Monday, November 21, 2011

What Does Perennial Really Mean?

Annual plants live for a year...

Convolvulus 'Ensign Blue'
Biennials live for two years...

Black Hollyhock
Alcea rosea
var. nigra
Perennials live forever...

Heuchera x brizoides 'Firefly'


Rudbeckia triloba

Oh, if only it were so.

Several times, after I've lost a plant or two in the garden, Romie will say to me, "Why did it die? What did you do wrong?" or "You shouldn't plant that one anymore." He thinks, like many people do, that perennials are immortal beings and if they succumb after several years of growing in our garden that surely I must have done something to it or I didn't do something I should have.

Not necessarily.

Did you know that "perennial" had
a symbol? Neither did I. This is it.
According to Wikipedia, the definition of a perennial is "a plant that lives for more than two years." And in my garden, that's all the longer that some of them have lived. I don't know if that's the natural life span of those plants that didn't return after their second winter, or whether something else was the cause of their demise.

But it's nice to know that I've got yet another excuse to add to the list of why my plants die:

  • I watered them too much.
  • I didn't water them enough.
  • The bugs got 'em.
  • They had too much sun.
  • They had too much shade.
  • The rabbits had them for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.
  • The soil was too acidic.
  • The soil was too alkaline.
  • The chickens dug them up.
  • The winter was extraordinarily cold.
  • The neighbor's pig, Barney, sat on them.
  • They died of natural causes after a full and fabulous life of two years.

It's a miracle any plant lives at all, isn't it?

"Who? Me?"


Kaveh said...

I think the most confusing thing for a lot of new gardeners (particularly in the northeast/midwest and other cold climates) is perennials that "act like annuals". Things like Impatiens, Pelargoniums, and Begonias that can't withstand freezing temperatures but are long lived perennials or shrubs in the right climate.

True annuals grow from seed, bloom and die in one growing season.

Kylee Baumle said...

Kaveh ~ You're absolutely right about that. And it's crucial to pay attention to just who is calling a plant a perennial, especially when visiting forums online that have people from all growing zones contributing to the conversation. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone call a particular plant a perennial and for those in colder climates, it absolutely isn't. There are a lot of technicalities in the gardening world that would confuse a lot of people. When it comes right down to it, practically speaking, those things can be irrelevant.

Kaveh said...

True annual, tender perennial, short lived perennial, biennial, monocarpic, and subshrub are some terms that new gardeners should familiarize themselves with.

Anne Larson said...

Here in Zone 5, my favorite definition for a perennial is "a plant that, had it lived, would have bloomed for multiple seasons." Good list of the plethora of ways plants meet their demise! Thanks for a good read!

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