cactus as a tree?

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Sat Mar 10 08:51:43 UTC 2012

Woodiness and height are very much defining factors in what is classified as a tree. The OED adds that a tree has a _self-supporting_ woody stem.

Of course, there are cases that fall through the cracks which might be called differently by different people.

Pampas grass clearly lacks a bark-like skin, so it's not a tree.

The OED provides guidance on bushes, too, saying that trees can either be distinguished from bushes/shrubs by size and manner of growth, or that the word "tree" encompasses bushes and shrubs. That's a good capture because there is a dual sense that exists when it comes to bushes. They have the woody stems, but they're slender; also, they tend to not be so tall and have lots of branches.

I think woodiness and height are very much defining factors in whether a plant is classified as a tree. Finding problematic items doesn't negate that.

(There's also the problem of bonsai trees, but perhaps we can dismiss those as miniature versions of regular trees.)

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

On Mar 10, 2012, at 12:24 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:

> What about pampas grass and butterfly bush, each of which grows easily
> to 8 ft tall? I don't see how either of them qualifies as a tree,
> despite their height. And, in the case of the butterfly bush, the stem
> gets to be  quite woody. Similarly, a number of considerably smaller
> bushes (gooseberry, for instance) have woody stems once they get past
> their second year (most gardening manuals specifically recommend
> trimming 3-year old gooseberry stems that they single out as "woody" in
> order to promote new growth).
> Bottom line is that neither height nor "woodiness" give any finality to
> the definition of a tree. Finally, much of Wikipedia, as we all know, is
> written by people no more--and likely less--informed than Tom Egan. So
> the fact that a particular word is used in a description in Wikipedia
> may be suggestive, but it's not determinative. When I encounter such
> instances in Wikipedia, my first impulse is to investigate--and,
> occasionally, to correct--the chosen language. That's the whole point of
> my query (although, as I said, my personal preference would be to deny
> all cacti the status of a tree).
>     VS-)
> On 3/10/2012 3:13 AM, W Brewer wrote:
>> And do not be bamboozled by anybody telling you that bamboo is grass.

The American Dialect Society -

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