Glossary of Terms

Dealing with plants and seed saving can be like being in another country without knowing the language. There are many words which are unfamiliar to people not accustomed to botanical names and terms. It can feel a bit overwhelming. Hopefully this glossary will help you to decipher some of these and you will start to learn some of the technical terms.
Angiosperms: “contained seeds,” the ovules are sealed within the carpel and the seeds sealed within a fruit.Angiosperms are a large group of flowering plants that use the sexual reproduction method called “double fertilization.”
Anther: the pollen-bearing part of the flower.
Antioxidants: a substance such as vitamin E, vitamin C, or beta carotene thought to protect body cells from the damaging effects of oxidation.
Awn: a hair- or bristle-like appendage on a larger structure, found on many grasses.
Bolt (bolting): to produce flowers and seeds prematurely.
Calyx: the outer part of the flower, formed of several divisions called sepals, which protect the bud.
Carpel: the structure that encloses the egg in angiosperms, composed of ovary, style, and stigma.
Chaff: the dry coverings of grains and other grass seeds, which are separated from the seeds by the process of threshing.
Complete flower: having both male and female functional parts in the same flower.Also called a perfect flower.
Compound fruit: a fruit derived from more than one flower.
Corolla: all the petals of a flower.
Cotyledon: the first leaf in an embryo.
Dicotyledons, dicots: having two cotyledons. One of the two major groups of angiosperms.
Double fertilization:An exclusive process of angiosperms in which one male nucleus pollinates the egg nucleus to form a zygote, which develops into an embryo, while the other male nucleus joins with two other nuclei in the embryo sac to form endosperm.
Embryo: in plants, part of the seed consisting of precursor tissues for the leaves, stem (hypocotyl), and root, as well as one or more cotyledons. Develops from the egg cell after fertilization.
Endosperm: stored plant nourishment that surrounds the embryo.
Epicotyl: the embryonic shoot above the cotyledons. In most plants the epicotyl will eventually develop into the leaves of the plant.
Family: a large group of related genera. One of the main units of the taxonomic classification of living things.The classification units in descending order are class, order, family, genus, and species.
Filament: the stalk of the stamen.
Genus, genera (plural of genus): a unit in the taxonomic classification of living things. Usually the first part of a plant’s scientific name. In descending order the classification units are class, order, family, genus, and species.
Hardiness: the ability of a plant to withstand winter cold and summer heat.
Hypocotyl: the part of the embryo that will develop into the stem.
Lamellas: thin structures resembling plates or gills.These can be part of the petals in certain flowers.
Landraces: domesticated plants adapted to the natural and cultural environment in which they live or originated.They often develop naturally with only minimal assistance or guidance from humans using traditional breeding methods.
Microclimate: climate specific to a small area.This may vary significantly from that of surrounding areas.
Monocotyledons, monocots: plants with one cotyledon or seed leaf. One of the two major groups of angiosperms.
Monoecious: a type of angiosperm that has separate male and female flowers on the same plant, such as corn, palms, and oaks. Morphology: the form and structure of an organism or one of its parts.
Multiple fruit: a fruit formed from a cluster of flowers. Each flower produces a fruit that matures into a single mass. Examples are pineapple, fig, mulberry, osage orange, and breadfruit.
Nut: a dry, usually single-seeded fruit
Ovary: the hollow chamber that contains eggs. In plants it is usually in the enlarged lower part of the pistil.
Ovules: the female cells or eggs.
Petals: a part of the corolla of a flower.The corolla is the name for all of the petals of a flower.
Pistil: the seed-bearing organ of the flower, consisting of the ovary, stigma, and style when present.
Polar nuclei: the two nuclei in the center of the embryo sac.
Pollen grain: the male spore of a seed plant.
Pollen tube: the slender tube that is emitted by a pollen grain, which penetrates and fertilizes the ovule.
Polyphenols: a group of chemical substances found in plants, characterized by the presence of more than one phenol unit or building block per molecule. Often used in plant self-defense.
Roguing: the removing of diseased or off-type plants from seed collection.
Sepals: leaf-like appendages just below the flower petals of angiosperms.All of the sepals taken together form the calyx.
Simple fruit: derived from flowers having just one pistil. Examples are legumes (beans and peas), tomatoes, grapes, avocados, and peppers.
Species: one of the main units of the taxonomic classification of living things. In descending order the classification units are class, order, family, genus, and species.
Stamen: the thin stalk that is topped by the pollen-producing anthers.
Stigma: the pollen-receptive tip of the pistil.The stigma receives the pollen from the anthers.
Style: part of the female reproductive structure of a flower connecting the stigma and the ovary; the slender part of the pistil, rising from the ovary and ending at the stigma.
Succession: the development of a plant community over time, from its initial stage to its climax stage; usually from a community consisting of grasses to one of shrubs and, finally, to forest.Also, the changes in the species composition of communities following a natural or human disturbance like the natural filling of a pond or the clearing of a road through a forest.
Threshing: removing seeds from their pods by beating or striking the pods against a hard surface.
Tropism: the movement of an organism in response to an external stimulus.Tropisms are a unique characteristic of plants that enable them to adapt to different features of their environment.

  • Phototropism: the way a plant grows or bends in response to light.
  • Geotropism: the way a plant grows or bends in response to gravity.
  • Hydrotropism: the way a plant grows or bends in response to water.
  • Thigmotropism: the way a plant grows or bends in response to touch.

Winnowing: a method to separate the light chaff from the heavier seeds by pouring them from one container to another while blowing on them.This is often the final stage before seeds are packaged for storage.
Zygote: a cell that results from fertilization.