The definition of a subshrub is not clearly distinguishable from that of a shrub; examples of reasons for describing plants as subshrubs include ground-hugging stems or low growth habit. They may be largely herbaceous, with overwintering perennial woody growth much lower-growing than deciduous summer growth. Some plants described as subshrubs are only weakly woody and some persist for only for a few years. Others however, such as Oldenburgia paradoxa live indefinitely, rooted in rocky cracks.
A chamaephyte or dwarf-shrub is a plant that bears hibernating buds on persistent shoots near the ground – usually woody plants with perennating buds borne close to the ground, no more than 25 centimetres (9.8 in) above soil surface. One significance of the closeness to the ground is that the buds remain within the surface boundary layer and are thus somewhat protected from harsh winter winds.
Prominent examples are many of the species of maquis and other submediterranean dry ecosystems (such as thyme, Thymus vulgaris, and rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis), the different heather species (e.g. Calluna vulgaris and Erica species), African wild olive (Olea europaea ssp. cuspidata) and edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum). The term chamaephyte is particularly used within the context of Raunkiær plant life-forms.
- Jackson, Benjamin, Daydon; A Glossary of Botanic Terms with their Derivation and Accent; Published by Gerald Duckworth & Co. London, 4th ed 1928
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