What are Ornamental Plants?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ornamental plants are plants which are grown for display purposes, rather than functional ones. While some plants are both ornamental and functional, people usually use the term “ornamental” to refer to plants which have no value beyond being attractive, although many people feel that this is value enough. These plants are the keystone of ornamental gardening, and they come in a range of shapes, sizes and colors suitable to a broad array of climates, landscapes, and gardening needs.

Some gardeners and landscapers like to work with ornamental plants for their bright, showy blooms.
Some gardeners and landscapers like to work with ornamental plants for their bright, showy blooms.

Some ornamental plants are grown for showy foliage. Their foliage may be deciduous, turning bright orange, red, and yellow before dropping off in the fall, or evergreen, in which case it stays green year round. Some ornamental foliage has a striking appearance created by lacy leaves or long needles, while other ornamentals are grown for distinctively colored leaves, such as silvery-gray groundcovers and bright red grasses, among many others.

Some ornamental plants are grown for their flowers.
Some ornamental plants are grown for their flowers.

Other ornamental plants are cultivated for their blooms. Flowering ornamentals are a key aspect of many gardens, with many flower gardeners preferring to plant a variety of flowers so that the garden is continuously in flower through the spring and summer. Depending on the types of plants being grown, the flowers may be subtle and delicate, or large and showy, with some ornamentals producing distinctive aromas which paint a palette of scents in addition to colors.

Ornamental plants may be featured in a rooftop garden.
Ornamental plants may be featured in a rooftop garden.

It is also possible to grow ornamental plants for their unique shapes. Plants like vines are grown so that they can be trained onto trellises, fences, and other garden features, while plants with unusual growth habits such as twisting trunks may be cultivated to add texture to a garden. Other plants, such as evergreen trees and shrubs may be shaped with repeated pruning and trimming to create hedges and topiaries which draw the eye.

The lenten rose, which flowers in early spring, is a type of perennial flowering plant.
The lenten rose, which flowers in early spring, is a type of perennial flowering plant.

Garden supply stores and nurseries carry a wide assortment of ornamental plants, and most are capable of ordering special plants by request. Ornamentals can be grown indoors as houseplants or outdoors as part of a garden. Some things to consider when buying ornamentals include the climate you live in, which will dictate the types of plants you want to buy, and the type of garden you are growing. A formal English garden, for example, has very different ornamental plants than a moonlight garden.

Some ornamental plants are grown for their showy foliage.
Some ornamental plants are grown for their showy foliage.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon959837

What are the benefits of planting ornamental plant cuttings?

anon296844

What are some things you can do with ornamental peppers?

calabama71

@momothree: I think that the most popular of the ornamental grasses would be Pampas Grass. It is very impressive and fast growing. Its durability and size make it very desirable. It has large plumes of white and pink flowers.

christym

@momothree: Ornamental grasses are a great addition and background for a garden. They can be used for fillers, border plants, or as ground covers. They are very adaptable and beautiful.

Ornamental grasses would come pretty close to being a maintenance free plant. They will grow in almost any soil and rarely need watering.

I have Blue Fescue grass. It is very durable. It grows so well that after a couple of years, I had to divide it.

momothree

What are some ornamental grass plants?

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