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My 2-year-old son has to bring in interesting leaves and foliage into nursery this week.

We came across a leaf that we have been describing to him as "hairy". However, it occurred to me that it is not actual hair, so "hairy" is probably not the right word. Is there a better one?

It doesn't have to be one for my son to use. I'm just interested.

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Hair and its derived forms are the right words in your context. – Kris Sep 24 '12 at 11:18
The definition of hair (dictionary.reference.com/browse/hair) refers only to animals, except for point 4 -"a filamentous outgrowth of the epidermis", and I'm not sure that's quite what I want either. – Urbycoz Sep 24 '12 at 11:36
I will post it as an answer with more details so you may see the point. – Kris Sep 24 '12 at 11:40
up vote 19 down vote accepted

The first Google result for 'leaves with hair' brings up the Wikipedia page for leaf which has a section devoted to 'hairiness'. Hairs (does appear to be the layman's term) on plants, technically called trichomes, can be of different types, the names of which are all potential adjectives for your purpose.

The Wikipedia page specifically reads:

"Hairs" on plants are properly called trichomes. Leaves can show several degrees of hairiness. The meaning of several of the following terms can overlap.

  • arachnoid, or arachnose: with many fine, entangled hairs giving a cobwebby appearance.
  • barbellate: with finely barbed hairs (barbellae).
  • bearded: with long, stiff hairs.
  • bristly: with stiff hair-like prickles.
  • canescent: hoary with dense grayish-white pubescence.
  • ciliate: marginally fringed with short hairs (cilia).
  • ciliolate: minutely ciliate.
  • floccose: with flocks of soft, woolly hairs, which tend to rub off.
  • glabrescent: losing hairs with age.
  • glabrous: no hairs of any kind present.
  • glandular: with a gland at the tip of the hair.
  • hirsute: with rather rough or stiff hairs.
  • hispid: with rigid, bristly hairs.
  • hispidulous: minutely hispid.
  • hoary: with a fine, close grayish-white pubescence.
  • lanate, or lanose: with woolly hairs.
  • pilose: with soft, clearly separated hairs.
  • puberulent, or puberulous: with fine, minute hairs.
  • pubescent: with soft, short and erect hairs.
  • scabrous, or scabrid: rough to the touch.
  • sericeous: silky appearance through fine, straight and appressed (lying close and flat) hairs.
  • silky: with adpressed, soft and straight pubescence.
  • stellate, or stelliform: with star-shaped hairs.
  • strigose: with appressed, sharp, straight and stiff hairs.
  • tomentose: densely pubescent with matted, soft white woolly hairs.
    • cano-tomentose: between canescent and tomentose.
    • felted-tomentose: woolly and matted with curly hairs.
  • tomentulose: minutely or only slightly tomentose.
  • villous: with long and soft hairs, usually curved.
  • woolly: with long, soft and tortuous or matted hairs.
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If you haven't time to study for a degree in botany, hairy is the correct blanket term for all of coleopterist's marvellous hyponymous descriptors: hair: A filamentous projection or bristle similar to a [mammalian] hair, such as a seta of an arthropod or an epidermal process of a plant. (AHDEL) – Edwin Ashworth Sep 24 '12 at 7:57
Hello? The OP has a two year old son. How many of these words are suitable for teaching a two year old? "Glabrescent", "hispidulous" "tomentulose" - all wonderful for the kindergarten playground. Frankly, if "hairy" doesn't please the OP, "furry" might be an option. Other than that, forget it. The boy is two. – user16269 Sep 24 '12 at 8:11
@DavidWallace The OP doesn't explicitly state that he wants a dumbed-down word for his 2-year-old. My understanding is that this question is for his own benefit :) In any case, the list also has silky and woolly. – coleopterist Sep 24 '12 at 8:45
Oh, come now, @DavidWallace - don't you remember memorizing this poem in kindergarten? To feel the chilly autumn breeze / with moon in waning crescent / To see its shimmer on the trees / with foliage glabrescent! ;^) – J.R. Sep 24 '12 at 9:40
@David: the OP has now clarified that it's not for his son only. That would've been a bit too localized anyway, innit. :) – RegDwigнt Sep 24 '12 at 10:17

For leaves with lots of hairs, the word fuzzy lends itself well, and is easily understood by a young child.

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Fuzzy definitely seems like a good catch-all. I've heard it used to describe everything from dogs to couches to arm hair! – Izkata Sep 24 '12 at 14:51
How fitting that "fuzzy" itself should have a fuzzy definition... – Philippe Sep 24 '12 at 15:26
Due respect to the massive list of fancy words for hairs on leaves, but this is the correct answer. – ghoppe Sep 24 '12 at 22:10


  1. Any of the fine threadlike strands growing from the skin of mammals and other animals.
  2. A similar strand growing from the epidermis of a plant, or forming part of a living cell.
    (emphasis mine)

4. Botany . a filamentous outgrowth of the epidermis.

hair noun
3 [countable] a thing that looks like a fine thread growing on the leaves and stems of some plants

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Maybe "downy" but while that may be more accurate it would be less understandable for many.

Sometimes "silken" or silky" is used for very fine smooth "haired" surfaces. Silk itself has no hairs (at least on a macroscopic scale) but the feel is similar to objects with a fine hair-like surface.


Now, cheating:

I've left out the too too big adults words such as "hirsute"

Thesaurus.com only apposite words left in list.

bearded, bristly, bushy, downy, fleecy, fluffy, furry, fuzzy, rough, shaggy, stubbly, whiskered, woolly

Merriam Webster adds

brushy, cottony, furred, silky, unshorn, woolly (also wooly)

Thesaurus Babylon

Some may be duplicates - hard to spot all as lists grow :-)

bearded, bewhiskered, bristled, bristling, bristly, bushy, fibered, fibroid, fibrous, fleecy, flossy, fluffy, furry, fuzzy, matted, stringy, stubbled, stubbly, tangled, threadlike, thready, tufted, unshaven, unshorn, unsmooth, whiskered.

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