Common Botanical Terms

Common Botanical Terms

Common Botanical Terms

The following descriptions have been useful to us as we slowly widened our knowledge of things botanical as we established our indigenous tree nursery. But we still recommend that you follow up these descriptions by browsing through the references sited on our website. This will help you clarify descriptions where we may have been a little superficial. We also hope those searches will also suck you further into this passion.

Miombo:   A characteristic woodland type of the region with the vegetation dominated by the genera Brachystegia, Julbernardia and Isoberlinia, extending from Tanzania to northern South Africa.

Montane: Referring to mountainous terrain

Riparian: Along a river or stream

Suffrutex: Essentially a stunted underground tree where only the leaves, flowers and fruit are above ground and usually as a low surface cover. Sometimes a growth form of a common tree species.

Deciduous: Losing leaves at the end of the growing season, usually during the height of the dry season.

Evergreen: Retaining leaves throughout the year.

Leaf features


Entire leaf margin: A leaf margin that is smooth and uninterrupted.

Serrated leaf margin: A leaf margin that is coarsely or finely toothed.

Opposite leaf:  Leaves that are set opposite each other along a stem.


Alternative leaf: Leaves that are arranged alternately along the stem.


Whorled leaf:  Leaves that are arranged in whorls along the stem.


Palmate leaf

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Compound leaf: Leaf comprising one or more leaflets.

Trifoliate leaf: A compound leaf form with three leaflets.


Pinnate leaf: A compound leaf with two or more leaflets arranged in rows along a central stem (called a rachis).


Imparipinnate: A compound pinnate leaf with an odd number of leaflets and a single terminal leaflet.

Paripinnate: A compound pinnate leaf with a pair of terminal leaflets.

Bipinnate leaf: A compound leaf with each a secondary subdivision of each leaflet.


Pubescent: Covered in hairs.

Scabrid: Rough, sandpapery.

Inflorescence: A flowering stem with more than one flower unit. The flowers may be arranged in a variety of forms.

Globose: Spherical, as in flower or fruit form.

Spike: Referring to a flower form with individual flowers without stalks arranged along a central axis.

Raceme: Similar to a spike but with flowers on stalks and with the oldest flowers at the base.

Dehiscent: Referring to pods that split open as they dry, often explosively. The seeds are then broadcast widely.

Indehiscent: Referring to pods that do not split open as they dry, or only partially, therefore depending on animals and birds to transport the seeds.

Winged pod: Fruit has winged extensions, usually two or four wings.