A biennial plant is a flowering plant that takes two years to complete its biological lifecycle. In the first year, the plant grows leaves, stems, and roots (vegetative structures), then it enters a period of dormancy over the colder months. Usually, the stem remains very short, and the leaves are low to the ground, forming a rosette. Many biennials require a cold treatment, or vernalization before they will flower. During the next spring or summer, the stem of the biennial plant elongates greatly, or "bolts." This typically makes biennial vegetables such as spinach, fennel, and lettuce unusable as food. The plant then flowers, producing fruits and seeds before it finally dies. There are far fewer biennials than either perennial plants or annual plants.
Under extreme climatic conditions, a biennial plant may complete its life cycle rapidly. This is quite common in vegetable or flower seedlings that were vernalized before they were planted in the ground. This behavior leads to many normally biennial plants being treated as annuals in some areas.
From a gardener's perspective, a plant's status as annual, biennial, or perennial often varies based on location or purpose. Biennials grown for flowers, fruits, or seeds need to be grown for two years. Biennials that are grown for edible leaves or roots are grown for just one year (and not grown on a second year to run to seed).
Examples of biennial plants are members of the onion family, including leek, some members of the Cabbage family, Common Mullein, parsley, fennel, Lunaria, silverbeet, Black-eyed Susan, Sweet William, colic weed, carrot, and some hollyhocks.
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