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Welcome to The Mad Logophile. Here, we explore words; their origins, evolution, usage. Words are alive. Words are born, they change and, sometimes, they die. They are our principal tool for communicating with one another. There are over one million words in the English language yet only an estimated 171,476 words are in common current use. As a logophile, I enjoy discovering new words, using them and learning about their origins. Please join in.

Spring has sprung! And for many of us that means getting down and dirty... um.... in many ways, I suppose but tonight it's our hands, mostly. Our knees too, in some cases. Everything else I'll leave up to you. To dig into the rich, warm earth is a great feeling. To plant a seed, watch it sprout, nurture it and eventually eat something that you helped create is amazing and wonderful. But to do this, you need to have another specialized lexicon at your disposal. That's where I come in....

There are many reasons to learn how to grow things. In this economy it can be vital. Not only is it less expensive to grow your own food, it's a darn good feeling. And you know what was used to fertilize it, to control pests, what water was used, etc. You can grow exactly what you want, how you want it. It's a great way to eat healthy and economically.

So, now that we're ready to start our own gardens, we should learn the basics. In the eighteenth century, Swedish botanist Carolus Linneaus started the tradition of binomial classification. The binomial name of a plant consists of genus and species, both of which are expressed in Latin. The genus (aka generic name) is a noun which usually names some aspect of a plant. For example, Coffea, is the Latin form of the Arabic word for beverage, kahwah. The species (aka specific name) is usually an adjective that describes the genus. Sticking with coffee, the species is arabica, indicating the plant's perceived origin (Arabia). The coffee plant's botanical name, Coffea arabica, refers to only one plant and cannot be confused with any other.

Plants can have extremely long classifications. They are of course, in the Plant Kingdom. Further taxonomy continues as: Class, Subclass, Superorder, Order, Family, Subfamily, Tribe, Subtribe, Genus, Species, Variety, Form and Cultivar. Not all plants have every one of these classifications. Knowing a plant's family or suborder may not sound important but it can sometimes be very helpful. It can help identify a new plant, for instance. If your unknown plant has the characteristics of a particular Family, then you can narrow the search to find its identity. Let's say that you have found a plant with blue star-shaped flowers. If you know that most members of the Campanulaceae Family have blue flowers in a bell or star shape, then your well on your way to identification.  

Another thing that you should know about the plants you grow, is their parts. The major parts of a plant are the roots, stem, leaves and flowers. The roots may take several forms, including rhizomes . Leaves have many different shapes: round, elliptic, oblong, lobed, pinnate... There is a very nice chart of these shapes here. Likewise, flowers have lots of shapes. You can see a detailed chart here.

One more thing to know is the parts of a flower. All flowers have these parts, though on some flowers they are easier to identify than they are in others. Working from the outside in: the petals attract insects into the flower, they may have guides on them and can be scented. The stigma is covered in a sticky substance which pollen grains adhere to. The  title=style keeps the stigma away from the ovary (to decrease the likelihood of pollen contamination) and varies in length. The ovary protects the ovule and once fertilization has taken place it will become the fruit. The ovule is like the egg in animals and once fertilization has taken place it becomes the seed. The receptacle is the flower's attachment to the stalk and in some cases becomes part of the fruit, e.g. strawberry. The nectary, aptly, is where the nectar is held. Sepals protect the flower as it is develops from a bud. The filament is the stalk of the anther. Finally, the anthers contain pollen sacs. The stigma, style, ovary, and ovule are often known collectively as the carpel or female parts of the flower while the filament and the anthers are collectively known as the stamen or the male parts of the plant.


Activated Charcoal is often used to clear pesticides from water. Its high degree of microporosity makes it ideal for this.
Acid soil has a Ph of less than 7 while akaline soil has a Ph over 7. These are also known as sour (acid) or sweet (alkaline). Knowing the acidity of the soil is important as certain plants thrive in either one or the other or at a perfect balance.  
☼ Loosening the soil to allow better air circulation is aeration. Roots have to work too hard in compacted soil.
☼ A propagation process, air layering involves making a small cut on the plant's stem and wrapping it with moss. The spot is then covered with plastic wrap. Depending upon the plant, roots should form within a few days to a few weeks. Once roots form, the stem is cut below the root formation and then potted.
☼ Any material, such as compost, lime, or manure that is worked into the soil to improve its condition is called an amendment.
Flowering plants are angiosperms. Their seeds develop within a fruit.
☼ A plant that completes its life cycle from germination to death in one growing season is an annual. This is one of the most basic and important gardening terms.
Anthocyanins are pigments that impart to flowers and other plant parts colors ranging from violet and blue to most shades of red. They are also responsible for the red leaves we see in the autumn.
☼ Flowers that lack pistils, ovuals, pollen or stamens are asexual and don't produce fruit. These plants need to be propagated via by cutting, grafting, or layering. This is known as asexual reproduction.
☼ The angular space between a plant stem and the base of the leaf growing out of the stem is the axil. An axillary bud is one found in the axil of a leaf, just above the attachment point of a leaf.
Balled and burlap refers to plants dug from the ground so that the soil surrounding the roots is undisturbed. The root ball is then wrapped in burlap to keep the soil in place. Seen abbreviated as BB. Bare root plants sold with no soil around the roots.
☼ Plants that are massed in flower beds to form a temporary display are known as bedding plants. This is analogous to annuals.
☼ A plant that produces leaves only during its first year is a biennial. It produces flowers, fruit, and seeds the second year and then dies.
☼ A plant may suddenly produce flowers and seeds prematurely. This is known as bolting.
☼ Crushed or finely ground bones is bone meal. It is used as a fertilizer.
Bonsai is the Japanese art of producing miniature trees by pruning roots, pinching off growth buds and training branches and stems.
☼ A bract is a modified leaf. Often mistaken for flowers for example in  Poinsettias, which are composed of eight bracts. The actual flowers are tiny and white and found at the heart of the bracts.
☼ A bulb is a reduced stem which consists of overlapping scales. It sends out roots from the bottom and is also is a food storage facility for the plant.
☼ The caliper is the diameter of a tree trunk measured at approximately 4.5 feet up from the ground. Also knows as DBH (diameter breast height).
☼The outer part of a flower is the calyx. It is usually small and green as on a rose.
☼ The cambium layer of a tree or shrub is the actively dividing cells between the bark and inner wood. Injury to this layer can seriously damage the plant.
Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that absorbs energy from light and, with the water and carbon dioxide the plant takes in, turns it into sugars. The cells which contain the chlorophyll are the chloroplasts. Usually caused by a lack of iron or magnesium, chlorosis is a condition in which the plant does not produce chlorophyll. title=
☼ Flowers can be complete -- having sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels -- or compound; that is, composed of many small flower heads, such as a lilac.
☼ A plant that produces its seed in a cone is a conifer (left). Not all conifers are evergreen. The larch and bald cypress are examples of deciduous conifers.
☼ A weed killer that works only through direct contact with plant tissue is known as a contact herbicide. A pre-emergent herbicide is applied early in the season, before new growth has occurred. A systemic herbicide is introduced into the growth system of a plant and travels through its system.
☼ An ornamental or fruit tree that is trained into a single main stem is a cordon.
☼ A corm is a bulb-like portion of the stem of a plant consisting of fleshy tissues. These are not in layers like true bulbs. Galdiolus and crocus are the most widely known corms.
☼The first leaves or leaf of a seed that emerge as it germinates is the cotyledon.
Cross-pollination is pollination of a flower by pollen from a completely different plant. Self-pollination is when a plant can transfer pollen from the anther of a flower to the stigma of the same flower, or to different flowers on the same plant. Open pollination is pollination by natural mechanisms such as insects, wind, etc.
☼ Trimming of damaged roots and stems is known as cutting-back. It is usually done when transplanting, to promote growth or to reduce the size of a plant.
☼ When seedlings or cuttings decay at the base of the growth this is known as damping off. It is caused by fungus.
Dead-heading is removing spent flower heads to keep a plant from producing seeds and to encourage more flowering. One can listen to the Grateful Dead while performing this task.
☼ A plant that drops its leaves at the end of the growing season is deciduous. Its mnemonic; drop and deciduous both start with "d"... and easy way to remember. A plant which keeps its green foliage all year is an evergreen.
☼ When the tips of branches die this is called die back. It can be caused by chemical or sun damage, lack of water, disease, insects or cold weather.
Division is a method of propagation or spreading a plant out by splitting the plant into halves or quarters. Forget-me-not is a good example of a plant that can be divided.
☼ A species of plant that has male flowers on one plant and female flowers on another is dioecious. Holly is an example.
☼ A condition where the plant is not actively growing is dormancy. The plant will start growing again after a rest period.
Dwarf plants can be a confusing term. It describes plants that have been altered to be smaller than their native species. This doesn't equate to a miniature plant; a native tree might grow to 100' where the dwarf cultivar may get only 50' tall. Dwarf plants are popular for patios and decks.
☼ An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant upon which it depends for mechanical support but not for nutrients. It gets nutrients through its leaves. Examples are the tropical orchid or a staghorn fern. Also called  aerophyte or air plant.
☼ Plants whose flowers are the best for drying are called everlasting. The flowers don't lose their shape or color when dried. One example is yarrow.
☼ An F1 hybrid is the first generation derived from crossing two different plants. The seeds from the F1 plant are not likely to produce plants exactly like the plant they came from, i.e. a blue flowering F1 hybrid may produce seeds for plants that flower in some other color.
☼ The hair-like roots through which plants get water and nutrients are feeder roots.
☼ A natural or artificial substance added to the soil is a fertilizer. They supply nutrients to the plant. But they can be over-used; fertilizer burn can cause browning and even plant death.
☼ A root system composed of many fine roots and typically a few lateral roots is a fibrous root system.
☼ There are several terms which refer to flowers: floribunda means "many flowered" and is a word often applied to shrub roses. A plant that flowers a lot is floriferous (I really like this word!). Plants which produce blooms on the current years growth are said to be flowering on new wood while plants that produce blooms on last years growth are said to be flowering on old wood. I am going to ignore any possible Viagra jokes here...
Freestone refers to peaches plums or cherries where the seed (stone) does not adhere to the flesh of the fruit. Clingstone is the opposite; the seed clings to the surrounding flesh.
☼ The frost date is the approximate date of the last killing frost of spring or the first killing frost of winter. A very important date to know. The frost line is the lowest level which frost will reach into the soil.
☼ A fungicide is a chemical used to treat or prevent fungi from attacking plants.
☼ A gall is an abnormal growth of the plant tissue caused by an insect. The gall (usually round) forms around the insects eggs or larvae. title=
Grafting is a propagation method where a shoot from one plant is inserted onto the rootstock of a different plant.
☼: Low growing plants are often called ground cover, Especially when they are are used to prevent erosion and weeds.
☼ A plant's ability to withstand climate changes (winter temperatures and frost) is its hardiness. A hardy plant is able to withstand these without protection.
Hardwood is a term applied to deciduous trees and shrubs and their wood, because the wood contains fibers. Conifers are referred to as softwood. For either kind, the inner wood is known as heartwood.
☼ The term herb does not simply refer to sage, oregano, etc. It is used to describe any plant that does not form woody stems. So technically, while we call rosemary and herb in the cooking sense, it is not an herbaceous plant.
Humus is organic matter made up of decaying plant material. It is usually dark brown in color and used to enrich soil.
☼ A plant resulting from crossing two plants of different species or varieties is a hybrid. These usually have some characteristics of each parent. In hybrid offspring, the first cross is designated as F1; the second cross as F2, etc. F1, we've covered. An F2 hybrid is a second-generation cross between two F1 hybrids. This "family tree" is known as the filial generation. Plants can be hybridized through grafting as well. The resulting graft hybrid is sometimes known as a chimera. The term grex is the name for all plants derived from crossing the same two or more parent species.
Hydroponics is gardening without soil. Plants are grown in water and supplied through it with the nutrients they need.
☼ An indicator plant is one used to predict the absence or presence of nutrients, water or disease. This is a plant chosen for its sensitivity to one or more of the important growth factors. Coleus is one example.
☼ A plant that readily spreads and reproduces to the point where it can become a nuisance is know as an invasive plant. These often spread via runners or rhizomes. These can be either a useful plant like mint or a weed like bindweed.
Layering is a propagation method by which a branch of a plant is rooted while still attached to the plant. The branch is held down into the soil with a piece of wire and soil is placed over it. The branch will produce roots and can then be cut and potted. Tip layering is doing this with the tip of a branch.
☼ The loss of nutrients from soil is leaching. This can be a natural process due to rainfall or flooding or can be utilized to remove excess salts from soil.
Loam is considered to be the perfect fertile soil It is easy to work, has equal proportions of silt, sand and clay and a high proportion of humus.
Melting out is when the center of a plant dies out. This is normally due to rot caused by overwatering or disease.
☼ Loose, dry material used atop the soil is called mulch. It helps retain water and discourages weed growth. Straw and processed barks are typical mulches.
☼ Plants that normally grow in any given climate are native species. Using these for landscaping is not only ecologically sounds, it often makes caring for the plant easier. These are different than naturalized plants, which are plants introduced into an area and grow as if they were wild. This is also a term for planting randomly so that it will looks as if the plants grew wild.
☼ The point on a stem where a bud, flower stalk or leaf is attached is the node.
Old wood is used to describe a branch of a woody plant that is one or more years old. There are several jokes here just waiting to be made. I'll let you indulge...
☼ An important word to know nowadays is organic. Things that are grown organically are cared for using only natural things - no chemicals. This means that mulch or compost is used to enrich the soil. Insects or plant-based treatments are used for pests. And good old elbow grease to control weeds. When buying food, the label "organic" can mean any of these methods were used. The FDA is not very strict about the use of the term so it's good to be informed.
☼ A plant grown for its foliage or flowers rather than for agricultural purposes is an ornamental.
☼ A parasitic plant lives on, and acquires it's nutrients from another plant. This often results in sickness or death of the host plant.
☼ A peat pot is not necessarily made of peat. It is any starting container made from compressed peat or other fibrous materials. These are ideal for starting plants indoors because they can be planted directly into the soil with no need to disturb the young plant's roots.
☼ A plant that lives year after year is a perennial. Its foliage dies back in the winter but the roots "hibernate" and the foliage comes back.
Perlite is lightweight volcanic mineral that is used as a growing medium. It is a good addition to container potting mixes, as it promotes moisture retention while allowing good drainage.
☼ Removal of the top part of a stem to encourage side buds to grow creating bushier plants is known as pinching or pinching back. Doing this makes the plant grow bushier. title=
☼ The spongy wet tissue inside a stem is the pith. Since this is the substance that of the plant, the term pithy came to mean something "full of substance or significance."
Pollard is a style of trimming trees where the main branches are cut back near the trunk so that a small crown is formed by the smaller branches.
☼ Some times when you buy potted plants, they may be pot bound. This is a condition where a plant has been growing in a container for so long that its roots become a dense mass. Aka root bound.
Propagation is the fancy term for creating new plants. This can be done naturally through pollination or by various other means such as grafting, layering, cutting, etc.
☼ Cutting select plant parts is pruning. This is done to remove dead, damaged or dying parts,to encourage new growth or to shape a plant into a desired shape.
☼ Basically, pH is a measure of the amount of calcium contained in a soil. As mentioned previously, a soil with a pH lower than 7.0 is acid soil, a soil pH higher than 7.0 is alkaline soil. It is a good idea to know the Ph of your soil, which can be tested with an inexpensive kit (known as a quick test).
Rebloom is a second blooming phase. It usually produces smaller flowers in less number that the initial bloom period. Deadheading can help induce reblooming.
☼ A rhizome is a modified plant stem which grows horizontally, under the surface of the soil. New growth emerges from the rhizome and new roots are extended into the soil. Irises, bamboo and some grasses reproduce through rhizomes.
☼ The parts of a plant that extract water and nutrients from the soil are its roots. The mass of soil that surrounds the roots is the root ball. The term root hardy refers to the ability of a plant to survive the winter although the parts above the ground die back. The horizontal spread of the roots of a plant is its root spread.
☼ A runner is a stem that grows along the ground. It puts out little roots every so often, creating new plants at those points. This characteristic is often present in invasive plants. Mint, strawberries and blackberries put out runners.
Sand culture is a  form of hydroponics where plants are grown in sand rather than water. This is a promising growing method for desert regions.
Sphagnum is moss. Most peat moss is composed primarily of sphagnum moss. This is also packaged and sold in a fresh state, primarily used for lining hanging baskets and air layering.
☼ A specimen plant is one that has all the optimal characteristics of its species. The perfect plant. It has the best coloring, best flower production, shape and size. This can also refer to a single plant that is the main focal point of a garden.
☼ When a plant doesn't grown the same as it normally should, it is known as a sport. Maybe the flower is a different shape, the leaves are a variant color, etc. Sports are a mutation and are often how new varieties are developed.
Staking means to use a piece of wood, metal or plastic to provide support for tall flowers or plants. The stake is driven into the ground next to the plant. Buffy references? Yes, I could make them but you probably already have. ;)
☼ A sucker is a growth originating from the root of a plant. Sucker growth should be removed, as it will draw energy from the plant.
☼ The main, thick root growing straight down from a plant is the taproot.
☼ A tender plant is one that is not hardy, that is, it cannot withstand winter temperatures.
☼ A tendril is a twisting, clinging growth that allows a plant to attach themselves to a support or trellis.
☼ The layer of dead stems that builds up under many lawn grasses is known as thatch. It is found below the top of the grass but above the soil. This should be removed periodically to allow for better growth and a healthier lawn.
Thinning is the removal of plants to help avoid crowded conditions. When planting from seeds, it is beneficial to thin weaker seedlings to allow stronger ones to grow. Thinning also refers to removing selectively pruning a tree or shrub, to improve its shape, growth and allow for better air circulation.
Topiary is a method of pruning shrubs into animals or formal shapes.
☼ The top layer of native soil is the topsoil. Its depth can be as little as half an inch or as much as a couple of feet. Topsoil is also used to refer to the good quality soil sold at nurseries and garden centers.
Transpiration is the release of moisture through the leaves of a plant.
☼ To move a plant from one growing area to another is to transplant it. This can refer to moving it from the pot you bought it in to a permanent home, placing seedlings in the ground or digging a plant up to move it.
☼ A plant that is native to the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn is referred to as a tropical plant. This is a good technicality to be aware of as non-tropicals may sometimes be sold as a tropical.
☼ A tuber is a thick root which stores food and plant energy. In some plants, such as potatoes, the tuber is used as food. title=
☼ A variation is a difference displayed by individuals within a species. For example, a climbing rose is a variation of the rose.
☼ Leaves that have multiple colors are known as variegated. These are highly prized as house plants and garden centerpieces.
Vermiculite is mica (a soft mineral) which has been heated to the point of expansion. Often used as a rooting medium or as a soil amendment for indoor plants, vermiculite retains moisture and air within the soil.
☼ A vine is an herbaceous or woody perennial with stems that must be supported in order to grow erect.
☼ Using low temperatures to induce flowering is known as vernalisation. Some winter cereals will not produce flowers unless they are sown in the autumn. To be able to plant a crop in the spring, farmers will vernalise winter cereals; the seed is moistened to initiate germination, then are stored at just above freezing for several weeks. These seeds can then be sown in the spring to produce a crop in the same year. Not pertinent to the home gardener but I found it fascinating.
☼ A seed's viability is the possibility of its germination. Seeds vary in their time of viability. Some will last mere weeks while others can be stored for hundreds of years. Storage conditions will affect the viability, low temperatures and humidity are best.
☼ Homeowners during World War II, who grew Victory gardens to provide for themselves or to support the war effort. This is an idea that is being resurrected today.
☼ A volunteer is a specimen you didn't plant. It can be blown in from a neighbor's yard, from a bird or some other source. Sometimes these can be a pleasant surprise but other times...
☼ A weed... oh I really don't need to tell you what a weed is, do I? ;D
☼ Something that increases the ability of a liquid to wet a surface is known as a wetting agent. Many of us are aware that adding a drop of dish detergent helps a weed killer penetrate into the weeds.
Winter kill is a condition when plants have not hardened enough to withstand sever winter conditions. This often manifests as split bark or browning. This doesn't refer to tender plants but rather to perennials that have been damaged.
☼ A perennial plant that has permanent stems is known as a woody plant. The leaves may or may not fall off during winter but the stems and branches will sprout new growth in the spring.
☼ A landscape or garden designed and built with drought tolerant plants is a xeriscape. These are preferred in regions with little rainfall. Places like Las Vegas or Phoenix not only encourage xeriscapes, they sometimes fine homes that don't use this method. The plants that are used in this landscaping (usually cacti and succulents)are called xerophytes.
☼ Growing areas across North America are designated as zones. The zones are are numbered from 1 (the coldest areas) to 11 (the warmest). Outdoor planting requires that one know which zone they fall in. You can find out here.


Plants need not only soil and water to live, they need the minerals found in the soil. Some soils are deficient in one or more of these essential minerals. Here are the minerals a plant needs to thrive:

The primary nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These usually disappear from the soil first because plants use large amounts of them. The secondary nutrients are calcium, magnesium and sulfur. These are usually present in enough quantities so that fertilizers are not always needed. Large amounts of Calcium and Magnesium are added when lime is applied to acidic soils. Sulfur is found in decomposing organic matter (grass clippings and leaves). Micronutrients are sometimes called trace elements. The micronutrients are boron, copper, iron, chloride, manganese, molybdenum and zinc. Recycling organic matter such as grass clippings and tree leaves is an excellent way of providing micronutrients to growing plants.


There are many gardeners among you who will no doubt be able to add to this lexicon. As always, I couldn't include every word. Besides, I have to leave some for you to add!

Originally posted to The Way The Wind Blows on Sun Mar 28, 2010 at 05:46 PM PDT.

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