Examples of woody and herbaceous plants

Xylem Parenchyma arranged in

Most people are familiar with the common usage of the term “herb” and what a herb actually is. However, those not so familiar with the botanical world, might not realize that a herbaceous plant is not always the same as herb. Herbs are used medicinally and in culinary dishes whereas a herbaceous plant is “the term given to any plant that does not form a persistent woody stem.” (source:). Just to add to the confusion, herbaceous plants are sometimes referred to as herbs in botanical terms.

Common Definition of a Herb

There is much debate about the true definition of a herb. However, in general, a herb is usually a plant that is used in medicine, cooking or for perfumery purposes, either for its medicinal properties, as flavoring, food or fragrance, respectively. It has leaves, flowers or seeds. Herbs have historically been used for such purposes for centuries and were in common usage during ancient Egyptian times. There are records of the use of herbs in many ancient Egyptian documents, including the Ebers Papyrus(1550 B.C.).

Botanical Definition of a Herbaceous Plant

A herbaceous plant is an annual, biennial or perennial plant with flowers and/or leaves. The leaves of the plant (above ground) die at the end of the growing season. Biennial and perennial herbaceous plants have living underground stems that lay dormant until the next growing season. Annual herbaceous plants do not re-grow from the same plant.

Types of Herbs

Herbs are often categorized via their common use; for example, medicinal or culinary. However, some herbs fall into more than one category of use. Herbs such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) are used medicinally, in culinary dishes and for perfumery purposes. Other types of common herbs include:

  • dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
  • parsley (Petroselinum sativum)
  • ginger (Zingiber officinale) (note, ginger is classed as a “spice” for culinary purposes).

Types of Herbaceous Plants

Types of herbaceous plants include:

  • carrot (Daucus carota)
  • parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
  • peony (Paeonia spp.)
  • banana (Musa spp.)
  • mint (Mentha spp.).
Mint is an example of both a common herb and herbaceous plant, although not all herbaceous plants are also herbs.

Herbs and Herbaceous Plants

Herbs and herbaceous plants are not botanically the same, although sometimes a herbaceous plant is a herb (as referred to in common terms). In the botanical world, herbaceous plants are also referred to as herbs, leading to confusion for those not familiar with the botanical differences. By understanding the basic botanical differences between a herb and a herbaceous plant, you can start to distinguish the difference between the two plants.


Wiley-Blackwell Perennial Weeds: Characteristics and Identification of Selected Herbaceous Species
Book (Wiley-Blackwell)

Dichotomous Key

2006-05-14 05:16:20 by robur

Would there be guides for all the plants or broken down by plant types: trees, grasses, woody perennials, herbaceous perennials, etc?
How technical would it be? Would it be user friendly? I like the challenge and looking up things like leaf shapes and technical terminology of plant structure, but I see this could be a stumbling block for many.
Isn't it more fun to ask the CL community, get a name for your mystery plant, and then continue your research.


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