Botanical Terms

Alpines are particularly interesting plants and there are several botanical terms that are useful to understand to fully appreciate them. Some general botanical terms that have been mentioned in the plant descriptions and the information on plant families are also described here. 




Monocarpic plants are those which only flower once in their lifetime. The flowers may be spectacular as the plant puts all of its effort into flowering and producing seed for the next generation. Fortunately, many of the alpines that are monocarpic also produce cushions or mats of rosettes, and it is the individual rosette that is monocarpic. The rosette that has flowers dies but there are usually new rosettes to carry on. Although magnificent, we don't grow the wonderful Saxifraga longifolia which is moncarpic but doesn't produce new rosettes.
Sempervivums and some saxifrages have monocarpic rosettes.
Sempervivum ruthenicum


Succulents are plants that have adapted to conditions where water is in short supply, or not easily obtainable. They have evolved fleshy stems or leaves that store water. These are particularly useful plants for our warmer drier summers as they won't need nearly as much watering as other plants. Sedums, Sempervivums and Hereroa are all succulents.
Sedum selskianum 'Spirit'


Tubers are modified stems or roots, usually swollen for storage. This allows the plant to survive underground when conditions are unfavourable for growth.

Rhodohypoxis baurii 'Mars'

Rhodohypoxis baurii 'Mars'

Monocotyledons (Monocots)

Monocots are a major division of the flowering plants. They are all herbaceous and generally have the following:

  • one cotyledon, or seed leaf
  • flower parts in threes or multiples of three
  • a fibrous root system
  • linear leaves with parallel vein patterns - parallel venation 

Iris hookeri


Eudicotyledons (Eudicots)

Eudicots are a major division of the flowering plants. They can be herbaceous or woody and generally have the following:

  • two cotyledons, or seed leaves
  • flower parts in fours or fives or multiples of four and five
  • a persistent primary or main root which often becomes a tap root
  • broader shaped leaves with more branching vein patterns - net or reticulate venation

Potentilla tonguei

The Potentilla pictured to the right has typical Eudicot features. As alpine plants have many adaptations, some of these generalisations don't always fit well though. For example, some of the alpine plants that are eudicots have very narrow leaves. 


  • Potentilla tonguei.JPG
  • Fragaria vesca flower


Hydathodes are structures or pores that remove water from the inside of a leaf and deposit it on the surface. The silver apperance of silver (Ligulatae) saxifrages are due to hydathodes which deposit lime on the surface. These silvery, calcareous deposits can form along the leaf margins or on the upper surface of the leaf. In cold and frosty weather they become very pronounced, making these plants especially attractive over the winter months.

Saxifraga 'Doctor Ramsey'