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Form is the general shape and growth habit of the plant. From tall and columnar to wide and gracefully weeping, trees come in a variety of shapes.
Similarly, shrubs may be rounded and bushy or low and ground hugging. Form can also vary as the year progresses and leaves are developed and lost. Often a unique winter habit makes a tree or shrub truly outstanding. You should be familiar with some growth form terminology when contemplating a purchase.
Shade Tree: commonly refers to a large, deciduous tree but can be any tree that provides shade.
Upright/ Fastigiate/ Columnar: a plant that has main branches and stems pointing upward and is often quite narrow.
Dwarf: properly refers to any variety, cultivar, or hybrid that is smaller than the species, but the term is sometimes mistakenly used to mean a small, slow-growing plant.
Prostrate/ Procumbent: plants that are low growing, bearing branches and stems that spread horizontally across the ground.
Excerpt from "Tree & Shrub Gardening for Ohio" by Fred Hower and Alison Beck. Available for purchase here.