Gardening Science Made Easy: The Two Kinds of Plants

All garden plants can be divided into two kinds. However, when people hear what those kinds are, they tend to ignore the rest of the explanation due to being intimidated by the words. This is particularly true of people who dislike science. The two defining words are scientific terms; monocotyledon and dicotyledon. Don’t be intimidated. It is easy to understand what they are and the difference between the two.

Monocots and dicots

Simply put, monocots have a single cotyledon and dicots have two. Knowing this is isn’t particularly helpful, though, if you don’t know what a cotyledon is.

A cotyledon is a rudimentary leaf that covers or partly covers the embryo in a seed. These give the developing embryo food while the seedling puts out roots and a developing stem.

Dicots are considered to be more advanced plants than monocots, but that has very little meaning to the typical gardener.

Telling the difference

When a dicot germinates or sprouts, a person can normally see two fleshy leaves attached to the seedling. In monocots, there aren’t two fleshy leaves, there is only one. An example of a garden dicot is a bean. An example of a garden monocot is corn. The arrow in the image above is pointing at one of the cotyledons on this bean seedling.

Other differences between monocotyledons and dicotyledons

You might wonder if you can tell the difference between a monocot and a dicot after the plant has grown enough that it is no longer a seedling. The answer is yes.

Look at the leaves. In monocots, the veins of the leaves run the full length of the leaf, from the leaf stem to the tip, parallel to each other. In dicots, the veins branch out. Thus, in a bean plant, the leaf has a network of branched veins. In a corn plant, the veins run to the end of the leaf without branching.

By simply knowing this, you can look at the leaf of a tomato plant, see the branching veins, and correctly conclude that a tomato must be a dicot. You can see the branching veins in the tomato leaf above.

There are other ways to tell the difference, too. Dicots have a main taproot. Monocots have roots that spread out, tending to be shallower and lacking a taproot. How deep the roots are isn’t telling, though. Lettuce is a dicot and has a shallow root structure. However, this also means that you can know that a carrot is a dicot, just from the taproot it has and that we eat.

The individual flowers of dicots also have four or five petals or multiples thereof. The individual flowers of monocots are with petals in multiples of threes.

Knowing all of this, can anyone tell me if onions and chives are monocots or dicots? How about peppermint?


What do you think?


Written by Rex Trulove

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    • LOL I just simplified it substantially. Knowing the basic difference could be useful for anyone who grows plants. Knowing the hows and whys, scientifically, probably won’t be quite as useful to the average home gardener.

      • Your version would have been enough for me. I was a non-science major. I confess — biology, specifically botany — was the only science that was interesting to me, but I hated all lab sciences. I take that back. I had a great geology professor who taught a class for non-science majors, and it was fascinating. Wish I could say the same about my paleontology professor, who looked and acted a bit like a fossil himself. The only good thing I can say about that class was that I met my favorite roommate there and we became close friends, roomed together my senior year at UCLA, and stayed friends until she died last year.

        • I’m sorry to hear of the passing of your longtime friend. That is always hard.

          A good teacher or professor can make all the difference in the world. I had a history professor that made history an interesting class. Up until then, I disliked history. I ended up enjoying and learning history because of that one professor. The flip side is also true. I’ve always loved math and science. However, I had a math professor who taught in monotone and without passion. He taught advanced Integral Calculus and the only reason I did well in his class was because of another professor who didn’t even teach math. LOL

          • I hated history until I got to college and had professors who loved their subject. They really motivated me to want to learn more. I had a horrible Shakespeare professor a UCLA who dragged in for my 8 am class like a snail and talked in a monotone. I wish I’d waited until grad school to take that class so that I could have taken it from the man who made English Grammar fascinating. I can only imagine how much more Shakespeare would mean to me today.


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