What are woody plants? (with photos)

The low juniper is a woody plant.

A woody plant is one that uses wood as part of its structural support. These plants are mostly perennials, meaning they come back year after year without replanting. Not all of the supporting stems of a woody plant are made of wood, often only the main stems and large roots are made of wood, while the others are made of softer fabric.

Six different groups encompass woody plants. They include deciduous trees, deciduous shrubs, evergreen trees, evergreen shrubs, woody vines, and woody ground cover. Most people are familiar with deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. Woody vines come in flowering and non-flowering varieties and can die in areas with cold winters. Woody ground covers, such as low juniper, spread by underground rhizomes or by a process called stratification, where the branches develop roots wherever they touch the ground.

The vascular cambium produces secondary xylem towards the inside of a tree and secondary phloem towards the outside.

Woody plants encompass a variety of popular garden plants and some more rarely seen varieties. A liana is an example of the most commonly seen woody plant in nature. A liana is a vine that has underground roots and climbs trees, snaking through the tree into the sunlight, using the tree for support.

Not all plants that appear to be woody are. Many annuals develop a stiff, wood-like stem over the course of the growing season. The stems become stiff due to the large volume of tissue. As the cells multiply, the stem becomes stiff, but it’s not really wood.

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Wood is beneficial to plants as it allows the plant to grow stronger and taller than bushes and softer-stemmed plants. Wood is composed of two materials: lignin and cellulose, which are rigid and provide the supporting structure of the woody plant. The woody plant also has a vascular system, much like a human’s cardiovascular system, to transport nutrients and water through the plant.

Woody plants get wider and taller each year as they deposit new deposits of woody tissue. In most woody plants, the youngest tissue is in the outer layer. When looking at a freshly cut tree, the wood towards the center of the trunk is the oldest. Some varieties of woody plants, however, most notably certain palm trees, create new woody tissue inside the plant, so the older tissue is on the outside of the tree.

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