What is the difference between a tree and a plant?


While plants are defined as relatively immobile organisms that produce their own food through photosynthesis, scientists do not have a universally accepted definition of the term “tree.” Plants grow in a variety of forms, including vines, shrubs, herbs, weeds, grasses and trees. It is difficult to distinguish some trees from shrubs or some shrubs from trees, but both are types of plants.

In general, most trees have a single trunk and attain 12 feet or more in height. However, examples of multi-stemmed trees are numerous. Many birch trees, ironwood trees and crepe myrtles commonly feature more than one stem, though few would challenge their status as a tree. By contrast, some large elderberry shrubs grow to the stature of trees. Some trees, such as American hollies, can grow as a shrub or a tree, depending on their location and how they are pruned.

Bamboo is another example of a plant that may be considered a tree or a plant. Technically a type of grass, older stems may reach 40 feet or more in height, making them tree-like. On the other hand, Japanese maple trees are clearly trees, although it may take them 50 years or more to attain a mere 5 feet in height.

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What Is the Difference Between a Tree & a Plant?
Trees are simply one kind of plant, sharing with other plants a limited range of motion, cell walls containing cellulose and the ability to change sunlight into food through photosynthesis. Within the botanical division of plants, called by the Latin... More »
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