What Is the Meaning of "Horticulture?"

Its Full Definition May Surprise You

Image of pumpkins displayed at a roadside stand.
The pumpkin is, technically, a fruit. Therefore, it falls under the horticultural sub-section of pomology. David Beaulieu

Horticulture is, at the most basic level, the science or art of cultivating fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants. Etymologically, the term can be broken down into two Latin words: hortus (meaning "garden") and cultus (which means "tilling"). Master Gardeners are well-versed in this field, but its full definition actually extends beyond what we would normally think of as gardening or agriculture.

The corresponding adjective to this noun is "horticultural." Meanwhile, if you are someone who works in this field, then you are said to be a "horticulturist."

The Five Sub-Fields of Horticulture

As Professor William L. George explains in his definition, horticulture must be broken down into five distinct disciplines:

  1. Floriculture
  2. Landscape horticulture
  3. Olericulture
  4. Pomology
  5. Post-harvest physiology

Floriculture pertains to producing and marketing flowers. Think of the wholesale businesses from whom florists buy flowers to sell in arrangements to retail customers. If you have ever received a floral arrangement as a holiday gift, then you can thank this branch of horticulture (as well as the giver of the gift, of course).

Landscape horticulture is about producing, marketing, and maintaining landscape plants. It is thus the branch of horticulture that will be of greatest interest to landscape designers and to homeowners committed to adorning their landscaping with the ornamental trees, shrubs, perennials, annual flowers, etc.

sold at nurseries and garden centers.

Along the same lines, producers and marketers of vegetables and of fruits may have studied olericulture and pomology, respectively. Olericulture is about the cultivation of vegetables, while pomology deals with fruit production. Have you ever wondered about the technical difference between fruits and vegetables?

Arguments over this distinction are often spawned when people discuss the classification of the tomato. Many people are surprised to learn that it is a fruit, technically, even though it does not have a sweet taste. Why does it merit this classification? If the object in question developed from a flower on a plant and contains seeds, then it is a fruit. Likewise pumpkins, hard-shell gourds, and ornamental gourds -- staples of the fall decorating season -- are all fruits (some edible, some inedible). So when you carve a pumpkin for Halloween, you are carving a fruit.

True "vegetables" are the other plant parts that you will find in the produce section of the supermarket: for example, carrots (which are a root), asparagus (which is a stem), lettuce (which is a leaf), and broccoli (we eat the flower buds of broccoli).

Finally, have you ever wondered if someone actually studies how to prevent that produce you buy at the supermarket from spoiling prematurely? Well, now you know: that is what post-harvest physiologists deal with. They, too are horticulturists.

Ancient Romans Who Wrote on the Subject

Scholars have been writing about horticulture for centuries, including ancient Greek and Roman scholars.

Among the Romans, Cato the Elder, Varro, Columella, Virgil, and Pliny the Elder stand out. Virgil, better known for his Aeneid, set down his reflections on horticulture in the Georgics. As a poet, his work on the subject is appreciated more for the way he related the information than for the factual content.

Continue Your Research

If you are interested in learning more about horticulture, please read the following articles: