Seasonal Growth Cycles: Perennial, Annual and Biennial Plants

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  • 0:04 Seasonal Growth Cycles
  • 0:40 Annuals
  • 1:57 Biennials
  • 3:23 Perennials
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Weber

Danielle teaches high school science and has an master's degree in science education.

We continue to grow and change throughout our entire lives, living through many seasons and years. Plants have different patterns of growth and development regarding seasons, which we will look at in this lesson.

Seasonal Growth Cycles

You may be familiar with trees that lose their leaves in the fall and then grow them back in the spring; however, this is just one seasonal growth cycle seen in plants. Let's first go over what seasonal growth cycles are before we look at the three different types of seasonal cycles.

Seasonal growth cycles can be influenced by several factors, including temperature, amount of water and amount of daylight. Plants regulate their developmental processes depending on these factors. Seasonal growth cycles are determined by where plants live, how they reproduce, and the role they play in their environments.


Annual ephemeral plants commonly grow in the desert
Ephemeral Desert Plant

Many common garden plants only grow for one season and then need to be replanted the next. These plants are called annuals. You may be familiar with the term 'annual' from things such as an annual checkup or annual charity event. The term 'annual' means once per year.

Annual plants are those whose entire life cycle occurs within one growing season. The season may last from a few weeks to a few months. During this time, the plant will develop roots, stems, and leaves before it dies. Also during this time, the plant will produce seeds. Seeds are the only things that allow for new annual plants to grow the next season. The seeds are dormant - meaning they are not active - until the correct time of year, during which they will develop and go through their entire life cycles.

A specific group of annual plants is ephemeral plants. These are unique in that they not only live out the entire life cycles in one season, but the season is incredibly short. The word 'ephemeral' means quickly fading. These plants can be found in the desert following a rainstorm or in a forest or a field in the early spring before dying off.

Examples of annual plants with which you may be familiar include many weeds, vegetables, grains, and wildflowers.


Biennial events happen every two years. The prefix 'bi-' may be more familiar because of words like bicycle and bifocals. A bicycle has two wheels, while bifocals have two focal points. Biennials are plants whose entire life cycle occurs within two years. In the first year, these plants are only vegetative, meaning that they don't produce reproductive structures. Rather, these plants will grow roots below ground and a small rosette of leaves near the surface. This growth occurs during a traditional growing season, such as the wet or warm season. At the end of the first growing season, the above-ground part of the plant may die back; however, the roots remain.

Foxglove, a biennial, experiences much more growth in its second year
Biennial Plant Example

During the second year of growth, the plant stem elongates and flowers and seeds are produced. Biennial plants in the second year of growth appear to be more like what you may think of them as. For example, carrots, foxglove, and parsley are all biennial plants. During the first year of growth, foxglove looks like this. You can see the small number of leaves near the surface making the foxglove look less than impressive; however, during the second year of growth, the foxglove looks like this. You can see that it looks like a more traditional wildflower and is much more noticeable than the first year growth. Biennial plants produce seeds during the second year of growth, which will later become new plants the following year, perpetuating this two-year life cycle.


Some plants do not die every year or every other year. These are commonly trees and shrubs. These perennials persist for many growing seasons. Perennial plants must have structures that allow for them to survive through different seasons. This sometimes means that the plant must survive extreme temperature or water changes. Perennials can be broken into two main categories: woody and herbaceous.

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