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The term was first used by Alphonse de Candolle. Other terms with the same meaning are hapaxanth and semelparous. The antonym is polycarpic, a plant that flowers and sets seeds many times during its lifetime; the antonym of semelparous is iteroparous. Plants which flower en masse (gregariously) before dying are known as plietesials. The term hapaxanth is most often in conjunction with describing some of the taxa of Arecaceae (palms) and some species of bamboo, but rarely used otherwise; its antonym is pleonanth. This was first used by Alexander Braun.
The plant can live a number of years before it will flower. Flowering in some plants signals senescence while in others plants the production of fruits and seeds causes changes within the plants which lead to death. These changes are induced by chemicals that act as hormones, redirecting the resources of the plants from the roots and leaves to the production of fruits and or seeds.
The century plant in the genus Agave, some terrestrial bromeliads of the genus Puya, Tillandsia utriculata, some yuccas, and many bamboos can take 8 to 20 years or in the case of some bamboos even over 100 years to bloom and then die. Hawaiian silverswords and their relatives in the genus Wilkesia may take 10–50 years before flowering.
Monocot plant families that include monocarpic species include Agavaceae, Araceae, Arecaceae, Bromeliaceae, Musaceae, and Poaceae. Dicot plant families that include monocarpic species include Acanthaceae, Apocynaceae, Asteraceae, and Fabaceae. Few dicot shrubs with multiple branching and secondary growth species have been described. Those that have include Strobilanthes species, Cerberiopsis candelabrum, Tachigali versicolor and other Tachigali species.
Some monocarpic plants can be kept alive if the flowers are removed as soon as they have finished blooming before seed formation begins, or if the flower buds are removed before they begin blooming.
- Y.Y. Leshem; A.H. Halevy; C. Frenkel (2 December 2012). Processes and Control of Plant Senescence. Elsevier Science. pp. 120–. ISBN 978-0-444-59846-2.
- Kitajima, Kaoru; Carol K. Augspurger (August 1989). "Seed and Seedling Ecology of a Monocarpic Tropical Tree, Tachigalia Versicolor". Ecology. jstor. 70 (4): 1102–1114. doi:10.2307/1941379. JSTOR 1941379.
- Hans Mohr; Peter Schopfer (6 December 2012). Plant Physiology. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 437–. ISBN 978-3-642-97570-7.