What Is a Shrub?


Noticeably adorning many landscapes, shrubs add depth, interest, body and height to areas otherwise bare. "Shrubs, by definition, are woody plants with several stems originating from the base of the plant," said Karen Panter, Extension horticulture specialist of the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service. Learning a few identifying characteristics of shrubs will make it easy to know what a shrub is.


Shrubs take on varied natural shapes depending on the branching pattern. Some shrubs grow in a wide fashion, with their main branches fanning outward and smaller branches growing from these branches. Other shrubs grow in tall, narrow profiles, where their branches grow upward and closer to the center.


Shrubs are typically less than the average height of an adult with some growing as short as 1 foot tall. Some larger shrubs grow as tall as 20 feet. Small shrubs, such as alpine currant (Ribes alpinum), grow up to 4 feet at mature height. Medium shrubs, such as snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), grow 4 to 6 feet at mature height. Large shrubs are shrubs that grow more than 6 feet in height, such as smooth sumac (Rhus glabra).


Shrubs vary in their soil moisture and sun exposure conditions. Shrubs can require low, medium or high moisture as well as full sun, partial sun or full shade conditions. Many shrubs produce flowers and fruit in many colors including blue, pink, purple, red, white and yellow. Miss Kim lilac (Syringa patula) produces blue flowers and purpleleaf Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) produces red fruit. Evergreen shrubs retain their greenery year-round, while deciduous shrubs change colors through the seasons before losing their leaves in the fall. Deciduous shrubs produce colorful orange, purple, yellow, red and bronze foliage in the fall. The leaves of the beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) shrub turn bronze in the fall, while the black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) turns orange and red in the fall.


Shrubs are used as environmental barriers that function as shields against the wind and that act as screens for privacy. Shrubs are strategically placed in landscape designs to aesthetically add balance, height and beauty. Low-growing shrubs fill in empty spaces in flowerbeds or along walking paths and very tall shrubs place well next to houses and buildings. They also make natural fences between properties.

How Shrubs Are Sold

Shrubs are sold in several ways. Smaller shrubs may be sold as bare-root plants without soil, and medium-sized shrubs are often sold in container pots, carrying a higher price tag than the smaller bare-root plants. The roots of larger shrubs--shrubs too large to fit into the medium containers--are wrapped up in burlap. This is the balled-and-burlapped (B&B) method of selling shrubs.

Keywords: characteristics of shrubs, evergreen shrubs, deciduous shrubs

About this Author

Naima Manal’s articles on health, diet, nutrition, alternative medicine, education, parenting, crafts, travel, home and garden and home improvement have appeared on eHow, Garden Guides, Trails, ConnectED, Helium and others. Manal received her B.S. degree in biology/pre-medical studies from Molloy College in 1994 and has been a freelance writer, teacher and homeschooling mom since 1993.