About Electronic Flora of South Australia Electronic Flora of South Australia Plant distribution mapper
Flora fact sheets
Contact Census of SA Plants, Algae & Fungi
Links Identification tools
Coming Soon Australia's Virtual Herbarium


If the word you want is not in the following list try the on-line glossaries at Flora of Australia or Missouri Botanic Gardens, Radford et al. Vascular Plant Systematics or the list of plant characteristics on the Virtual Field Herbarium site at Oxford University.  Remember too that many of the words are illustrated in the images accompanying the various character states in the keys.

acicular – needle-like

actinomorphic (of flowers) – radially symmetric i.e. any diameter cut through the flower will result in identical halves

acumen – apex prolonged into a sharp point

acuminate – with an acumen i.e. apex prolonged into a sharp point

acute – sharp; two sides approaching each other at an angle of less than 90°

adjacent – next to

adnate – joined to

adult cf. juvenile; in many Solanaceous species the earlier foliage, or foliage arising from new shoots, may be larger, pricklier and more pubescent than that formed later; most measurements given here, unless specified, relate to the leaves found in the older stages associated with flowering.

aestivation – the arrangements of the petal lobes in bud. This character is particularly important in Solanaceae in deciding the relationships of the genera to each other e.g. tribe Anthocercideae is defined by its unique corolla aestivation.  

andromonoecious having bisexual and male flowers on the same plant, as is found in a number of Solanum species e.g. members of the Dioicum and Incanum groups

anthesis – stage of flowering where anthers are releasing pollen

apical – at the apex or top of

apiculate – with a short sharp point at the apex; cf. acuminate

appendage – additional structure arising from a surface –in Solanum lycopersicon (tomato) for instance, each of the anthers has an apical appendage

appressed (as in hairs) – pressed to; of hairs which are parallel to the surface on which they are borne or appressed as in the calyx lobes of Nicandra where adjacent calyx lobes are pressed together to give a wing-like appearance

arcuate (of hairs) – curved, as in a bow

articulate (of pedicels) – a joint or abscission area where the pedicel detaches from the main axis e.g. Cestrum; often at the very base of the pedicel and therefore not always noticeable

armed – prickles are present on part of the plant

asymmetrical – not symmetrical; when used with respect to leaves of Solanum the bases of the leaf, either side of the petiole, meet the petiole at different levels (also referred to as oblique).

Fig. 1: leaf base asymmetrical or oblique

attenuate – gradually tapering; fig. 2

auriculate – ear-shaped; usually used in reference to a leaf base which is very deeply heart-shaped such that the lobes cover the petiole or the stem; see for example Nicotiana ampexicaulis or fig. 2


Fig. 2. Leaf bases – from on-line glossary of Flora of Australia

axillary – arising from the area between a petiole or leaf base and the stem; see Flora of Australia on-line glossary

basifixed  (of anthers) – filament is attached at the base of the anthers as in most Solanum species; cf. versatile anthers of Lycium and most of tribe Anthocercideae

bifid – split in two; used with respect to the stigmas of some of the dioecious Solanum species

bisexual (of flowers) – having both male and female parts present in the flower. Look for both stamens and styles in the open flower; fig. 19. cf. male flowers where the style will be absent, fig. 11.

campanulate – bell-shaped

capitate (stigma) – with a small head, as in a pin

cauline (of leaves in Nicotiana) – leaves along the upright stem, as opposed to basal leaves.

circumscissile (capsules or fruits) - opening by a transverse line around the circumference resulting in a lid which is removed at maturity e.g. Hyoscyamus

concolorous – similar colour on upper and lower surface, usually with respect to leaf surfaces and usually related to presence or absence of hairs

conical – shaped like a cone

connate - joined

connective – (with respect to anthers) the tissue connecting two anthers; particularly noticeable in Lycopersicon and Cyphomandra

clammy  – wet and cold feel, in Nicotiana due to presence of globular-headed hairs; fig. 21c.

cleistogamous (flowers) – smaller than usual, often overlooked, flowers which never open; pollination is usually effected in bud and the flowers are all self-pollinated. Common in Nicotiana where it can lead to misleading measurements for the corolla length.

clonal – reproducing by asexual means, usually suckering, so that the offspring are the same genetic makeup as the parent. In many Solanaceae species new shoots arise from underground stems following disturbance.

cordate – heart-shaped, whether the leaf base or leaf apex; fig. 2

cordiform – heart-shaped, more or less triangular

cuneate (leaf or petal base) – shaped like a wedge, sides straight, forming an angle less than 90° at their point of contact; fig. 2

cyme - branched inflorescence (lacking a single axis) with each flower terminating an axis and subsequent flowers developing from the below the terminating flower; fig. 9.

decurrent (of leaves) - extending downwards beyond the point of insertion, e.g. in Nicotiana excelsior the leaf blade and petiole extend downwards to form a wing along the stem.

Fig. 4. Decurrent leaves of N. excelsior. Reproduced with permission from Japan Tobacco Inc.from "The genus Nicotiana illustrated" (1994). 

dendritic (of hairs) – branched hairs in which new branches arise from different points along the main axis – tree-like; fig. 5.


Fig. 5. Dendritic hairs of tribe Anthocercideae. Reproduced from fig. 4 of Haegi (unpubl. Ph.D. thesis).

dense – congested, crowded, overlapping

depressed (of shape) - flattened as if pressed from the top or end; wider than high.

didynamous  (of stamens) - two of four stamens are significantly longer than the other two

dioecious male flowers and female flowers are produced on different plants – this appears not to be the case in Solanum where male flowers and bisexual flowers are produced on different plants. However the apparently bisexual flowers with their normal-appearing anthers produce inaperturate and non-germinating pollen and so these flowers are functionally female and the plants functionally dioecious; fig. 19.

discolorous – different colour on upper and lower surface, usually with respect to leaf surfaces; fig. 6. cf. concolorous.


Fig. 6. Discolorous leaves – upper and lower leaf surfaces different colours.

distal – away from the point of attachment

dorsifixed  (of anthers) – filament is attached at the back of the anthers as in versatile anthers of Lycium and most of tribe Anthocercideae cf. basifixed anthers of most Solanum species

ellipsoid – solid 3D shape, elliptic in outline

elliptic - oval in outline, widest at the centre; fig. 7


Fig. 7: Leaf shapes – reproduced from Flora of Australia on-line glossary

emarginate – notched or indented at the apex

entire – without lobes

erect  (of styles and fruits) - standing upright  cf. pendent

exserted (usually with respect to stamens) – exceeding the corolla, “sticking out”, not included within the corolla

filament – stalk supporting the anthers of a stamen

foetid – evil- or foul-smelling

forked – dividing into 2

fusiform - spindle-shaped, i.e. narrower at both ends than at the centre

geminate – borne in pairs, but not inserted opposite to each other; used with respect to leaves of Solanum, Physalis

glabrescent – initially hairy, but becoming glabrous, or losing these hairs, with age

glabrous – without hairs

glandular (hairs) – hairs with a globular apex i.e. gland-tipped

globose (usually with respect to fruit shape) – rounded, circular; as wide as high, 1:1

granular-tomentose – a specialised term used by Haegi to describe the appearance of hairs on leaves in some of the Anthocercideae e.g. Cyphanthera tasmanica, fig. 8. There is a general hair covering of branched hairs of even length interspersed with longer emergent branched hairs.

Fig. 8. Granular-tomentose hairs

hastate - spear-shaped - narrowing to apex but with two basal lobes. Such leaves are sometimes found in Solanum ferocissimum and S. chenopodinum; fig. 2.

hydathodes – surface “hairs” with a direct connection to the veins; they function in the removal of excess water (guttation) and ions,  but their secretions may also have a role in inhibiting infection of the tissue; fig 21d.  See Shepherd, R.W., Troy Bass, W., Houtz, R.L. & Wagner, G.J. (2005). Phylloplanins of tobacco are defensive proteins deployed on aerial surfaces by short glandular trichomes. The Plant Cell 17:1851-1861. Downloadable at http://www.plantcell.org/cgi/content/full/17/6/1851

inter-acuminal see intra-acuminal

inter-nodal – inserted on the main axis between nodes; see also interaxillary

inter-axillary  - inserted on the main axis between axils; see also internodal

inter-sepalar membrane (with respect to Nicotiana) – membranous filling between the calyx or sepal lobes

inflorescence – arrangement of the flowers; see cymose, paniculate, sub-umbelliform, thyrse, umbelliform; fig. 9.


Fig. 9: Inflorescences – reproduced from Flora of Australia on-line glossary

inserted (with respect to stamens) – point of attachment of the filament to the corolla tube

intra-acuminal tissue in flower – tissue between the corolla lobes. Corolla lobes are usually of a slightly different colour to the intra-acuminal tissue, sometimes with a darker midline; fig. 10.

Fig. 10. Arrows indicate the intra-acuminal tissue

juvenile – early stage of plant life – in Solanum species in particular, but also in other members of the family, the juvenile stages are frequently different from the adult stage – juvenile or seedling stages often have larger leaves which are more deeply lobed and there may be prickles on the stems and leaves which disappear in the adult stage e.g. S. macoorai.

lamina – leaf surface or blade

lanceolate (of anthers, sometimes of leaf shape) – tapering to apex; all members of Solanum subg. Leptostemonum have such anthers; fig. 11.

leaf-opposed – arising from the main axis, opposite the point of insertion of a leaf

limb (of corolla) - the upper, free, spreading portion of the corolla; the corolla lobes

linear - very narrow, length to width ratio 12:1 or more, sides parallel; fig 5

lobed (of leaves) – leaf margin is not entire but divided to about half way to the midrib

longitudinal (of anther dehiscence) – opening along the length of the anther

male flowers – female parts lacking. Look for the presence of a style between the stamens. Common in some members of Solanum, particularly species from northern Australia where there are often many male flowers gathered together above a single bisexual flower; fig. 11

Fig. 11. Male flowers; styles lacking.

mesocarp (of fruit) - fleshy portion of a succulent fruit, below the skin.

monoecious - bisexual flowers, with a functioning style and stamens, are produced on the one plant; cf. dioecious and andromonoecious.

notched – indented, as in the apex of a leaf or petal

ob-  - reverse or inverse of the word to which it is attached

obconical – attached at the narrow end of the cone

oblique (of leaf base) -  asymmetrical, leaf bases either side of the midrib not meeting at the same point; fig. 1 & 2.

oblong (of anthers) – straight-sided cf. lanceolate or tapering anthers of subg. Leptostemonum; fig. 12.

Fig. 12. Oblong anthers.

Fig. 13. Tapering anthers

oblong (of leaves) – length greater than width, sides parallel

obovate – ovate in outline, but attachment is at narrow end i.e. widest above middle; fig. 7.

obovoid – 3D, egg-shaped, but attachment at the narrower end i.e. widest above the middle

obtuse – blunt or rounded; angle greater than 90°

orbicular – circular in outline; length to width 1:1; fig. 7.

ovate – egg-shaped in outline, widest in lower half cf. obovate; fig. 7.

ovoid – egg-shaped in 3D, attachment at the broadest end; i.e. widest below the middle

pandurate (leaf shape, particularly in Nicotiana) – obovate but with a distinct narrowing to almost straight sides at the base

panicle – much branched inflorescence, a compound raceme (a raceme of racemes); an indeterminate inflorescence in which the flowers are borne on branches of the main axis or on further branches of these see e.g. Duboisia myoporoides and fig. 9.

papillose - small, rounded protuberances on the surface of an organ, in Solanaceae, particularly the Anthocercideae, often on the corolla lobe surface

pedicel – stalk supporting a flower or fruit

peduncle – stalk supporting a group of flowers or fruits

pendent (of fruit) - hanging

pentagonal – apex of the intra-acuminal tissue is more or less straight or cut off, giving a 5-sided appearance to the flower; figs 10 &15.

petiole – stalk of a leaf

petiolule – stalk of a leaflet

pinnatisect (of leaves) - lobes cut almost  to midrib

plicate – pleated; folded back and forth longitudinally as in a fan e.g. Solanum plicatile and S. eardleyae

pores (of anthers) – rounded holes at the apex of the anther; pollen is released through these pores

poricidal (of anthers) – opening by terminal pores and usually in Solanaceae requiring to be vibrated or “buzzed” by bees to release their pollen

prickles – sharp-pointed outgrowths arising from the stems, leaves and floral parts of Solanum species

prostrate – lying on the ground

puberulent – with minute hairs

pubescent – hairs present

rachis – main axis from which flowers arise; also as rhachis

radical (of leaves in Nicotiana) – basal rosette of leaves as opposed to the leaves of the stem (cauline)

reflexed – turned down, as in the calyces and corolla lobes of some Solanum species

reniform – kidney shaped; often used with respect to the seeds of Nicotiana

resprouter – ability to produce new stems from the underground root system following disturbance. Solanum species tend to be found in disturbed habitats and to respond well to fire because of this ability.  cf. clonal

reticulate – network, usually of veins on a leaf or markings on seed

retrorse (of hairs) – bent, pointing downwards or away from apex

rhombic – diamond- or kite -shaped

rotate – apex of the intra-acuminal tissue is rounded, giving an overall rounded appearance to the flower: fig. 14.

rotate-pentagonal - apex of the intra-acuminal tissue is straight, giving an overall 5-sided appearance to the flower: fig. 15.

Fig. 14. Rotate flower.

Fig. 15. Rotate-pentagonal flower

rounded – not angled

sclerotic granules (of fruits) – hard inclusions in the fruit along with the seeds; particularly characteristic of the Kangaroo Apples or Solanum subg. Archaeosolanum but also sometimes found in subg. Solanum cf. stone cells

scorpioid (inflorescence) – axis of inflorescence coiled as in the tail of a scorpion

serrate (of leaf margins) – toothed, the teeth usually acutely angled and pointing toward the apex of the leaf

serrulate (of leaf margins)  – finely serrate

sessile – without a stalk, attached directly to the main axis; usually of leaves or flowers

sigmoid – S-shaped

simple (of hairs or inflorescences) – unbranched; fig. 21a

simple (of leaves) – undivided leaves

sinuate - with deep, wave-like depressions along the margin of the leaf

solitary (of flowers) – single, one flower only in the inflorescence

sparse – occasional; with respect to hairs, not overlapping

spathulate – spoon-shaped: fig. 7

spike, spike-like -  flowers arranged on a single axis, each flower sessile, oldest at base: fig. 9.

sprawling – not erect, not capable of supporting itself, lying on other vegetation

stellate (of flowers) – star-shaped (fig. 16). There is no, or very little, intra-acuminal tissue between the corolla lobes.  The broadly stellate (fig. 17) condition occurs when there is some intra-acuminal tissue between the lobes but this is less than the lobes in height.

Fig. 16. Stellate flower.

Fig. 17.  Broadly stellate flower.

stellate (hairs) – star-shaped – hairs in which a number of arms all arise from a single point. For some of the various types of hairs which are scored as stellate see the image (fig. 18) adapted from Seithe (1979).

Fig. 18. Stellate hair types in Solanum. Adapted from Seithe, A. (1979). Hair types as taxonomic characters in Solanum. In: J.G.Hawkes, R.N.Lester & A.D.Skelding (eds), The Biology and Taxonomy of the Solanaceae pp. 307–19. (Linnean Society of London: London).

stem-clasping – sessile leaves in which the bases of the leaves partly envelop the stem  cf. auriculate

stone cells – hard concretions present in the fruits of some Solanum species – typical of subg. Archaesolanum (Kangaroo Apples) and also present in some species of the S. nigrum group, but absent elsewhere in Australian species; cf. sclerotic granules. 

stigma – area at the apex of the ovary and style which is receptive to pollen; the stigma may be capitate, obscurely lobed or distinctly two-lobed; fig. 19.


Fig. 19. The presence of a style and stigma makes this a bisexual flower. In some Solanum species of northern Australia such flowers may be functionally female since the pollen produced by the anthers is non-fertile. It is produced as a reward for visiting insects thus ensuring that pollination still occurs.

striate -  with striations or coloured lines in the flower

striations – coloured lines within the flower e.g. Anthocercis, Cyphanthera

subtended – surrounded by; used with respect to bracts at the base of a flower and sometimes the persistent calyx surrounding a fruit

sub-umbellate – inflorescence almost resembling an umbel – flowers all arising from more or less the same point and with the pedicels all of a similar length; fig. 9.

succulent - juicy

tapering (of anthers); all members of Solanum subg. Leptostemonum have such anthers; fig. 12

terminal – at the apex

testa – outer seed coat

throat – widened part of the corolla tube, immediately below the lobes

Fig. 20. Parts of the Nicotiana flower. The arrowed portion represents the corolla tube. From Horton, J. Adelaide Botanic Garden 3: 3 (1981), fig. 2.

throat cup (with respect to Nicotiana corolla) – widened area immediately below the lobes in some Nicotiana species – usually the place where the anthers sit;  fig. 20.  

throat cylinder (with respect to Nicotiana corolla) – widened tubular portion of the corolla tube, immediately above the tube proper and below the throat cup; fig. 20.

thyrse - a branched inflorescence in which the main axis is indeterminate and the lateral branches determinate in their growth (Flora of Australia glossary definition) fig. 9.

tomentose – dense cover of intertwined hairs; used with different meanings by different authors

translucent – transmitting light; able to be seen through; used with respect to the area between the calyx lobes in some Nicotiana species

truncate – with a straight base or apex, as if cut off; see fig. 2

tube (of corolla) – joined portion of the corolla below the lobes; sometimes, as in Nicotiana, consisting of a narrow tube widening into the throat; fig 20.

umbelliform – resembling an umbel i.e. flowers all arising from a single point, the pedicels all of a similar length - arranged as in the spokes of an umbrella; fig. 9.

unarmed – without prickles

undulate (usually with respect to leaf margins) – wavy, not flat

ventrifixed  (of anthers) – filament is attached to the front of the anthers as in anthers of Petunia and Nierembergia cf. dorsifixed anthers of Lycium and Nicotiana species

versatile (of anthers) – moving freely about the point of attachment to the filament, which is usually central – found in Lycium and most of tribe Anthocercideae; cf. basifixed, as in most Solanum species

viscid –with a glistening or shiny appearance due to the presence of glandular hairs, often somewhat sticky to touch as in some species of Nicotiana where the stickiness is due to the presence of ellipsoid-headed hairs; fig. 21c

Fig. 21. Nicotiana hair types: A, simple, eglandular; B, simple, glandular; C, simple, ellipsoid-headed; D, hydathode. From Horton, J. Adelaide Botanic Garden 3: 3 (1981), fig. 1

wing  - a thin flange of tissue extended beyond the normal outline of a stem or petiole; used in the description of the leaf petioles of Nicotiana species.

zygomorphic (of flowers) - irregular, bilaterally symmetrical or symmetrical about one plane only. cf. actinomorphic

Disclaimer Copyright Disclaimer Email Contact:
State Herbarium of South Australia
Government of South Australia Government of South Australia Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources