A herbaceous plant (in American botanical use simply herb) is a plant that has leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level. They have no persistent woody stem above ground. Herbaceous plants may be annuals, biennials or perennials.
Annual herbaceous plants die completely at the end of the growing season or when they have flowered and fruited, and they then grow again from seed.
Herbaceous perennial and biennial plants have stems that die at the end of the growing season, but parts of the plant survive under or close to the ground from season to season (for biennials, until the next growing season, when they flower and die). New growth develops from living tissues remaining on or under the ground, including roots, a caudex (a thickened portion of the stem at ground level) or various types of underground stems, such as bulbs, corms, stolons, rhizomes and tubers. Examples of herbaceous biennials include carrot, parsnip and common ragwort; herbaceous perennials include potato, peony, hosta, mint, most ferns and most grasses. By contrast, non-herbaceous perennial plants are woody plants which have stems above ground that remain alive during the dormant season and grow shoots the next year from the above-ground parts – these include trees, shrubs and vines.
Some relatively fast-growing herbaceous plants (especially annuals) are pioneers, or early-successional species. Others form the main vegetation of many stable habitats, occurring for example in the ground layer of forests, or in naturally open habitats such as meadow, salt marsh or desert.
The age of some herbaceous perennial plants can be determined by analyzing annual growth rings in the secondary root xylem, a method called herbchronology.
- Gray's Manual of Botany, American Book Co. 1889
- Solomon, E.P.; Berg, L.R.; Martin, D.W. (2004). Biology. Brooks/Cole Thomson Learning. ISBN 978-0-534-49547-3.
- Levine, Carol. 1995. A guide to wildflowers in winter: herbaceous plants of northeastern North America. New Haven: Yale University Press. page 1.