepals) which continue to grow and develop color as the
When the sepals are indistinguishable from the petals of a
flower they earn the name tepal; Iris
flowers have three petals and three tepals.. ( Further
Tuber: noun; TOO bur;
starch storage section of a root.
A potato plant stores starch in its roots and we harvest the
Umbel: noun; UHM
bul; a flower cluster arranged with florets' individual stalks
(peduncles) arising from approximately the same point on the stem,
and the center floret of the cluster youngest, blooming last
To picture an umbel flower, think of
an umbrella with a flower bud at its tip top and one open flower at
the end of each spoke. (Further illustration here and
Windthrow: noun or verb; WINd throw;
the uprooting and overthrowing of trees by the wind; Such a
great deal of windthrow resulted from last night's
You, too can be a