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A fruit and vegetable market in Milan
A vertical garden
Horticultural and health-related produce

Horticulture is the part of agriculture that deals with the science, technology, and business involved in intensive plant cultivation for human use. It is practiced from the individual level in a garden up to the activities of a multinational corporation. It is very diverse in its activities, incorporating plants for food (fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, culinary herbs) and non-food crops (flowers, trees and shrubs, turf-grass, hops, medicinal herbs). It also includes related services in plant conservation, landscape restoration, landscape and garden design/construction/maintenance, arboriculture, horticultural therapy, and much more. This range of food, medicinal, environmental, and social products and services are all fundamental to developing and maintaining human health and well-being.[1]

Horticulturists apply their knowledge, skills, and technologies used to grow intensively produced plants for human food and non-food uses and for personal or social needs. Their work involves plant propagation and cultivation with the aim of improving plant growth, yields, quality, nutritional value, and resistance to insects, diseases, and environmental stresses. They work as gardeners, growers, therapists, designers, and technical advisors in the food and non-food sectors of horticulture.

Horticultural scientists focus on the research that underpins horticultural knowledge, skills, technologies, education, and commerce. Horticultural science encompasses all of the pure sciences – mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, and biology – as well as related sciences and technologies that underpin horticulture, such as plant pathology, soil science, entomology, weed science, and many other scientific disciplines. It also includes the social sciences, such as education, commerce, marketing, healthcare and therapies that enhance horticulture's contribution to society.


The word horticulture is modeled after agriculture, and comes from the Latin hortus "garden"[2] and cultūra "cultivation", from cultus, the perfect passive participle of the verb colō "I cultivate".[3] Hortus is cognate with the native English word yard (in the meaning of land associated with a building) and also the borrowed word garden.[4]

Horticulture is a term that evokes images of plants, gardening, and people working in the horticultural industries.[5] For the public, and policy makers, the term is not completely understood nor is its impact on human activities been fully appreciated.[5] Horticulture impacts widely on human activities, more than its popular understanding as merely "gardening" would indicate. It needs to be recognised as a matrix of interrelating areas that overlap, with complex interrelationships. A wider and more accurate definition will communicate effectively the importance of plants, their cultivation and their use for sustainable human existence. The popular "gardening activity" sense fails to convey the important role that horticulture plays in the lives of individuals, communities and human societies as a whole. Describing its impact on the physiological, psychological and social activities of people is key to expanding our understanding; however "the cultivation of a garden, orchard, or nursery" and "the cultivation of flowers, fruits, vegetables, or ornamental plants" as well as "the science and art of cultivating such plants" [6] will suffice to sketch the outline of a short description. Relf (1992)[7] expanded the traditional understanding of horticulture beyond "garden" cultivation. Tukey (1962)[8] gave an overview of those involved in the field of horticulture, in stating that there are those who are concerned with the science or biological side, those concerned with the business side and finally those who are concerned with the home or art side, who enjoy plants simply for the satisfaction they get from them. Primarily it is an art, but it is intimately connected with science at every point.[9] Relf highlighted the fact that limiting the definition of horticulture severely limits an understanding of what horticulture means in terms of human well-being.[10] Relf provided a comprehensive definition of horticulture as; the art and science of plants resulting in the development of minds and emotions of individuals, the enrichment and health of communities, and the integration of the "garden" in the breadth of modern civilisation.[7] In addition, Halfacre and Barden (1979),[11] Janick and Goldman (2003).[12] further extended the scope of horticulture when they agreed that the origins of horticulture are intimately associated with the history of humanity and that horticulture encompasses all life and bridges the gap between science, art and human beings. This broader vision of horticulture embraces plants, including the multitude of products and activities (oxygen, food, medicine, clothing, shelter, celebration or remembrance) essential for human survival; and people, whose active and passive involvement with "the garden" brings about benefits to them as individuals and to the communities and cultures they encompass (Relf, 2002;[7] Relf and Lohr, 2003 [13]).[relevant? ]

It can be concluded that horticulture happens when people are in intimate, intensive contact with plants. It is the interface between people and plants.

According to some accounts,[weasel words] horticulture involves nine areas of study, which can be grouped into two broad sections – ornamentals and edibles:

Horticulturists can work in industry, government or educational institutions or private collections. They can be cropping systems engineers, wholesale or retail business managers, propagators and tissue culture specialists (fruits, vegetables, ornamentals, and turf), crop inspectors, crop production advisers, extension specialists, plant breeders, research scientists, and teac entomology, chemistry, geography, mathematics, genetics, physiology, statistics, computer science, communications, garden design, and planting design. Plant science and horticulture courses include: plant materials, plant propagation, tissue culture, crop production, post-harvest handling, plant breeding, pollination management, crop nutrition, entomology, plant pathology, economics, and business. Some careers in horticultural science require a masters (MS) or doctoral (PhD) degree.

Horticulture is practiced in many gardens, "plant growth centres" and nurseries. Activities in nurseries range from preparing seeds and cuttings to growing fully mature plants. These are often sold or transferred to ornamental gardens or market gardens.


Horticulture has a very long history.[14] The study and science of horticulture dates all the way back to the times of Cyrus the Great of ancient Persia, and has been going on ever since, with present day horticulturists such as Freeman S. Howlett, and the revolutionary[peacock term] horticulturist Luther Burbank. The practice of horticulture can be retraced for many thousands of years. The cultivation of taro and yam in Papua New Guinea dates back to at least 6950–6440 cal BP.[15] The origins of horticulture lie in the transition of human communities from nomadic hunter-gatherers to sedentary or semi-sedentary horticultural communities, cultivating a variety of crops on a small scale around their dwellings or in specialized plots visited occasionally during migrations from one area to the next (such as the "milpa" or maize field of Mesoamerican cultures).[16] In the Pre-Columbian Amazon Rainforest, natives are believed to have used biochar to enhance soil productivity by smoldering plant waste.[17] European settlers called it Terra Preta de Indio.[18] In forest areas such horticulture is often carried out in swiddens ("slash and burn" areas).[19] A characteristic of horticultural communities is that useful trees are often to be found planted around communities or specially retained from the natural ecosystem.

Horticulture primarily differs from agriculture in two ways. First, it generally encompasses a smaller scale of cultivation, using small plots of mixed crops rather than large fields of single crops. Secondly, horticultural cultivations generally include a wide variety of crops, even including fruit trees with ground crops. Agricultural cultivations however as a rule focus on one primary crop. In pre-contact North America the semi-sedentary horticultural communities of the Eastern Woodlands (growing maize, squash and sunflower) contrasted markedly with the mobile hunter-gatherer communities of the Plains people. In Central America, Maya horticulture involved augmentation of the forest with useful trees such as papaya, avocado, cacao, ceiba and sapodilla. In the cornfields, multiple crops were grown such as beans (using cornstalks as supports), squash, pumpkins and chilli peppers, in some cultures tended mainly or exclusively by women.[20]

Horticulture organizations[edit]

The professional body representing horticulturists in Great Britain and Ireland is the Institute of Horticulture (IOH).[21] Also, the IOH has an international branch for members outside of these islands.

The International Society for Horticultural Science [22] promotes and encourages research and education in all branches of horticultural science.

The American Society of Horticultural Science [23] promotes and encourages research and education in all branches of horticultural science in the Americas.

The Australian Society of Horticultural Science was established in 1990 as a professional society for the promotion and enhancement of Australian horticultural science and industry.[24]

The National Junior Horticultural Association (NJHA) was established in 1934 and was the first organization in the world dedicated solely to youth and horticulture. NJHA programs are designed to help young people obtain a basic understanding of, and develop skills in, the ever expanding art and science of horticulture. [25]

The New Zealand Horticulture Institute [26]

Ethiopian Horticulture Development Agency

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Doyle, O., Aldous, D., Barrett-Mold, H., Bijzet, Z., Darnell, R. Martin, B., McEvilly, G. and Stephenson R. 2012 Defining Horticulture, Horticulturist and Horticultural Scientist. Ad Hoc Committee for Global Horticulture Advocacy. Editor: Dr Owen Doyle University College Dublin Ireland. Feb. 2012.
  2. ^ hortus. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "horticulture". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  4. ^ Entry for yard Dictionary.com (presenting information supposedly from Random House Dictionary)
  5. ^ a b Doyle and Kelleher 2009 Re-Discovering Horticulture: An Exploration from Plant Production to Social Capital Acta Hort 817. 209–215.
  6. ^ httdictionary.reference.com/browse/horticulture
  7. ^ a b c Relf, P.D.1992. Human issues in horticulture. HortTechnology. 2(2): 159–287.
  8. ^ Tukey Sn., H.B. 1962. The role of horticulture in science and society. Keynote address to the XVIth International Horticultural Congress, Brussels.
  9. ^ Bailey, L.H. 1904. Cyclopedia of American Horticulture. MacMillan, N.Y.
  10. ^ Relf, P.D. 1998. Human issues in horticulture. p. 1–17. In: J. Stoneham and T. Kendle. (eds.). Plants and human well-being. The Sensory Trust, Bath, England.
  11. ^ Halfacre, G.R. and Barden, J.A. 1979. Horticulture. McGraw-Hill, N. Y. 722 p.
  12. ^ Janick, J. and Goldman, I.L. 2003. Horticulture, horticultural science, and 100 years of ASHS. HortScience. 38: 883–900
  13. ^ Relf, P.D. and Lohr, V.I. 2003. Human issues in horticulture. HortTechnology. 38(5): 984.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Fullagar, Richard, Judith Field, Tim Denham, and Carol Lentfer (2006) Early and mid Holocene tool-use and processing of taro (Colocasia esculenta), yam (Dioscorea sp.) and other plants at Kuk Swamp in the higlands of Papua New Guinea Journal of Archaeological Science 33: 595–614
  16. ^ von Hagen, V.W. (1957) The Ancient Sun Kingdoms Of The Americas. Ohio: The World Publishing Company
  17. ^ Solomon, Dawit, Johannes Lehmann, Janice Thies, Thorsten Schafer, Biqing Liang, James Kinyangi, Eduardo Neves, James Petersen, Flavio Luizao, and Jan Skjemstad, Molecular signature and sources of biochemical recalcitrance of organic carbone in Amazonian Dark Earths, 71 Geochemica et cosmochemica ACTA 2285, 2286 (2007) ("Amazonian Dark Earths (ADE) are a unique type of soils apparently developed between 500 and 9000 years B.P. through intense anthropogenic activities such as biomass-burning and high-intensity nutrient depositions on pre-Columbian Amerindian settlements that transformed the original soils into Fimic Anthrosols throughout the Brazilian Amazon Basin.") (internal citations omitted)
  18. ^ Glaser, Bruno, Johannes Lehmann, and Wolfgang Zech, Ameliorating physical and chemical properties of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal – a review, 35 Biology and Fertility of Soils 219, 220 (2002) ("These so called Terra Preta do Indio (Terra Preta) characterize the settlements of pre-Columbian Indios. In Terra Preta soils large amounts of black C indicate a high and prolonged input of carbonized organic matter probably due to the production of charcoal in hearths, whereas only low amounts of charcoal are added to soils as a result of forest fires and slash-and-burn techniques.") (internal citations omitted)
  19. ^ McGee, J.R. and Kruse, M. (1986) Swidden horticulture among the Lacandon Maya [videorecording (29 mins.)]. University of California, Berkeley: Extension Media Center
  20. ^ Thompson, S.I. (1977) Women, Horticulture, and Society in Tropical America. American Anthropologist, N.S., 79: 908–10
  21. ^ IOH
  22. ^ ISHS
  23. ^ ASHS
  24. ^ AuSHS
  25. ^ NJHA
  26. ^ [2]

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