perennial [ puh–REN-ee-uhl ] noun: a plant that lives for more than two years or growing seasons
Perennials usually can live from three to hundreds of years, with new growth from a perennating (renewing or persisting) part. In some cases, the above ground parts of the plants die back after each season, as some herbaceous plants do, with the underground root system persisting. Or, they may grow continuously for many years, as is often the case with shrubs, trees, and vines whose woody stems persist and enlarge year after year. Those that persist may have arrested growth between seasons, as during winter or drought.
Ephemerals, such as spring-blooming bulbs or native Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells), are perennials with short above ground life cycles. Other plants fall into different lifespan categories: see annual or biennial. A plant that is a perennial in the tropics may act as an annual or tender perennial in northern climes. Geranium, Salvia, and Verbena are examples of genera that we grow as perennials or annuals in the Mid-Atlantic Region depending on their winter hardiness.
Left to right: In the spring, ephemerals native Mertensia virginica in the woods and Tulipa ‘Ollioules’ and Tulipa ‘Design Impression’ in a residential landscape; native herbaceous perennials Baptisia tinctoria and Baptisia australis with woody shrubs behind.
Clockwise from left to right: Natives Geranium maculatum, Verbena hastata, and Salvia lyrata are all herbaceous perennials. Depending on their hardiness zones, non-natives Salvia splendens, Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips,’ Verbena bonariensis, and Pelargonium spp. may be grown as annuals or perennials in the Mid-Atlantic Region.
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