annual, perennial, evergreen?

Discussion in 'Plants: Nomenclature and Taxonomy' started by nibs9, May 3, 2011.

  1. nibs9

    nibs9 Member

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    hello.

    working on a list of some native plants in my area, and trying to classify them properly. I'm currently trying to assess which plants are annuals and which are perennials. I came across Wintergreen, and found no info on that aspect of the plant - then it hit me, Wintergreen has its name for a reason (duh). It's in season all year round. I believe a plant in season all year round is called an 'evergreen'. Am I correct in that deciduous plants lose their leaves for part of the year (thus are split into annuals and perennials) and evergreens have them on all year? So would classifying plants taxonomically in 3 categories as evergreen, annual or perennial, in terms of their seasonal availability be correct? or have I gotten something wrong? Just want to make sure I'm going about this the right way. thanks
     
  2. vitog

    vitog Rising Contributor 10 Years

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    Perennials can be either deciduous or evergreen. I assume that annuals are only deciduous.
     
  3. nibs9

    nibs9 Member

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    But how can a perennial be evergreen, when evergreens are in season all year long, and perennials are only in season for part of the year?
     
  4. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Paragon of Plants UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    A spruce tree is an evergreen perennial...
     
  5. nibs9

    nibs9 Member

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    okay, but you're not explaining to me what i'm missing. I thought evergreen meant with leaves and in season year-round and perennial only for a short time. clearly i have my definitions mixed up - i'm new to this unlike you, no need to be sarcastic. i'm just trying to get some help and info
     
  6. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Paragon of Plants UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Sounds like you're getting frustrated.

    Annual, biennial, perennial -- these are terms applied to life-cycles. Roughly speaking, an annual species will have individual plants that germinate, reproduce and die all in the span of a year. A biennial will take two years, often germinating and producing leaves that will overwinter the first year, produce seed and die in the second. A perennial will live for more than two years and may produce seed only once or many times within the entirety of its life, and may produce as early as the first year.

    When some gardeners say "perennials", they often mean herbaceous perennials (non-woody), but the term by definition can apply to woody plants as well.

    Deciduous / evergreen is unrelated to the temporal life-cycle (annual, biennial, perennial) of a plant (though I know of no annual deciduous plants), so I suppose it is better to say it is mostly unrelated.

    Deciduous / evergreen are most often applied to woody plants (shrubs, trees, lianas (woody vines)) and while seasonality is most often the factor that determines the level of deciduousness, there can be others (e.g., drought-induced loss of leaves).

    In terms of a folk taxonomy, I often see:

    Woody / non-woody

    If woody, evergreen or deciduous?

    If non-woody, annual, biennial, or perennial?

    Biological entities have a lot of fuzziness, though, and something like Digitalis purpurea is (I believe) sometimes an annual, most often biennial, rarely perennial. Another example are species which only have woody tissue below-ground or just above the soil level (e.g., subshrubs), so have the appearance of a non-woody plant for the most part ... but in field guides, may be placed in the shrub section.
     
  7. nibs9

    nibs9 Member

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    Thanks, that's more like it. ;) Very helpful. So, if a spruce is an evergreen perennial, when you see it in the winter covered in pine needles, it is currently 'dead' or 'dormant'? What about wintergreen with all its leaves in the winter? I thought perennials shed all their fruit and leaves in the winter months. I guess that's where my confusion stems from, those two terms combined and how that is presented in nature.
     
  8. nibs9

    nibs9 Member

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    *lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album) is a deciduous annual plant I think
     
  9. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Spruces have spruce needles . . . a spruce covered in pine needles is like a cat covered in dog hair ;-)

    In winter it is dormant ('sleeping'), not dead.

    Wintergreen with all its leaves in the winter is also just dormant. Perennials can be either evergreen (with leaves present all year) or deciduous (with leaves present only part of the year).
     
  10. Lysichiton

    Lysichiton Active Member

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    If you get a good local field guide to plants, it will have a well-tested plan of organization. This is not usually strictly based on botanical classification, but may well go something like like this: Trees (Deciduous/Evergreen), Shrubs, Herbaceous Plants (Alternate name "Forbs"), Ferns & Fern Allies etc... This is the pattern I have followed for the plant lists I have prepared. It avoids the classifications you are struggling with, which seem to me to be more relevant to gardening than natural history interests (just my opinion).

    Once you have put the herbs in a group as per the field guide, the "shrub" plants remaining should then include a lot of the "evergreen perennials". You can of course, break these field-guide-based groups into whatever sub-categories you choose.

    ...then watch out for arguments about the names both common & Latin! Have fun.
     
  11. dt-van

    dt-van Active Member 10 Years

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    Another thing to look for in distinguishing what I think most folks would call "evergreen perennials" or "herbacious evergreens" from "shrubby or woody evergreens" is that while evergreen perennials such as Hellebores and Epimediums can hold onto their leaves for more than one year, the new shoots and leaves produced each spring always emerge from the base of the plant below or close to the ground rather than as branches off of the stems from the previous year. A grey area is vining plants like Vinca which are certainly evergreen and branch off old stems, but never really develop a "woody" main stem.
    In garden plants the term "annual" is often mis-applied to plants which are actually biennials, tender perennials or even shrubs in their nativel location. Pelargoniums (aka geraniums), poinsettias & fuchsias which we usually think of as "annuals" can actually live for many years if protected from frost and will produce woody branching stems. Most if not all begonias are really herbacious perennials. Because they will bloom the first year from seed and are killed by the cold weather each fall we grow them as annuals.
     
  12. nibs9

    nibs9 Member

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    Thanks for your advice everyone. @ Michael, haha woops. I guess pine needles are what us plant-noobs generically dub all conifers without thinking. Anyway, I guess I was wrong in thinking that Evergreen meant a plant was in season year-round. If I were to gather Wintergreen leaves in the winter, would they still have the same edible/medicinal qualities as wintergreen leaves in the spring that are not dormant? I'm trying to get a clear sense of how a plant's useful properties change while they go through their lifecycle. I should probably learn some basic plant biology.

    Lysichiton, thanks for helping with the terminology. I guess I was wrong there too.. thinking deciduous applied to all plants and not just trees, woops. I don't really want to avoid or disregard annual vs perennial terms. Even if they are more linked to gardening, I want to have as holistic a perspective as possible on plants, which I believe would give me a deeper and more coherent understanding.

    @ dt-van, thanks for the extra info. *takes note*
     

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