Plants that bloom, produce seed, and die in a single growing season. The seed that annual plants produce may result in the formation of new plants in the next growing season, depending on the species.


Plants that complete their life cycle over two growing seasons. In the first season they grow foliage, typically a small rosette of leaves near the soil surface. During the second season’s growth, stem elongation, flowering and seed formation occur followed by the death of the “mother plant.”


BMP (Best Management Practices) 

Best Management Practice (BMP) means a practice, or combination of practices, that is determined to be an effective and practicable (including technological, economic, and institutional considerations) means of preventing or reducing the amount of pollution generated by non-point sources to a level compatible with water quality goals.

Carbon sequestration (“trapping”)

The process by which carbon is removed from the atmosphere and trapped in a solid or liquid state. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen back into it. As plants process the carbon dioxide, they break it apart, depositing carbon in the soil and releasing oxygen into the air. This “carbon cycle” creates oxygen for us to breathe, but it also puts carbon back where it belongs – into the soil! Because of their deep root systems, native plants and trees are especially critical to trapping, or sequestering, carbon and mitigating the impacts of climate change.


A cultivar is a line of plants that has been selected and continuously bred to maintain a certain property. Properties selected in cultivation may include bloom color, size, or shape, number of petals, color of leaves, overall plant size or stature, and more. By contrast “straight species” or “open pollinated” are plants that are not selectively bred. You can determine if a plant you are considering is a cultivar by the label. A cultivar will have a name in quotation marks next to it. For example the native purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea vs a cultivar Echinacea purpurea “Eric’s Favorite.” Wherever possible, choose true native plants.

Ecosystem Services

All of the benefits that humans receive from our natural environment, including but not limited to: food and water, oxygen production, pollination of crops, recreation and well-being. Native plants support better ecosystem services than non-native plants.


An herbaceous flowering plant that is not a graminoid (grasses, sedges and rushes).


A scientifically-designated group of related organisms, in this case, plants. A plant genus is the first, capitalized word in a scientific name. Example: Asclepias (milkweed).


A plant that is a grass, sedge or rush.


A non-woody plant such as a flowering perennial (forb) or a grass (graminoid).

Invasive Plants

Plants which were brought to new ecosystems by humans, for landscaping, food, or erosion control. Once separated from their native environment and the predators and diseases they evolved with, they become aggressive and can cause immense biological harm. Left unchallenged, they outcompete native species for nutrients and space and threaten all the species who depend on healthy ecosystems – including us.

Local Ecotype

A population that is adapted to local environmental conditions. When buying plants or seeds, those that are collected from sources closest to the planting site are more likely to be successful and provide more wildlife value than those from farther away. Not a perfect system, but a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.

Native Plants

In North America, we can generally say that a plant is native to an area if it existed in that area prior to the arrival of Europeans. While it is easy to assume that plants like Queen Ann’s lace, daylilies or dandelions might be native because they are widespread or grow wild on roadsides, they were all introduced to this continent by humans, and are therefore not native. More than an arbitrary distinction, this reflects the complex relationships between plants and insects that have evolved over time, relationships these introduced plants do not have with our native insects.


A sweet liquid produced by plants to entice pollinators to visit, and potentially transfer pollen helping the plant to reproduce. Basically a biological bribe, exchanging sugar for sex.

Net Zero

Creating an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere.


Refers to plants that persist for many growing seasons. Technically “perennial” includes woody plants (trees, shrubs and vines), but the word “perennial” is typically used to refer to herbaceous (non-woody) plants that die back in the dormant season.


Pollinators are the creatures that pollinate, or move pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of a flower, assisting the plant with reproduction. That’s right, plant “birds and bees” involve actual birds and bees. Other pollinators include flies, wasps, butterflies, and even some species of bats. One out of every three bites of food we consume comes from a plant that relies on pollinators – and pollinators rely on plants!


Renewal or restoration of a biological system after injury or damage. Planting native plants is an example of a regenerative practice because it helps repair some of the damage done to the planet by civilization. In contrast to a sustainable practice that simply does less damage, regenerative practices are a net positive for the planet.


An ecological community containing native flora and fauna that has not been significantly disturbed by destructive activities such as agriculture, logging, pollution, development, or non-native species invasion.


Designated by the combination of the genus and the specific epithet. Example: Asclepias incarnata. Both words are italicized.

Specific Epithet

The second, uncapitalized word in the scientific name that follows the genus. Example: incarnata.

Spring Ephemerals

Typically found in deciduous woodlands, these plants emerge in the early spring before trees leaf out and while the soil is moist. They flower and then die back by summer, reemerging in the next spring. Native spring ephemerals include Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches) and Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells). Many flowering spring ephemerals are critical resources to early emerging pollinators.


That which prevents or reduces causing human-made damage to the planet and its ecosystems. Some examples of sustainable practices include recycling, using efficient appliances and renewable energy sources.

Woody Plant

A plant that is a tree, a shrub or a vine.


What are some words that need demystifying? You can send your suggestions to