Herbaceous Definition

Herbaceous plants are non-woody plants, such as most ferns and grasses, which either form tiny amounts of hard woody tissue, or none at all. Unlike woody plants, such as trees, these plants don’t have a stem that will remain above the ground when their leaves die. Additionally, the body of an herbaceous plant is mainly made up of cellulose, which makes it relatively flexible and fragile, while the stems of a woody plant have lignin, which is far stronger, providing the plant with stiffness, and which lasts for years.

Herbaceous plants are typically fast-growing, producing lots of seeds in a short amount of time. They can be categorized into forbs, which are flowering and don’t have a grass-like appearance, or graminoids, which resemble grass with their long, sharp leaves.

Types of Herbaceous Plants

The difference between the following types of herbaceous plants is the length of their lifespan and when they are alive.


Most herbaceous plants are annual plants, which go through their whole life cycle, from germination to death, in one year. In this case, the whole plant dies back to the ground after producing large amounts of seeds. They don’t all necessarily follow the same cycle, as some have their growing season in the summer, and others in the winter. Examples of annual plants are sunflowers.


Biennial plants go through two growing seasons before they complete their life cycle. What we observe in these plants, such as carrots, is that they accumulate food reserves in their first year so that they can grow seeds and flowers in the second year. Like annuals, the parent plant dies once seeds and flowers have been produced. In contrast to annuals, however, these plants have organs, for example roots, bulbs, or corms, which are adapted to remain under the soil and survive when unfavorable conditions arise. Once conditions become favorable for growth again, the underground structures start to produce different plant organs, beginning a new cycle.


These are plants that are able to survive for more than two years, and many can last for decades. They are observed to have aerial shoots that die and are replaced within the same year. Unlike annuals and biennials, these plants don’t die after producing seeds. However, they are similar to biennials in that perennials have organs that can remain dormant and survive harsh conditions. An example of a perennial plant is rhubarb.

  • Ephemeral plants – Plants whose lifespans are so short they finish their life cycle in less than one growing season.
  • Rhizome – A stem that grows horizontally underground, allowing some plants to survive from one growing season to another.


1. Which of the following herbaceous plants go through two growing seasons?
A. All herbaceous plants do
B. Trees
C. Annuals
D. Biennials

Answer to Question #1
D is correct. Biennial herbaceous plants have a lifespan of two years. They store carbohydrates in the first year in preparation for seed and flower production in the second year.

2. What makes woody plants stronger than herbaceous plants?
A. The presence of cellulose in woody plants
B. The abundance of lignin in woody plants
C. The fact that woody plants have longer lifespans
D. Woody plants require little water and nutrients to survive

Answer to Question #2
B is correct. Lignin is a strong substance that is abundant in woody plants and makes them tough. In contrast, herbaceous plants have an abundance of cellulose, which doesn’t give the same qualities as lignin.

3. Which of the following herbaceous plants don’t die after producing seeds?
A. Annuals
B. Perennials
C. Biennials
D. None do

Answer to Question #3
B is correct. Unlike annuals and biennials, the perennial parent plant stays alive after producing seeds.