Buds on Your Plants – More Than Just Bumps on a Stem

In many ways, the buds of plants hold the keys to much about the shape and texture of the plants in our landscape. Buds, after all, give rise to the major parts of plants, like leaves, flowers, and stems and are often used in winter to identify the species to which they belong. They may all look alike upon first glance, but their shape, size, number, and position on the plant tell us much about what is to come when the next growing cycle begins. They also serve to jump start the growing process in early spring. Once the leaves of our deciduous plants have fallen, one of the most prominent features that are left are the buds: when they are most noticed and when you can see what they foretell.

Some buds will turn into new leaves, some into flowers, and others will extend the length of stems or produce new side stems. The fun is learning about which buds will do what and how the process literally unfolds. Take the time to look at the buds on your shrubs and trees and see what I mean. The buds on the ends of stems (terminal buds) are typically those that will extend the length of the stem. But some buds at this location may also produce flowers. More typically, flower buds are found in the axis of the leaves of evergreen plants or where last year’s leaves were attached, noted by the scars left on the stem. Others originate directly from the stem. Leaf buds can be in these same positions (lateral buds).

The fun is in learning to tell the difference or simply enjoying the intricacies of these important structures. Most buds are covered with multiple scales that protect the tissues beneath. Some are soft, hairy, shiny, or uniquely shaped. Coupled with the relative position of leaves or buds on the stems of plants (opposite or alternate along the stem) and the characteristics of the bark, many of our southern trees and shrubs are easily identified in winter. Winter tree and shrub identification can indeed be a fun endeavor. But the neat part of the story about buds is their role in jump starting the growing process in spring. When you look at any bud, you are seeing a package of tissue that is positioned well-away from any moisture or nutrition that the plant typically stores in roots ahead of winter. The plant has in effect, pre-loaded buds with everything they need to emerge when the time is right (warmer temperatures and longer days) and before the rest of the plant processes are completely active. These sprouting buds actually help to start the process as they emerge, especially leaves once they unfold and start to develop. Think of them as the ignition switch on the plant. Just goes to show that all pieces and parts of plants and animals have roles to play, including the lowly buds. Get out and look for yourself and see their beauty and watch them as they ignite the spring.

And while you are looking at your buds, notice the other small bumps and such that adorn your plants stems – more discovery to come.

Hope to see you in OUR great outdoors!


Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.


Leave a Reply

What do you think?

oyster farm

Oyster Farming. A New Revolution is Coming!

Two New 71-Passenger Buses Help Deliver Students to Pascagoula-Gautier School District Schools