A herbaceous plant (or in botanical use, a herb) is a plant that has leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level. A herbaceous plant may be annual, biennial or perennial.
Annual herbaceous plants die completely at the end of the growing season or when they have flowered and fruited, and they then grow again from seed.
Herbaceous perennial and biennial plants have stems that die at the end of the growing season, but parts of the plant survive under or close to the ground from season to season (for biennials, until the next growing season, when they flower and die). New growth forms from living tissues remaining on or under the ground, including roots, a caudex (a thickened portion of the stem at ground level) or various types of underground stems, such as bulbs, corms, stolons, rhizomes and tubers. Examples of herbaceous biennials include carrot, parsnip and ragwort; herbaceous perennials include peony, hosta, mint, most ferns and most grasses. By contrast, non-herbaceous perennial plants are woody plants which have stems above ground that remain alive during the dormant season and grow shoots the next year from the above-ground parts – these include trees, shrubs and vines.
Some relatively fast-growing herbaceous plants (especially annuals) are pioneers, or early-successional species. Others form the main vegetation of many stable habitats, occurring for example in the ground layer of forests, or in naturally open habitats such as meadow, saltmarsh or desert.
- Levine, Carol. 1995. A guide to wildflowers in winter: herbaceous plants of northeastern North America. New Haven: Yale University Press. page 1.