Raunkiær plant life-form

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The Raunkiær system is a system for categorizing plants using life-form categories, devised by Christen C. Raunkiær.


It was first proposed in a talk to the Danish Botanical Society in 1904 and briefly described in the society's journal Botanisk Tidsskrift.[1][2]

A fuller account appeared in French the following year.[3] Raunkiær elaborated further on the system and published this in Danish in 1907.[4][5]

The original note and the 1907 paper were much later translated to English and published with Raunkiær's collected works.[2][5][6]


Raunkiær's life-form scheme has subsequently been revised and modified by various authors,[7][8] but the main structure has survived.


Raunkiær's life forms (the plant structures that survive the unfavourable season are shown in black):
1. Phanerophyte.
2-3. Chamaephytes.
4. Hemicryptophyte.
5-9. Cryptophytes. * 5-6. Geophytes. * 7. Helophyte. * 8-9. Hydrophytes. Therophyte, aerophyte and epiphyte not shown

The subdivisions of the Raunkiær system are based on the place of the plant's growth-point (bud) during seasons with adverse conditions (cold seasons and dry seasons):


Projecting into the air on stems – normally woody perennials - with resting buds more than 25 cms above soil level, e.g. trees and shrubs, but also epiphytes, which Raunkiær separated out as a special group in later versions of the system.

Further subgrouping[edit]

May be further subdivided according to plant height in megaphanerophytes, mesophanerophytes and nanophanerophytes and other characters, such as duration of leaves (evergreen or deciduous), presence of covering bracts on buds, succulence and epiphytism.


Buds on persistent shoots near the ground – woody plants with perennating buds borne close to the ground, no more than 25 cm above the soil surface, (e.g. bilberry and periwinkle).


Buds at or near the soil surface, e.g. daisy, dandelion.

Jmm-eye level dandelions.jpg
only stem leaves
Partial rosette plants 
both stem and basal rosette leaves
Rosette plants 
only basal rosette leaves


Cryptophyte geophyte

Below ground or under water - with resting buds lying either beneath the surface of the ground as a rhizome, bulb, corm, etc., or a resting bud submerged under water. Cryptophytes are divided into 3 groups:

Resting in dry ground, e.g. crocus, tulip. May be further subdivided into rhizome, stem-tuber, root-tuber, bulb and root geophytes.
Resting in marshy ground, e.g. reedmace, marsh-marigold.
Resting by being submerged under water, e.g. water-lily, frogbit.


Annual plants which complete their life-cycle rapidly under favorable conditions and survive the unfavorable cold or dry season in the form of seed. Many desert plants are by necessity therophytes.


New addition to the Raunkiaer lifeform classification. Plant that obtains moisture (though not through haustoria) and nutrients from the air and rain; usually grows on other plants but not parasitic on them.[9] This includes some Tillandsia species, as well as staghorn ferns.


Originally placed in Phanerophytes (above) but then separated because of irrelevance of soil position.


  1. ^ Raunkiær, C. (1904) Om biologiske Typer, med Hensyn til Planternes Tilpasninger til at overleve ugunstige Aarstider. Botanisk Tidsskrift 26, p. XIV.
  2. ^ a b Ch. 1 in Raunkiær (1934): Biological types with reference to the adaption of plants to survive the unfavourable season, p. 1.
  3. ^ Raunkiær, C. (1905) Types biologiques pour la géographie botanique. Oversigt over Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskabs Forhandlinger, 1905, 347-438.
  4. ^ Raunkiær, C. (1907) Planterigets Livsformer og deres Betydning for Geografien. Gyldendalske Boghandel - Nordisk Forlag, København and Kristiania. 132 pp.
  5. ^ a b Ch. 2 in Raunkiær (1934): The life-forms of plants and their bearings on geography, p. 2-104.
  6. ^ Raunkiær, C. (1934) The Life Forms of Plants and Statistical Plant Geography, being the collected papers of C. Raunkiær. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Reprinted 1978 (ed. by Frank N. Egerton), Ayer Co Pub., in the "History of Ecology Series". ISBN 0-405-10418-9
  7. ^ Müller-Dombois, D. & H. Ellenberg (1974) Aims and methoods in vegetation ecology. John Wiley & Sons, New York. Reprint 2003, Blackburn Press, ISBN 1-930665-73-3
  8. ^ Shimwell, D.W. (1971) The Description and Classification of Vegetation. Sidgwick & Jackson, London.
  9. ^ Galán de Mera, A., M. A. Hagen & J. A. Vicente Orellana (1999) Aerophyte, a New Life Form in Raunkiaer's Classification? Journal of Vegetation Science 10 (1): 65-68