Garden Vocabulary: Cotyledon (Seed Leaf)

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This Garden Vocabulary series seeks to introduce and explain to you — and in many cases, myself — words and terms associated with gardening. Please let me know if  there are any terms you would like me to explore. You can leave your ideas in the comments section and we can learn together!


A cotyledon (pron.: /kɒtɨˈliːdən/; “seed leaf” from Greek: κοτυληδών kotylēdōn, gen.: κοτυληδόνος kotylēdonos, from κοτύλη kotýlē “cup, bowl”), is a significant part of the embryo within the seed of a plant. Upon germination, the cotyledon may become the embryonic first leaves of a seedling. The number of cotyledons present is one characteristic used by botanists to classify the flowering plants (angiosperms). Species with one cotyledon are called monocotyledonous (“monocots”). Plants with two embryonic leaves are termed dicotyledonous (“dicots”) and placed in the class Magnoliopsida.

Read the entire article on Wikipedia, Cotyledon

We are often instructed, when growing plants from seedlings, to thin or re-pot them when the first “true leaves” appear. Of course, it helps to understand exactly the difference between seed leaves (cotyledon) and real leaves. This Wikipedia article gives a good start, although it is a bit technical in nature and focuses on the the use of seed leaves for plant classification rather than how it might be used by the average gardener.

Seed leaves are part of the plant embryo, established after seed fertilization and used to start the plant growing. They use the food stores of the original seed to germinate and begin growing. For most garden plants, seed leaves appear as 2 leaves on the seedling whereas the first true leaves are often seen in a group of four leaves further along the stem than the seed leaves. In many cases, the seed leaves look distinctly different from the true leaves of whatever plant you are growing. You can see an example of this is the video below.

Further reading on Cotyledon (Seed Leaves):


Previously on Garden Vocabulary:

Interesting Plant: Dianthus Barbathus “Green Ball” or “Green Trick”

Mentioned by @NatraCourtney during this week’s #gardenchat (1/14/2013)

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Dianthus green ball

Dianthus Barbathus “Green Ball” or “Green Trick” 

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More information on Dianthus:

Previously in the Interesting Plant series: 

Video: Container Garden Update 012 – A new pot of lettuce

A new pot of lettuce is added to the container garden.


Can’t see the video above? Watch “Container Vegetable Garden Update 012” on YouTube

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Music: “Whiskey on the MIssissippi” Kevin MacLeod (  – Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Garden Inventory: Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus)

Garden Inventory is a series where I begin an inventory of all the plants and trees in my garden. Along with some of my own pictures, I will link to various sources of information about each plant and tree so we can learn a little more together.

I would also like to highlight your special plants and tress. Pass along your favorite plants in the comments and I will use them for future Garden Inventory posts. — Douglas

Garden Inventory: Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus)

“Narcissus papyraceus (from papyrus and aceus; meaning paper-like[1]), one of a few species known as “Paperwhite,” is a perennial bulbous plant native to the Mediterranean region. The white flowers are borne in bunches and are strongly fragrant. It is frequently grown as a house plant, often forced to flower at Christmas. Paperwhites are part of the Narcissus genus which includes plants known as daffodils. —

These paperwhites appear each “Spring” (meaning during the Winter rainy season here in Southern California). They are the first bulbs to push up foliage in the garden, followed soon after by the snowbells and then the daffodils. Some people find the smell of paperwhites unpleasant, although I enjoy it. Unfortunately, I once read somewhere that paperwhites can smell like smoldering electrical wiring and, sure enough, that is exactly what I smell now. It can sometimes catch me off-guard when I walk out into the garden.

The previous owners had planted a lot of paperwhites in various beds and they reliably return every year. Where I have added to the daffodils in the garden each year, the paperwhites and snowbells seem to be plentiful enough. There are definitely some spots that could benefit from a few more bulbs, though, so maybe next year I will invest in a bag of paperwhite bulbs.

Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) - 7

Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) - 6 Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) - 5 Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) - 4 Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) - 3 Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) - 2 Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) - 1

Photos of Paperwhites with closeups of leaves, flowers and stems

More information on Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus):


Previously on Garden Inventory:

Books on Hold: The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life by Margaret Roach

Books on Hold is a blog series dedicated to books I have seen in passing and requested from my local library. See more in the series at the end of this blog post. — Douglas

Here is another book for the gardening side of me. I came across this book in my Pinterest feed from user Carolyn Hennes.

The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life by Margaret Roach

* Discovered via PInterest


Margaret Roach has been harvesting thirty years of backyard parables-deceptively simple, instructive stories from a life spent digging ever deeper-and has distilled them in this memoir along with her best tips for garden making, discouraging all manner of animal and insect opponents, at-home pickling, and more.

After ruminating on the bigger picture in her memoir And I Shall Have Some Peace There, Margaret Roach has returned to the garden, insisting as ever that we must garden with both our head and heart, or as she expresses it, with “horticultural how-to and woo-woo.” In THE BACKYARD PARABLES, Roach uses her fundamental understanding of the natural world, philosophy, and life to explore the ways that gardening saved and instructed her, and meditates on the science and spirituality of nature, reminding her readers and herself to keep on digging.”

Previously in Books on Hold:

Garden Alphabet: Succulents

 Garden Alphabet: Succulent

More information on Succulents:

Books from


Search for books on succulents from the Los Angeles Public Library

Previously in Garden Alphabet:

Horticulture/Garden Jobs Available – Search by location and keyword

Check out our list of horticulture jobs (and others) available via

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Audio: Douglas is Interviewed for The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener Podcast

An Interview with Joey and Holly Baird of The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener podcast.


Here is my interview (from a longer episode) of The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener podcast. The entire show is 90 minutes, so I excerpted my 30 minute interview to share with you.

We talk about my gardening origins, the oddities of gardening in Los Angeles, container gardens and more.

I hope you enjoy it!

Listen to the show

Video: In the garden…Potato Planting Project

“In the garden…” is a series for A Gardener’s Notebook highlighting what is happening in my garden, my friend’s gardens and California gardens throughout the seasons.

Today, a Potato Planting Project. Can you turn leftover pantry potatoes into more food? Let’s see!


Watch all the past “In the garden…” videos in this YouTube playlist.

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Today, a Potato Planting Project. Can you turn leftover pantry potatoes into more food? Let’s see!

Garden Vocabulary: Epiphyte

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This Garden Vocabulary series seeks to introduce and explain to you — and in many cases, myself — words and terms associated with gardening. Please let me know if  there are any terms you would like me to explore. You can leave your ideas in the comments section and we can learn together!


An epiphyte is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph wire), derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from debris accumulating around it. Epiphytes are usually found in the temperate zone (e.g., many mosses, liverworts, lichens and algae) or in the tropics (e.g., many ferns, cacti, orchids, and bromeliads).

Read the entire article on Wikipedia, Epiphyte

Growing up in Ohio, my biggest experience with epiphytes was lichen, molds and fungus. Running around the wood lots and fence rows that surrounded the various farms, you would often come across all sorts. Moving to California, though, exposed me to a host of tropical epiphytes I had never seen before. Visiting various garden, both public and private, I encountered staghorn ferns, orchids, bromeliads and more.

For me, epiphytes always look as if they are part of the structure that supports them, as then blend in almost seamlessly, but instead they gain their water and nutrients from the air, not roots placed in soil. Those of from the American South will be familiar with an epiphyte in the form of Spanish Moss which hangs form many trees and seems almost a visible icon for southern life. Others may only be aware if epiphytes in the form of the ubiquitous “air plants” that one sees at nearly any community art show. Here in California, you typically see them nestled into pieces of driftwood or small rocks and declared as “care free house plants.”

Further reading on Epiphyte:


Previously on Garden Vocabulary: