What is a
Perennial Plant?

Evergreen Trees

A perennial plant lives three years or more given optimal growing conditions for each plant type, including trees. Perennials are the backdrop and foundation of your butterfly garden.

The two types of perennials are:

  • Evergreen trees - Durable, woody structure that remains green over winter above the soil line.

  • Herbaceous plant - Soft, fleshy stemmed plant that goes dormant in winter. These are Deciduous, or sheds their leaves in fall when winter sets in. Semi-deciduous shed their leaves at the same time other leaves grow back.

    • In winter everything above the soil dies.

    • Everything beneath the soil remains alive. For many perrenial plants winter is when their roots are most actively growing.

    • There are a few perrenials that go dormant in summer which can throw off gardeners if they don't know to expect this.

Characteristic that all perennials share:

1) Roots
Nutrients and water are pulled from soil then sent to stems and leaves.

  • There are two types of roots:

  • Fibrous rooting perennials - Within the soil is a network of branching roots. Most fibrous roots grow within the top 12 inches of soil.

  • Fleshey taproot perennials - One main root grows down very deep into the soil.

2) Stems
The frame that supports perennial plant. Stems take nutrients to leaves and flowers.

Stems can:

  • Be squared, angled, rounded, etc.

  • Grow upright, low, spreading or single branched.

Stem tissue can also create a source of extra nutition and water in the form of:

  • Rhizomes

  • Corms

  • Tubers

3) Leaves
Food is manufactured for plant then sent back to stems.

  • Leaves help to regulate moisture and the plants internal temperature. This is done by water evaporating moisture from surface or wilting to reduce exposure.

4) Flowers
The reproduction center.

  • Flowers provide sweet smells and bright colors to attract pollinators.

5) Seed heads
After pollination a seed is made.

  • The flower deteriorates. At this point the gardener wants to cut off, or begin deadheading flowers. This will prevent flower from producing seed-pods or capsules.


  • Another way to identify perennials is by the cluster of leaves creating basal rosette at the soil surface. The rosestte forms at the beginning of each growing season and then plant dies back to rosette at end of growing season.

  • Perennials can be sterile and incapable of creating seeds. Dividing plants and creating a new one identical to its parent is how these perennials grow.

  • A biennial isn't a perennail. It takes 2 growing seasons for a biennial to complete it's growth cycle and then dies.

  • When a seed germinates this is called "self-sowing". When baby plant surfaces they are called "seedlings".

Related Articles:

How do Plants Grow?
Easy understanding of what makes Annual, Biennial and Perrenial plants grow.
Identify Weeds
Many weeds are perennials.
What are Annual Plants? -
Having the same basic characteristics of a perennial, there are two types of annuals.
Exotic Butterfly
Don't get carried away with non-native plants.

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