Herbaceous plants in botany, frequently shortened to herbs, are vascular plants that have no persistent woody stems above ground. Herb has other meanings in cooking, medicine, and other fields. Herbaceous plants are those plants that do not have woody stems, they include many perennials, and nearly all annuals and biennials, they include both forbs and graminoids.
Herbaceous plants most often are low growing plants, relative to woody plants like trees, and tend to have soft green stems that lack lignification and their above-ground growth is ephemeral and often seasonal in duration.
Types of herbaceous plants
Herbaceous plants are non-woody vascular plants, which in plant sciences are called herbs, they include grasses and grass-like plants grouped together as graminoids, forbs, and ferns. Forbs are generally defined as herbaceous broad leafed plants, while graminoids are plants with grass-like appearance including the true grasses, sedges, and rushes. By contrast, non-herbaceous vascular plants are woody plants which have stems above ground that remain alive, even during any dormant season, and grow shoots the next year from the above-ground parts – these include trees, shrubs, vines and woody bamboos. Banana plants are also regarded as a herbaceous plant because the stem does not contain true woody tissue.
Herbaceous plants include plants that have an annual, biennial, or perennial life cycle. Annual herbaceous plants die completely at the end of the growing season or when they have flowered and fruited, and then new plants grow from seed. Herbaceous perennial and biennial plants may 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.
Habit and habitat
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. Some habitats, like grasslands and prairies and savannas, are dominated by herbaceous plants along with aquatic environments like ponds, streams and lakes.
The age of some herbaceous perennial plants can be determined by herbchronology, the analysis of annual growth rings in the secondary root xylem.
Herbaceous plants do not produce perennializing above ground structures using lignin, which is a complex phenolic polymer deposited in the secondary cell wall of all vascular plants. The development of lignin during vascular plant evolution provided mechanical strength, rigidity, and hydrophobicity to secondary cell walls, allowing plants to grow tall and transport water and nutrients over longer distances within the plant body. Since most woody plants are perennials with a longer life cycle because it takes more time and more resources (nutrients and water) to produce persistently living lignified woody stems, they are not as able to colonize open and dry ground as rapidly as herbs.
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