What’s the Difference Between a Bush and a Shrub?


You learnt how to choose between trees and shrubs in our previous post. However, you are about to be let in on some secrets of the “bush” and a “shrub” in this one. Because while most people may be familiar with the names, many actually have no idea what the differences between the two plants are.

Has it got to do with size? Or is it about their flowers and fruit? Do they grow in different regions? Does one need more care than the other? Or is it simply a scientific term that has to do with their make up?

The truth is that there is actually very little to differentiate the two and in horticulture there is nothing that stands them apart. So, why is one called a bush and the other a shrub? Well, it seems to come down to where a person comes from (whether the locals use bush or shrub) and personal preference.

For example, when most people think of a bush, they think of wild plants growing on moors or forests; when it comes to shrubs they think of something a little bit more domesticated – something that definitely gets pruned. But then again, they would never refer to it as a rose shrub; so even that theory has flaws.

We think the most important thing to get right is the difference between a tree and a shrub/bush, as found on Mariam Webster, as this is much more distinguished.

Trees are described as a “woody plant having one erect perennial stem (trunk) at least three inches in diameter at a point 4-1/2 feet above the ground, a definitely formed crown of foliage, and a mature height of at least 13 feet.”

A shrub or bush is a “woody plant with several perennial stems that may be erect or may lay close to the ground. It will usually have a height less than 13 feet and stems no more than about three inches in diameter.”

Features Of A Bush

Bushes are not as tall as trees but because they tend to grow in the wild, or are not pruned regularly, they tend to be a bit taller than shrubs. Their leaves, however, are more likely to touch the ground due to lack of pruning. Like shrubs, bushes have more than one perennial stem and their undergrowth can be quite thick.

Features Of A Shrub

Shrubs, like bushes, are much shorter than trees , and because they are generally well kept or pruned, they are also generally shorter than what would be called a bush. Their well kempt appearance also means that there are very few leaves that touch the ground, and therefore they have fairly prominent stems/trunks that can be seen clearly due to the lack of lower foliage. Shrubs are usually pruned together to create hedges.

As you can see, there really is not much of a difference between a bush and a shrub in a scientific context. The difference between the two seems to rely on a combination of personal preference and location.