Life Cycles

There are possibly millions of scientific botanical terms. Many pertain to plant parts such as roots, leaves and stems. Countless more are the Latin names given to plants. Knowing a mere three of these terms creates profound insight into the handful of plants I am going talk about, vegetables and their indispensable companions. Our basic diet, foods that are called staples, is an international one. Knowing a plant’s origin often helps us understand its needs with regard to soil, water, climate and life cycle. The shopping lists that will follow this post will include the plants’ Latin names, their life cycle designation, and their place of origin. Today’s post deals with those three little words: perennial, biennial, and annual.

Perennial plants are plants that come up year after year. They don’t always mature and flower the first season but go on to do so in subsequent years when they begin to form large colonies. Some are short-lived and debate continues on others, not knowing for sure if  a particular plant is a short-lived perennial or a biennial.

 Biennial plants make all of their foliage the first year. Before dying the second year biennials produce their flowers and seeds. This is critical knowledge for those of you who want to save seeds because at least one specimen must not be harvested and be allowed to go to seed the following year. Generally speaking second-year growth is none too appetizing. Consequently we have to grow biennials every year like annuals. The young ones we eat, the old ones live out their lives to flower and seed the following year.

Annuals are fast growing plants that complete their life cycle in one season before dying. They flower and go to seed quickly.

A remarkable number of perennials and biennials that we eat as food are often treated as annuals. Generally this is because they originate in warm, tropical climates and can’t tolerate the cold. These can conceivably be held over inside provided space, ample sunlight, and enthusiasm to do so is available. If entertaining such possibilities keep in mind that they should be pruned and allowed to rest in a cool setting. Come spring they should be carefully slipped out their pots and 25% of their roots should be pruned off. Replace the lost soil with new then return the plant to its original container. If the new soil lacks fertility sprinkle some slow-release organic fertilizer on the top of the soil or mix it in.

 Here are a few examples of perennials and biennials that are treated as annuals. Parsley is a biennial. Eggplant is a tender perennial shrub. Basil is a short-lived tender perennial. Cucumber is an annual while tomato and pepper are tender perennials. We grow all of these and others as annuals.

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Responses to “Life Cycles”

  1. Could you please clarify what you mean by ‘tender perennials’ and ‘short-lived perennials’ ?

    • There are alot of plants we grow that are tender perennials such as basil, eggplant. rosemary, many ornamentals. ‘Tender’ means temperature sensitive, something that is unlikely to tolerate freezing. Plants such as these can be stored inside over winter (unless you have a greenhouse or a similar situation) or grown as annuals. Short-lived perennials simply have short lives and might only come up a few years before they need to be replaced. Biennials are plants that produce leaves the first year, and leaves and flowers the second year, then their lives are done. Some examples of biennials include foxglove (Digitalis) and some in the Salvia family such as Clary Sage, among many. Then there are some the experts aren’t sure about and they refer to them as ‘biennials or short-lived perennials’. You might come across this from time to time in garden books.

      • Might I suggest that you look at the two entries called Shopping Lists…You will find lists of garden species complete with their life cycle designations.