Complete Guide to Plant Life Cycles: Understanding Annuals, Biennials, Perennials, and Ephemerals Plants


A plant’s life cycle refers to the developments it goes through during its lifespan. These usually come down to the seed, germination, growth, reproduction, pollination, and senescence stages.

Plants can be divided into four types based on their life cycle. These categories are annual, biennial, perennial, and ephemeral plants.

What Is the Life Cycle of a Plant?

A plant’s life cycle is pretty much a short six-part series covering its entire lifespan according to the biology book Developmental Biology. 6th edition. This series includes the seed, germination, growth, reproduction, pollination, and senescence stages.

Each stage is complex and influences the growth of the plant in different ways. Let’s see how.

  1. Seed Stage

Think of the seed as the first stage. It’s the starting point of a plant’s life cycle and the most primitive form of its existence.

Seeds come in different sizes and shapes. If there’s one thing they all have in common, though, it’s that they always carry the embryo.

The embryo is a miniature plant that contains the roots, stem, and leaves. After receiving proper nutrients, it grows to become an adult plant.

  1. Germination and Sprout Stage

Germination is the stage where the seed breaks and grows small roots and leaves. Basically, it’s when the first signs of life in a plant start to appear.

Seeds can only germinate in an ideal environment where they receive enough water, oxygen, and light. These agents alone aren’t enough to stimulate the plant’s growth, though.

That’s where the endosperm comes in. It’s a tissue that sits inside the seed and nourishes the embryo to help it grow.

As the leaves and roots continue to develop, they start functioning like in adult plants. The roots absorb water and nutrients from the soil, while the leaves turn sunlight into food through photosynthesis.

  1. Growth Stage

As the name suggests, the growth stage is where the plant matures and reaches its adult form, developing stronger roots, stems, and leaves.

It also starts growing flowers. These aren’t just for aesthetics. They play an integral role in the reproduction and pollination stages.

  1. Reproduction Stage

Reproduction refers to creating new offspring once the plants are mature enough. Yes, growing into an adult doesn’t mark the end of a plant’s life.

The reproduction process in plants is a bit different from that of humans. It doesn’t involve male and female plants mating. After all, plants don’t have sexual desires.

Ultimately, there are still many aspects we don’t know about plant reproduction. That said, we understand enough to categorize it into two types: Sexual and asexual reproduction.

Sexual reproduction requires the merging of male and female gametes (DNA). That’s different from mating because some plants can carry out the reproduction process on their own.

It’s less about the union of male and female species and more about transferring DNA from one spot to another (more on that later).

The product of sexual reproduction is usually a plant with a different DNA structure than both parents.

Asexual reproduction is where a plant makes a clone of itself using a small part of its body. Both methods produce different results, and the choice between them depends on the surrounding environment.

  1. Pollination Stage

Pollination involves transferring pollen, which carries the gamete, from the male reproductive part (anther) to the female receptive organ (stigma). It’s the phase that marks the start of seed formation and dispersal.

You might be wondering: “If pollen sits within the plant, how does the seed end up on the ground?” Well, several agents contribute to the seed falling, including wind, water, and other animals. 

The pollination transferring process differs from one plant to the other, depending on its structure.


Self-pollination is where the pollen travels from the anther of a flower to the stigma of the same flower. Yes, one flower can carry male and female parts.

Pollination could also occur between the anther of a flower and the stigma of another flower of the same plant.


Cross-pollination is where the pollen travels from the anther of a flower to the stigma of another flower of a different plant of the same species.

  1. Senescence Stage

Senescence is the final stage in a plant’s developmental cycle. It’s where the internal cells of the plant stop splitting and producing new cells, stomping its growth.

Think of it as the plant equivalent of growing old. The cells are still alive. They merely adopted a state of dormancy.

What Is the Lifespan of a Plant?

There isn’t a definitive answer to that question, as it depends on the type of the plant and the surrounding environment.

So, we can’t give you a specific timeline. That said, we can provide a guide for the average timespan of each phase in a plant’s life.


Some plants’ seeds, like beans, pumpkins, and sunflowers, germinate quickly in one or two weeks. Others, like mango and parsley, take 2-4 weeks.

Some seeds’ germination depends on the temperature of the surrounding environment. If the conditions aren’t ideal, they might take up to two months to develop a few roots and leaves.

Note: In some cases, a seed may not break its outer coat at all.

These lose their viability after a specific period, prompting them to stop germinating. The most prominent example of that is parsnip.


Plants don’t have a specific growth timespan. Again, it all comes down to their type and whether or not the owners can provide the ideal environment.

In favorable conditions, some types can grow in a couple of weeks, while others do it in one or two years.


You can expect your plant to grow flowers within 50-70 days. That’s not a universal timespan, though. Some take no less than 95 days to start producing flowers.

Seed Production

Since seed production is part of the plant’s growth process, its starting point differs from one type to another.


Some plants only live for two or three years before they die and let their offspring continue their legacy. Others can go on to live 20 years as long as their owners provide the ideal environment.

Don’t be surprised if you see plants go on to live for 100 years. It all depends on their living conditions. 

What Are the Categories of Plants Based on Their Life Cycle?

Plants can be divided into four types based on their life cycle. These categories are annual, biennial, perennial, and ephemeral plants.

The primary difference between the life cycle of each type is its timespan. Let’s see how it differs from one plant to another.

Annual Plants

As the name suggests, annual plants take an entire year to go through one life cycle. 

If you have experience with maize plants, you probably noticed they grow and die at the same time of the year. That’s because they’re annual plants. The same thing goes for rice, beans, and millet.

Reading the life cycle of a plant, you might think “death” is a strong word to use with these plants. Wouldn’t they just re-seed?

Well, not all annual plants can re-seed. The ones who can’t, will die, and their owners will have to replace them. Phytologists categorize annual plants into three types:

Hardy annuals

These are usually sown in fall or spring, like pansies or dusty millers. They’re called “hardy” because they can sit in cold soil and withstand freezing temperatures.

Half-hardy annuals

This type of annuals, which includes snapdragon and alyssum, isn’t as durable as hardy plants. It can withstand a limited amount of frost.

If you sow it too early, though, it may not be able to withstand even that. It’s also sensitive to temperature. So, summer heat can cause it to wilt.

Tender annuals

This type can’t withstand frost, making it a perfect summer plant. Whether it’s zinnia or impatiens, you want to grow it outdoors after the frost season has ended.

Biennial Plants

Biennial plants go through their entire life cycle in two years.

They focus on forming proper rooting systems, stems, and leaves in the first year. The second one is mostly about developing flowers, fruit, and seeds to grow the next generation.

It’s worth noting that biennial plants can withstand cold temperatures better than annuals. If you plant them somewhere too freezing, though, you might want to use a cold frame as shelter.

Perennial Plants

Perennial plants enjoy a longer lifespan than their annual and biennial counterparts. They won’t live for decades or anything. You can expect them to last for 3-5 years.

Most perennials bloom for 2-4 weeks. Some types take longer, lasting a few months.

These plants are durable enough to withstand cold temperatures. They’re usually categorized into two groups:

Herbaceous Plants

Herbaceous perennials start producing flowers within the first year of their lives. They die back during winter and reemerge the following spring to repeat the cycle.

These plants can’t withstand freezing temperatures. They’ll wither away if the soil gets too cold.

Woody Plants

These perennials have a solid structure of woody stems and branches. Their wooden build comes from lignin, a crucial part of their cellular wall that provides the plant with enough strength to grow tall and healthy. Their stems don’t die, so they grow larger the following year.

Ephemeral Plants

A quick look in the dictionary will tell you that “ephemeral” means something that lasts for a very short time.

That’s the perfect name for this type of plant, as it goes through its germination, growth, and flowering stages in a few days or weeks.

Yes, these plants use optimal environmental conditions, like light, temperature, and moisture, to grow quickly and die afterward. They usually leave a seed before they do, though.

What Essential Elements Are Required for All Plant Life Cycles to Complete Their Growth?

First, you want to place your plant somewhere that offers a decent amount of light.

Plants get their energy through the photosynthesis cycle, where leaves convert sunlight to starch and sugar. Without light, your plant won’t initiate that process and won’t grow properly.

Water your plant regularly to avoid wilting and drooping leaves. Research how much water your plant needs so you don’t over- or under-water it.

Both cases can lead to root rot, which can kill your plant.

Besides water and sunlight, plants need an adequate amount of nutrients, mainly nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Nutrients help plants develop their rooting system, produce seeds, and fight off disease.

Plants sit at different temperatures depending on their type. Make sure not to expose them to excessive heat to avoid having burnt leaves.

What Stage Do Plants Flower?

Flowering is one of the late stages in plants’ life cycles. They usually start developing them when they’re mature enough, which is a few months into the start of their growth.

What Is the Flower Life Cycle?

A flower starts its life cycle as a seed and then develops a few leaves and roots during germination. It reaches its adult form and develops stronger branches when it enters the growth stage.

That’s also when it starts flowering. Eventually, it reproduces, developing a seed that restarts the growth cycle.

What Is the Tree Life Cycle?

The tree life cycle isn’t so different from its plant counterpart. It also starts as a seed and germinates gradually. Then, it enters the sapling stage.

That’s where the tree grows without reaching full maturity. It’s the plant equivalent of the teen phase. Eventually, though, it hits the point of adulthood, reaching its fully grown form.

Of course, it starts decaying as it reaches the end of its life and returns the nutrients inside it to its surrounding environment.

What Insects Help Plant Pollination?

The primary pollinating insects for plants are bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, and flies.

What Signs Suggest That a Plant Has Completed Its Life Cycle?

Different plant types exhibit different signs. That said, you can tell a plant has completed its life cycle by looking at the leaves and stem.

They usually develop a distinctive brown color. You might also find seeds dispersed around it.

What Is the Growth Cycle of the Araceae Plants?

The growth cycle of the Araceae plants is the same as any other plant. They start as seeds, expand their leaves during germination, and fully mature in a couple of years.

There are different types of Araceae plants. The timing of developing flowers differs depending on the species and the surrounding environment.