All About Semi-Evergreen and Semi-Deciduous Shrubs and Trees

itea virginica in fallWhat exactly does “semi-evergreen” mean? Is it the same as “semi-deciduous”?

Answer: To understand what “semi-evergreen” and “semi-deciduous” mean and how they compare, it is important to first understand the terms evergreen and deciduous.

Evergreen and deciduous are very different terms used to describe the growth cycle of plants—usually trees and shrubs.

Evergreen plants retain their foliage all year long; or in other words, they never have bare branches. Even when leaves begin to die off or become damaged, they will continuously be replaced with new growth that will fill the branches throughout the entire year.

Deciduous plants will lose their foliage for part of the year—typically during the fall season. The leaves will begin to change colors, slowly falling off the branches, leaving them bare during the winter months. These plants will store up chlorophyll, which normally keeps the foliage a rich green color through summer and fall, and begin spring with fresh, new growth. (Note: deciduous plants do not have to lose foliage in fall. They may lose their foliage at different times of the year when their normal growing conditions change, causing them to go through a dormant period.)

Plants may be labeled as semi-evergreen for a variety of reasons. They are commonly called such when they fall between evergreen and deciduous in terms of growth. For example, they may shed their foliage for a very short time in late winter, rejuvenating rather quickly. Plants may also be referred to as semi-evergreen when they lose most, but not all, of their foliage for a fraction of the year. Sometimes they may be dubbed semi-evergreen due to specific situations that may arise. For example, during droughts, certain weather/climate conditions and/or due to certain insects.

Plants may be labeled as semi-deciduous if their periods of dormancy are dependent on certain weather conditions—they will shed leaves in cooler months but may retain them in milder/warmer months; they may also be referred to as semi-deciduous if they lose their foliage for only a short period of time before regrowth, or lose their foliage just as new growth emerges.

Image: Itea virginica is considered semi-deciduous in many areas. It retains its foliage (shown here in the fall) through the winter, then drops it and generates new leaves in spring. Credit:  SB_Jonny
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