A rhizome is a specialized stem structure in which the main axis of the plant grows horizontally at or just below the ground.

Most species that make rhizomes are monocots, but there are a few examples in dicots and ferns produce rhizomes or rhizome-like structures.

Illustration of plants, pointing out the mother plant, rhizome, small sucker and sucker structures.

There are two main types of rhizomes:

  1. Leptomorphs
  2. Pachymorphs

Leptomorphs produce indeterminate stems that continue to develop new plants at each node.

Pachymorphs produce large slow growing horizontal stems that are determinate ending in a flowering stem.

There are also intermediate forms between the two called mesomorphs.

Photo of an ornamental garden featuring rhizomes.

Leptomorph stems tend to have long internodes and have lateral buds at each node that may remain dormant or produce new shoots.

Photo of a pachysandra plant, pulled from the ground to show the entire plant structure as an example of a leptomorph.


Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) makes an excellent ground cover because it freely creeps by leptomorphic rhizomes.

Photo of leadwort plant.

Leptomorphs do not form clumps, rather they spread extensively over an area as seen in plants like lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria).

Photo of lily-of-the-vally plants.

Detail hhoto of lily-of-the-vally flowers.

Illustation of a lily-of-the-vally plant with various parts of the plant identified. These include foliage leaves, sheath leaves, leaf scales, roots, internode, and leaf scar. The illustration also defines which sections of the plant represent 1st year growth, 2nd year growth, and 3rd year growth.

Bamboo can produce aggressive leptomorphic rhizomes that can spread over extensive areas.

Photo of bamboo rhizomes.

Photo of a bamboo grove.

In contrast to a leptomorph, pachymorph rhizomes are determinant structures that terminate each season's growth with a flowering bud (arrow), while vegetative growth continues at the lateral buds.

Photo of a flowering pachymorphic rhizome.

Pachymorph rhizome with a the location of the season's growth flowering bud pointed out.

Trillium also develops from a pachymorph rhizome.

Photo of a trillium pachymorph rhizome.

Photo of a flowering trillium plant.

Tillium grandiflora

Plants with rhizomes are propagated by dividing the rhizome into sections containing vegetative buds.

Photo of a flower propagated by rhizome.


Photo of the rhizomes of flowering plants.