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I hope you find this botanical glossary page helpful. Click on the following links for other glossaries:
The book, "Plant Identification Terminology", by Harris and Harris
terms frequently referred to in this web site are placed at the top
Scientific Name: A Latin and/or Greek name assigned by botanists to a plant and accepted internationally. The name describes a plant's characteristics, or honors a person, or commemorates a place, or describes a relationship between plants, etc. See Family, Genus, and Species in the glossary below.
See Plant Names for a discussion of why we should use scientific instead of common names, how scientific names are arrived at, a brief history of the development of scientific names, and why scientific names change. Very interesting. Also see the discussion immediately below about "synonyms".
Synonym: A botanical synonym is a species name that at one time was thought to be correct but was later found to be incorrect and was replaced by a new name.
For a number of reasons (see Plant Names), a species might acquire several scientific names. Unfortunately, there is no organization that determines which name is presently acceptable and which names are synonyms, incorrect and not to be used. Each botanist makes this determination based on the authorities and research they accept. Botanists believe that agreement on one name will be reached over time. Unfortunately, until that agreement is reached, several names can be in use for the same plant.
On this web site I use plant names listed in the **Synthesis of the North American Flora by national plant authority John Kartesz. The Synthesis name for a species is in bold. Synonyms are not bold.
Click "Plant Names" for more information about how plants are named, how plants acquire a number of names, more details about synonyms, the complexity of naming plants, etc.
**Click to read about the "Synthesis" on the web site of John Kartesz's "Biota of North America Program". The Synthesis (available in the past in printed form and soon to be available as a DVD for about $100) gives county by county records (as well as 150,000 photographs and other information) for every plant found in the United States and Canada. Scientific names in the Synthesis are those John has arrived at after 40 years of consulting innumerable plant experts, herbaria records, botanical literature, etc. John is considered the plant name authority for the International Plant Names Index (IPNI) utilized by botanist throughout the world and John's work is the source of names for much of the USDA Plants Database, NatureServe, many other conservation organizations, and many professional and amateur botanists.
Alpine: Above 11,500 feet (tree line). Characterized by tundra: land of thin soil, rocks, a very short growing season, and frost any day of the year. Annually 30-55 inches of moisture, most from snow. Magnificent carpets of dwarfed flowering plants in July and August.
Annual: A plant which completes its entire life cycle of root, stem, leaf, flower, and seed in just one year and then dies. See Biennial and Perennial.
Anthesis: Botanical term for "flowering time", e.g., "The plant has no basal leaves at anthesis".
Apomictic: Asexual reproduction. Viable seed production without fertilization. Taraxacum officinale (Dandelions) reproduce sexually and apomictically; Arnica cordifolia reproduces only apomictically.
Areole: Found only on Cactus, this organ gives rise to spines, flowers, stems, or roots.
Banner: The topmost, large, upright flower petal in many Fabaceae (Pea Family). The "wings", which enclose the "keel", extend outward from the bottom of the banner.
Basifixed: Attached only at one end, as in hairs on a plant.
Biennial: A plant which lives two years, producing a basal rosette of leaves the first year and a full plant, flower, and seed the second year followed by death of the entire plant at the end of the second year. See Annual and Perennial.
Bracts: Modified leaves that encase the flower bud and then subtend the flower after the flower opens. All of the bracts that subtend a flower are together called the "involucre". (In Asteraceae, the bracts are called "phyllaries".) See Arnica mollis.
Calyx: The outer segment of a flower that encases and then surrounds the petals. The individual parts of the calyx are called sepals.
Canescent: Coated so extensively with hairs as to have a gray/white cast.
Canyons: Deep and long depressions with walls of cliffs and slopes. Pinyon Pine, Juniper, Sagebrush are common. The Four Corners area is rich in deep, long, and beautiful red and white sandstone rock canyons.
Carpel: A flower's female reproductive organ, consisting of the stigma, style, and ovary and made of an inrolled leaf. The peapod is an example. Many flowers have more than one carpel and the carpels collectively are called the gynoecium. See pistillate, stamen, staminate.
Cauline: On or pertaining to the stem. "Acaulescent" means, therefore, "without a stem", as in plants which have leaves arising directly from the base of the plant with no plant stem.
Ciliate: Fringed on the margins with hairs. These hairs are sometimes very important in distinguishing among species. Usually the cilia can best be seen with a 10x hand lens. See Monardella odoratissima and Asters.
Cladistics: A widely accepted recent phylogenetic method for classifying. It makes assumptions about the primitiveness of a group of plants' characteristics and represents these in a branching diagram (a cladogram). Other cladograms are drawn based on other assumptions about primitiveness of characteristics. Through the process of: "if this, then this, but not that" and by working with probability theories, it is believed that cladistics will lead to an understanding of which characteristics are most primitive and which evolved. It is believed that cladistics will produce a more accurate classification of plants. Click to read more about cladistics: in the Utah Native Plant Society newsletter, on the Missouri Botanical Garden web site, and in Wikipedia.
Colorado Plateau: See Four Corners.
Common Name: A name given to a plant by anyone in any language for any reason. See Plant Names for a discussion of why we should use scientific, not common names, how scientific names are arrived at, a brief history of the development of scientific names, why scientific names change, etc. Very interesting.
Corolla: The collective name for all the petals of a flower.
Corymb: A type of spreading inflorescence (often flat-topped, sometimes rounded) in which each flower stem ("pedicel") originates from a different point on the main flower stem. Lower pedicels are longer than upper ones thus producing a flat-topped cluster. Umbels, another type of inflorescence, have pedicels which originate from the same point, as umbrella spokes do, so pedicels are of equal length. See Google Images and Heracleum maximum.
Crenate: With rounded marginal teeth.
Cyme: An inflorescence in which a single, but branched, flower stalk emerges at the top of the main flower stalk. The lower flower stalks emerge opposite each other off the main flower stalk and bloom after the topmost flowers. In "racemes" the first blooming flowers are at the bottom of the flower stalk. In cyme inflorescences the first flowers are often at the top.
Deciduous: A plant which sheds all of its leaves each year in the fall.
Dehiscent: Splitting open at maturity.
Descriptions, botanical: A new plant's name and characteristics must be formally published for the plant's identity to be accepted by science. This description must also be accompanied by a specimen of the plant deposited in a herbarium for others to view.
The formal, detailed write-up of a plant's characteristics follows an accepted pattern of analysis and descriptive format. The plant's presently accepted name and the botanist who named it come first followed by the name of the person describing the plant (if different from the person naming the plant). These are followed by past names ("synonyms"); perhaps a common name; a generalized overview of the plant including whether it is perennial, annual, etc.; then the details of the plant's morphology starting with the roots, stems, and leaves, then the flower in considerable detail, then the fruit, chromosomes, and finally notes on habitat, similar species, other botanist's agreements/disagreements with the descriptive notes, etc.
Similar species are referred to and the plants position in a botanical key may be included. Details about the plants location, range, unusual characteristics, etc. are included. An abstract both in the native language and Latin are included. (As of 2012, a Latin description is no longer a requirement.)
A plant may inadvertently be described more than once by different botanists. Each description may result in a different scientific name until someone examines all the specimens and determines which are the same species and which name takes precedence, the latter according to the "International Code of Botanical Nomenclature". See Scientific Names and Plant Names and click to read the description of a plant Betty and I discovered.
Dioecious: (Pronounced, die e cious) A dioecious species bears its male (staminate) flowers on one plant and female (carpellate) flowers on another. The Greek "dioecious" means "two houses". See monoecious.
Disk or Disc (and Ray) Flowers: What we perceive as a single flower in Asteraceae (the Sunflower Family) is actually a flower head composed of a myriad of tiny disk and/or ray flowers.
Asteraceae flower heads can be composed of two different flower types:
1) Disk flowers are numerous and packed tightly. Each disk flower is very small, thin, vertical, and tubular, almost always with 5 tiny lobes.
2) Ray flowers either are few and surround the disk flowers in one circular row or are numerous (and there are, then, no disk flowers). Ray flowers are very small, thin, vertical, and tubular, with one elongated (quite short to very long), strap-like petal.
Some Asteraceae species are composed only of disk flowers (thistles, for instance); some Asteraceae are composed only of ray flowers (dandelions, for instance); and many are composed of both disk and ray flowers (the large sunflowers along roadsides, for instance).
Asteraceae disk flowers are usually bisexual and fertile, each producing one seed, but some Asteraceae species have disk flowers that only have stamens and they are thus sterile, i.e., they do not produce seed.
Most species of Asteraceae ray flowers are often pistillate, i.e., they have only styles and produce one seed, but in some Asteraceae species, ray flowers may be bisexual, sterile, or contain no sexual parts.
See Arnica mollis Oxytenia acerosa Ohio plants, Asteraceae.
Disturbed Areas: Roadsides, mined areas, grazed lands, timbered lands, and ski slopes are unnatural disturbed areas. There are also natural disturbed areas: snow and rock avalanche areas; ground burrowings from gophers, prairie dogs, etc.; Elk wallows, animal tracks, and animal foraging; etc.
Dolabriform Hairs: See Malpighian Hairs.
Drought: Precipitation in the Four Corners area averages from 6 to 15 inches per year in the elevations of 5,000 to 7,000 feet and increases dramatically up to the high montane areas that receive around 300 inches of snow per year and another 20 inches of rain.
But precipitation is highly erratic; few months or years are average and, in fact, some months or even years are considerably wetter or drier than average. The "average" precipitation is, therefore, not the "usual" precipitation.
Plants of the Southwest are comfortable with these variations; they have evolved in and continue to thrive in these erratic conditions. Human beings are not comfortable with varying precipitation levels; they want a consistent water supply for boating on their reservoirs and watering their lawns and golf courses.
Drought is made harsher by three factors: hard freezes in June and high winds and above normal temperatures which evaporate snow from the mountains and water from reservoirs. Less snow means less water in the rivers, which means less water in the river-fed reservoirs. There will then be less irrigation water, fewer crops to feed the cattle, less cattle money for purchases at local businesses, less tax money collected and thus less money for road repairs, schools, health care, golf courses.
We have tried to build a watered way of life for too many people in the erratically dry Southwest.
Wild animals, too, can be caught in a negative chain of events: a freeze in June means that many Oaks will have their leaves and flowers frozen. The acorn crop, which many wild creatures depend on, will be sharply reduced.
What are the results of drought for wildflowers? The number and size of plants and flowers will be greatly reduced. Flowers, and sometimes even plants, will be confined to little rivulets of water across meadows, in seeps, etc. Low desert areas may have very few flowers. Plants will bloom weeks early or late. There will be no flowers for some species and few flowers for most species. Flowers will last a short time. Those plants that do flower will produce seeds that have a better chance of surviving dry conditions. Evolution continues.
Endemic: Found only in a small region, in a particular ecological niche. "Ipomopsis ramosa is endemic to Dolores County, Colorado."
Evergreen: A plant which retains a large portion of its green leaves all year.
Family: A large grouping of plants with shared characteristics. Often these characteristics are visually apparent to the unaided eye: the green, slender, long and narrow-leaved upright structure of grasses; the wide, flattened disc usually fringed by numerous, long, thin petals flared outwards of the Sunflowers; the cross-shaped four-petaled flowers of the Mustards; the umbrella-like flower structure of the Parsleys; the long thin needle leaves of Conifers.
Learning such key characteristics of just 19 families will, as William Weber points out in his Colorado Flora: Western Slope, assist in identifying over 75% of the plants in the Four Corners region (and in most other areas). The Western slope of the Colorado Rockies has over 2,100 species in 139 families; Weber indicates that almost 1600 species are in 19 families.
Knowing characteristics of just six families will open the door to almost half the plants. The top six families are: Asteraceae (Sunflower) with 354 species, Poaceae (Grasses) 208, Fabaceae (Pea) 138, Cyperaceae (Sedges) 123, Brassicaceae (Mustards) 119, and Scrophulariaceae (Snapdragon) 99.
See Genus, Species, Scientific Name, and Plant Names. Scientific names shown in bold on the enlarged photo pages are the currently accepted names according to John Kartesz's Synthesis of the North American Flora. Scientific names shown in normal font are synonyms.
Fascicle: A bundle or cluster as in "a fascicle of stems" or "the flowers are in a fascicle".
Flower: 1) The reproductive portion of some plants, consisting of either pistils or stamens (imperfect flowers) or both (perfect flowers) and usually including sepals and petals.
Because a plant has flowers it does not necessarily follow that the plant reproduces itself exclusively by the ripened ovary of this flower. Some plants propagate more from underground root spread or from plant parts that fall to the ground and root. And plants such as ferns do not flower but instead have spores, reproductive cells that can give rise to a new plant.
2) Some plants have a very short flowering period, others bloom the entire summer. Some plants put out a single flower, others have numerous flowers, either over a long period of time or within a few days. Some individual flowers last part of a day; others for many days. Some flowers open early in the day, some in the heat of the day, others at night.
Foothills: From 6,500 to 8,000 feet. Pinyon Pine, Juniper, and Oak forests, often quite thick. Pockets of Douglas Firs. Ponderosa Pine at higher elevations. Numerous shrubs: Serviceberry, Mountain Mahogany, Snowberry. Annually about 14-25 inches of moisture, about half from snow. Moderate wildflower growth in May and June.
Four Corners: The area covered in this web site extends in a hundred and fifty mile radius from the Four Corners, the meeting point of the borders of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The area covered is bounded on the east by the Continental Divide at Wolf Creek Pass just east of Pagosa Springs, Colorado; on the southeast by the Ojito Wilderness Area north of Albuquerque, New Mexico; on the southwest by Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona; on the northwest by Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, Utah; and on the north by Arches and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks. The Four Corners area is part of the larger Colorado Plateau: the mountains, mesas, canyons, and semi-desert lands which are drained by the middle section of the Colorado River.
Gall: An abnormal bulbous formation on plant leaves or stems. Galls are a plant's attempt to protect itself from an unusual occurrence, usually a mass of insect eggs being deposited on its surface. Cells multiply rapidly to isolate the foreign substance, but this at the same time provides shelter for the substance. The plant suffers little damage from the insects or the gall. Picture of gall.
Genus: A subdivision of the Family in which all members have a significant number of similar (or identical) characteristics. With practice an amateur can often determine the genus without recourse to detailed botanical texts and a magnifying glass. The genus name is capitalized and accompanied by and followed by the specific name; both are italicized, for example, Rosa woodsii. Rosa is the genus and woodsii is the specific name (also called the specific epithet). Scientific names shown in bold on the enlarged photo pages are the currently accepted names according to John Kartesz's Synthesis of the North American Flora. Scientific names shown in normal font are synonyms. See Family, Species, Scientific Name, and especially Plant Names.
Glabrous: Smooth, without hairs. Whether a twig, stem, or leaf is glabrous or pubescent often is important in distinguishing between species, but the amount of hairiness often varies with the age of the plant. See pubescent.
Glaucous: With a whitish, often waxy, coating.
Glochids: Tiny barbed hairs which grow from areoles of cacti.
Habitat: As used in this web site, "habitat" refers to the environmental components (rocks, wetlands, woodlands, etc.) in which a plant best survives.
Herb or Herbaceous: A plant whose stems die back to the ground in the winter. See Woody.
Hypanthium: The swollen cup-like structure formed by the fused bases of the stamens, petals, and sepals. See Lithophragma tenellum.
Imperfect Flowers: A flower with only male or only female parts.
Inflorescence: A flower cluster. The main types of inflorescences are spikes, racemes, panicles, corymbs, umbels and cymes.
Involucre: The cluster of bracts ("phyllaries" in Asteraceae) that subtends a flower. See, for instance, Lonicera involucrata.
Irregular Flowers: Asymmetrical flowers. Can be divided only one way to produce mirror images. The parts of the flower are dissimilar in size or shape and are not arranged symmetrically on the receptacle so that if one were to make a vertical cut dividing the flower, the two halves will not, except in one cut, look alike. Calypso bulbosa. Contrast with Regular Flower.
Keying a Plant: The process of identifying a plant with a botanical text. Most thorough keys are "dichotomous", i.e., you are presented with two either/or questions about plants. You select one and that moves you on to another two questions. Eventually you have only one choice: the plant you are trying to identify. Simple sounding. Difficult, time-consuming, and rewarding in practice. See Scorzonera laciniata for an example of the difficulties in keying.
Malpighian Hairs: Hairs which lie flat against the plant surface but are not attached to the surface at the end of the hair. Instead they are attached somewhere along the length of the hair (often toward the middle) by a very minute projection of the hair. Both ends of the hair taper to a point and the hair is thus a squat T-shape, similar to a pick-axe head. Also called "dolabriform hairs". See Astragalus ceramicus.
Meadows: Large grass and wildflower filled areas with few, if any, trees.
Monocarpic: A monocarpic plant is one which grows for a number of years until it flowers for the first and only time, fruits, and dies. The Century Plant is monocarpic. See Frasera speciosa and Eriogonum alatum for examples of two fascinating monocarpic plants in the Four Corners.
Monoecious: (Pronounced, mo knee cious) A monoecious species bears its male (staminate) flowers and its female (carpellate) flowers on the same plant and thus all plants can bear fruit. The Greek "monoecious" means "one house". See Dioecious.
Montane: From 8,000 to 10,000 feet. Open Aspen forests, sometimes with heavy undergrowth of shrubs (Snowberry, Currants, Elderberry). Colorado Blue Spruce in moist areas. At lower elevations some large stands of Ponderosa Pine with scattered Douglas Fir on north facing slopes. Annually about 18-30 inches of moisture 1/2 to 3/4 from snow. Moderate to lush wildflower growth from June-August.
Noxious Weed: Often this term is used in a very specific legal manner to describe a plant which has been introduced to a location, is a non-native plant, and which often crowds out native species or species of economic value. See the full page discussion of the noxious weed problem.
Officinale: An old Latin term meaning "a shop" or "carried in a shop". Botanically, officinale came to mean, "a plant carried in an apothecary shop". Taraxacum officinale, Cynoglossum officinale
Openings: Small rock or meadow clearings in woods.
Panicle: A type of inflorescence in which the main flower stalk is branched a number of times into more flower stalks, i.e., it is a branched raceme. Each flower is attached to its stalk by a stem, a "pedicel".
Pappus: Small scales, bristles, or, very often, silvery hairs at the apex of the seed in Asteraceae species. The texture, number, and shape of the pappus are key in distinguishing between Asteraceae species. See Heterotheca zionensis for a close-up of inner and outer pappus hairs.
See Scorzonera laciniata for a discussion of the confusing definition given to pappus hairs and pappus scales by the Flora of North America.
See the Arnica page for photos of pappus and also see Taraxacum officinale and Senecio spartioides for a view of pappus hairs that we all know.
Parasitic: A plant that lives off the live tissue of other plants and fungi. See saprophytic.
Pedicel: The stem of a single flower. If a flower has no stem it is said to be "sessile". See "Peduncle".
Peduncle: The common stalk of a cluster of flowers. See "Pedicel".
Perfect Flowers: A flower both male and female parts; bisexual.
Perennial: A plant that lives and blooms for many years. See Annual and Biennial.
Petiole: A leaf stem.
Phyllaries: The modified leaves that cover and then subtend flower heads in Asteraceae. Also called "bracts". All of the phyllaries/bracts that subtend a flower are together called the "involucre". Photographs of phyllaries: Grindellia, Dieteria, Aster, Arnica mollis.
Phylogenetics: The system of plant classification that tries to reflect evolution. Phylogenetics arose after Darwin at the beginning of the 20th century and is still evolving as it searches for a basis for ordering plants in their evolutionary sequence. Early phylogenetic systems started with basic assumptions about which features of plants were most primitive and which were derived, evolved, characteristics. Recent classification tries to base the ordering of plants on scientifically verifiable, rather than on subjective, assumptions about primitive versus evolved traits. See cladistics.
Pinnate: Latin "pinnat" means "feathered". The term is used to describe leaves that have a primary central midrib from which subdivisions branch off, i.e., the leaf is cut into a number of subdivisions. The individual subdivisions are called "pinna". Each of these pinna can again be cut into divisions and these can again be cut. Click to see. And click again.
There are various terms to describe how deeply cut the leaf is and whether the individual segments have a stem. Most botanists agree with the following:
If the leaf is cut about half way to the midrib (but not to the midrib), the leaf is said to be "pinnatifid".
If the leaf is cut to the midrib, it is said to be "pinnatisect".
Many plants have pinnate leaves: Ferns, Mimosas, Ashes, Peas.
Pistillate: Containing only carpels, only female floral parts. See staminate, carpel.
Pubescent: Hairy. Pubescence is a distinguishing factor in plant identification. Pubescence varies from leaf to twig to stem and with the age of the plant. See glabrous.
Raceme: An elongated type of inflorescence with individual flowers attached to a central stalk by a flower stem (a pedicel). See Actaea rubra for an example of a raceme. A raceme flower arrangement also can refer to the general habit of flowers blooming first at the bottom of the stalk. Racemes, spikes, umbels, and corymbs flower from the bottom up. Cyme flower arrangements bloom first at the top of the stalk.
Rachis: A main axis, such as that of a compound leaf. The stem to which each leaflet is attached. Click to see the red rachis of Asplenium trichomanes.
Rare: The term "rare" is used by most lay people to mean "unusual" or "not seen very often", but it has a more precise scientific meaning. The New Mexico Rare Plant Technical Council defines it as follows:
A taxon that is narrowly endemic to a specific geographic feature (e.g., mountain range; geologic outcrop) or subset area of a phytogeographic region (e.g., southern Rocky Mountains, northern Chihuahuan desert). It can be locally abundant within its narrow range, but typically will not extend more than 100 miles in length of range; OR A taxon that is more widespread, but is numerically rare - never locally common - throughout its range or is numerically abundant only in a few small, widely scattered habitats.
See the Colorado Rare Plant Guide for further information. Also see the federal definitions.
Ray Flowers: See Disk Flowers.
Receptacle: The uppermost portion of the flower pedicel/peduncle to which the floral parts are attached. Especially in keying Asteraceae, one is asked about the structure of the receptacle. See the second from the top photograph at Brickellia oblongifolia.
Regular Flowers: Symmetrical flowers. All parts of the flower are similar in size and arrangement on the receptacle so that if one were to cut the flower vertically in two anywhere, the two parts would be nearly identical appearing. See Hymenoxys hoopesii. Contrast with irregular flowers.
Rhizomatous: Arising from horizontal underground root-like structures (rhizomes) that sprout new plants from their nodes.
Rocks: Areas of large rock in canyons or mountains.
Samara: A winged seed such as found in Box Elders, various other Maples, Elms, etc.
Saprophytic: An obsolete term that mistakenly meant, "a plant that lives off dead organic material". No plants live off dead organic material; only fungi do that. It is now known that plants described as saprophytes are actually parasites living off fungi. The mycorrhizal fungi transfer nutrients from the host plant to the parasite. The fungi are parasitic on various plants.
Plants formerly considered saprophytes are now considered parasites and they are called "myco-heterophytes" or "myco-heterotrophs". See parasitic.
Scape: A leafless peduncle arising from the ground level in acaulescent plants, i.e., a leafless stem of a flower cluster which arises from the ground in plants which have no main stem from which each leaf and flower cluster arises.
Scientific Name: A Latin name assigned by botanists to plants and accepted internationally. See Genus, Species. Scientific names shown in bold on the enlarged photo pages are the currently accepted names according to John Kartesz's Synthesis of the North American Flora. Scientific names shown in normal font are synonyms. See Plant Names for a discussion of why we should use scientific not common names, how scientific names are arrived at, a brief history of the development of scientific names, and why scientific names change. Very interesting.
Scree: Fields (often extensive) of small (often one or two feet on a side and an inch to a foot thick), loose, slab rock. Such loose rock fields are very common above 11,000 feet in the San Juans. Larger boulder fields are called "talus" but the two terms grade into each other.
Secund: One-sided, e.g., secund flowers either bend to or emanate from one side of the flower stem. See Solidago velutina and Penstemon lentus.
Semi-deserts: From 5,000 to 6,500 feet. Arid. Annually 7-14 inches of moisture, 1/4 or less from snow. Semi-desert areas are characterized by open, sandy flats with scattered shrubs (Saltbush, Sagebrush) and Cottonwoods along washes. Higher semi-desert canyons have Pinyon Pine, Juniper, and Oak with some thick patches of Sagebrush, Yucca, Mountain Mahogany, and other shrubs. Wildflower growth is best from March to June but is highly dependent on winter moisture.
Sepals: Floral parts that enclose the petals and then surround them after the flower opens. Taken collectively, the sepals are called the "calyx". Petals may actually curve back through the sepals and alternate with them. See, for instance, Mitella stauropetala and Ceanothus fendleri. Sepals can be quite attractive and a key visual element of the flower, as they are in the Colorado state flower, Aquilegia coerulea (Columbine). A flower's sepals are collectively called the "calyx".
Sessile: Lacking a stem. Flowers and leaves can be attached to their main stalk with or without a stem.
Shrublands: Arid lands characterized by shrubs, grasses, and a lack of trees.
Sori: The dots on the back of fertile Fern fronds. These sori are actually groupings of many individual sporangia, each of which encloses numerous spores (the reproductive bodies of Ferns).
Sp: Abbreviation for "species". (Plural is "spp".) These abbreviations are most often used to indicate that the exact species is unknown, e.g., "Aster sp" would mean that the writer is confident the plant is in the Aster genus, but they do not know exactly which species it is. Spp might be used to label the plants in a photograph when there are a number of different species of the same genus but they have not been individually identified.
Species: A subdivision of the genus that has just one plant (or very, very closely related plants, i.e., subspecies, varieties, or forms of a species). A species has enough unique characteristics that it can be differentiated from all other plants. It is generally true that one species cannot fertilize another species.
Intermountain Flora indicates: "A typical species is separated from other species by an absolute or nearly absolute gap in the variability, and by a complete or nearly complete barrier to interbreeding."
The scientific name for a plant, i.e., the name of the species, is two-part, two words. The first word designates the genus to which the plant belongs and the second word, called the "specific epithet" (or "species epithet"), gives a name to distinguish this plant from all others in the same genus. For example, in the name Senecio serra, "Senecio" is the genus and "serra" is the specific epithet. There are many other Senecios but only one Senecio serra.
Both the genus and the specific epithet are italicized; the genus is capitalized and the specific epithet is lower case.
Identifying the species is more complicated than identifying the family or genus and often cannot be done without examining the entire plant, sometimes throughout the growing, flowering, and seeding seasons and utilizing a magnifying glass and detailed botanical texts.
Scientific names shown in bold on the enlarged photo pages are the names accepted by John Kartesz in his labor of 40 years, The Synthesis of the North American Flora. Scientific names shown in normal font are synonyms. See Family, Genus, Scientific Name, and Plant Names.
Specific epithet: Scientific names consist of two parts, the genus and the specific epithet. In the name, "Geranium richardsonii", "Geranium" is the genus and "richardsonii" is the specific epithet. Frequently the specific epithet is incorrectly called the "species", i.e., it is incorrect to say that "richardsonii" is the "species". The species is Geranium richardsonii.
Spike: An elongated type of inflorescence in which each flower is sessile, i.e., attached to the stem directly without a stem (a "pedicel"). See Elephant Heads for an example of a spike.
Sporangia: See "Sori".
Spores: See "Sori".
Ssp: Subspecies. Also "Subsp". Literally, "almost a species". See "Var".
Stamen: The pollen producing part of the flower. See carpel.
Staminate: Having only male, pollen producing floral parts. See pistillate.
Staminodes: Sterile stamens. See Parnassia parviflora.
Stipule: An often papery appendage, often leaf-like, usually occurring in pairs at the base of the petiole of a leaf. See Spergularia rubra.
Stolon: A slender modified stem running along the ground, rooting in at the tip, and sprouting new plants. Strawberries have stolons. See Erigeron flagellaris.
Streamsides: Moist areas along streams.
Subalpine: From 10,000 to 11,500 feet. Characterized by thick Spruce/Fir forests; Aspens grow at lower elevations in this zone. Annually about 25-40 inches of moisture, most from snow (about 250-350 inches). Lush wildflower growth mid-June through August.
Subsp: Abbreviation for subspecies. Also "ssp".
Subspecies: A taxonomic category below species, i.e., a division of species into two or more units each of which is clearly part of the same species but distinct enough in some characteristics to be clearly differentiated from each other. These small but obvious differences are often the result of geographic separateness whereas varieties of a species or subspecies usually exist in the same geographic area. Abbreviated subsp. or ssp.
Synonym: See discussion at the top of this page.
Taxa: Plural of "taxon", a biologic entity, such as, a genus, species, subspecies, or variety.
Taxonomy: The ordering of plants and animals according to established criteria.
Tepals: The name given to the petal-like structures of a flower when these are not clearly differentiation into sepals and petals. See Opuntia and Eriogonum hookeri.
Tubercle: An expanded structure common on some Cacti. See Escobaria vivipara for close-up photographs of tubercles.
Tundra: Land above tree line characterized by a short growing season, intense sun and wind, thin soils, very high snow fall and high rain fall, and low growing sedges, grasses, dwarf shrubs, and herbs.
Type or Type Specimen: The first plant of its kind collected for science, submitted for classification purposes, and stored in an herbarium. There are various kinds of types: The "holotype" is the one specimen that the first description and name are based on. An "isotype" is a specimen collected at the same time as the holotype by the same person. A "lectotype" is a specimen later designated as the type specimen when no holotype was originally designated. See "Type Locality" immediately below.
Type Locality: Refers to the location from which the type specimen came. See "Type or Type Specimen" immediately above.
Umbel: A type of inflorescence in which each pedicel, i.e., each flower stalk, grows upward and outward from one point in the same manner the spokes of an umbrella spread upward and outward from the umbrella main stem. The resultant flower cluster has a rounded top versus corymbs which have a flattened top. See the Apiaceae Family (formerly the Umbelliferae Family) for examples. Cow Parsnip and Loveroot.
Compound umbels start with the pedicels originating from the same point and then branching again before a flower grows at the tip of each branching.
Corymb inflorescences are very similar to umbels but their pedicels do not originate from the same point on the main stem.
Variety: A taxonomic subunit of a species or subspecies, usually in the same geographic area. Varieties of the same species or subspecies are distinct from each other because of some small variation in form.
Vegetation Zone: As used in this web site, "vegetation zone" refers to those altitudes in which a plant best survives.
Wetlands: Wet meadows, fens, seeps, etc.
Woodlands: Forested areas.
Woody: A plant whose stems do not die back to the ground in winter. Stems become increasingly large and stiff with added years of growth. The woody accumulation provides strength, protection for vital plant parts, and increased leaf production. The latter ability allows for increased oxygen production and thus our existence. Knock on wood! See Herb.