A stem may be
defined as that structure which develops from a bud to
bear leaves -- either full-sized or rudimentary -- and
buds. Stems have swellings at certain points called nodes.
A node is the point on a stem where a leaf is or was
attached. The area between nodes is termed the internode
. Stems usually grow upward to the light, but may be
The functions of stems
are: to support and display leaves, fruit, and flowers;
to carry water and nutrients from the roots to the
leaves; and to carry food produced by the green parts
back to the roots. In plants which lack leaves, such as
cacti, all food is produced in the green stem. Stems may
be annual, biennial, or perennial, although some plants
with perennial roots have annual stems.
Stems may be adapted for
food storage, such as tubers, corms, bulbs, or rhizomes.
They may also be specialized as runners, tendrils, or
thorns. The tendrils of Vitis spp. (grapes) and Parthenocissus
quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) are modified stems.
(Keep in mind that, in some species, tendrils may be
- Crowns -
short and inconspicuous stems. Such plants are said
to be stemless or acaulescent, such as Gerbera spp.
(gerbera daisy). Crown is also the name for the base
of the stems where roots arise.
- Simple -
stems without branches (side growths), such as in Carica
papaya (papaya) and Zea mays (corn).
- Branched -
stems with more than one terminal bud; with side
growths or branches.
- Climbing -
stems too weak to support themselves, which lean or
twist about other plants or posts for support, such
as in Bougainvillea spp. (bougainvillea) and Pyrostegia
venusta (flame vine).
- Creeping -
stems which rest on the surface of the ground,
sending down roots at the nodes or joints, such as
in the weed Complaya trilobata (wedelia) and Lantana
montevidensis (trailing lantana).
- Rhizomes -
prostrate, usually thickened, subterranean stems,
with leaves coming from one side and roots from the
other, such as Canna x generalis (canna)
and some of the Begonia spp.
- Stolons -
slender, modified stems growing along the surface of
the ground and rooting at the nodes, as in Fragaria
x ananassa (strawberry) and Stenotaphrum
secundatum (St. Augustinegrass).
Handbook for Florida, Revised Edition, Kathleen
C. Ruppert, January 1999 -- This document is copyrighted
by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) for the people of the
State of Florida. UF/IFAS retains all rights under all
conventions, but permits free reproduction by all agents
and offices of the Cooperative Extension Service and the
people of the State of Florida. Permission is granted to
others to use these materials in part or in full for
educational purposes, provided that full credit is given
to the UF/IFAS, citing the publication, its source, and
date of publication.