AskDefine | Define pith

Dictionary Definition



1 soft spongelike central cylinder of the stems of most flowering plants
2 the choicest or most essential or most vital part of some idea or experience; "the gist of the prosecutor's argument"; "the heart and soul of the Republican Party"; "the nub of the story" [syn: kernel, substance, core, center, essence, gist, heart, heart and soul, inwardness, marrow, meat, nub, sum, nitty-gritty]

User Contributed Dictionary



Old English piþa, plant pith, gist, from West Germanic pithan-; the verb meaning to kill by cutting or piercing the spinal cord is attested 1805.



pith (uncountable)
  1. The soft spongy substance in the center of the stems of many plants and trees.
  2. The essential or vital part of an idea or theory or something else.
    The pith of my idea is truth.


Related terms


  1. To extract the pith from (a plant stem or tree).
  2. To kill (especially cattle or laboratory animals) by cutting or piercing the spinal cord.

Extensive Definition

Pith is a light substance that is found in vascular plants. It consists of soft, spongy parenchyma cells, and is located in the center of the stem. It is encircled by a ring of xylem (woody tissue), and outside that, a ring of phloem (bark tissue). In most plants the pith is solid, but some plants, e.g. grasses and umbellifers, the pith has a hollow centre forming a hollow tube except at the points where leaves are produced, where there is a solid plate across the stem. A few plants, e.g. walnut, have distinctive chambered pith with numerous short cavities in the pith.
The word comes from the Old English word piþa, meaning substance, akin to Middle Dutch pit, meaning the pit of a fruit.
The pith varies in diameter from about 0.5 mm to 6-8 mm in solid pith, and up to 150 mm or more in the stems of some plants with hollow pith, e.g. some bamboos. Freshly grown pith in young new shoots is typically white or pale brown, commonly darkening with age. In woody plants (trees, shrubs), the pith becomes surrounded by successive annual layers of wood; it may be very inconspicuous but is always present at the centre of a trunk or branch.
The cells in the peripheral parts of the pith may in some plants (e.g. Hedera helix) develop to be different from cells in the rest of the pith. This layer of cells is then called the perimedullary region of the pith.
The pith of the sola or other similar plants is used to make the pith helmet .
The pith of some plants, as sago, is edible to humans.
The inner rind or albedo of hesperidium is also called Pith.


pith in Danish: Marv (plantedel)
pith in German: Mark (Botanik)
pith in Spanish: Médula
pith in French: Moelle
pith in Indonesian: Empulur
pith in Polish: Rdzeń pnia
pith in Swedish: Märg (botanik)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

affective meaning, axiom, axis, backbone, bearing, bench mark, bottom, burden, butter, cardinal point, cataplasm, center, center of action, center of gravity, centroid, centrum, chief thing, chutzpah, climax, coloring, connotation, consequence, core, cornerstone, courage, crisis, critical point, crush, crux, dead center, denotation, dental pulp, depth, distillate, distillation, drift, effect, elixir, epicenter, essence, essential, essential matter, essentiality, extension, fabric, flower, focal point, focus, force, fulcrum, fundamental, gameness, gist, grammatical meaning, gravamen, gravity, great point, grit, guts, gutsiness, guttiness, heart, heart of oak, high point, hub, hypostasis, idea, impact, implication, import, importance, important thing, inner essence, intension, intestinal fortitude, issue, kernel, keystone, landmark, lexical meaning, literal meaning, magnitude, main point, main thing, marrow, mash, material, material point, matter, meaning, meaningfulness, meat, medium, medulla, metacenter, mettle, mettlesomeness, middle, milestone, moment, momentousness, moxie, mush, nave, navel, nerve, nub, nucleus, nuts and bolts, omphalos, overtone, paper pulp, paste, pertinence, pivot, plaster, pluck, pluckiness, point, porridge, postulate, poultice, practical consequence, principle, pudding, pulp, pulp lead, pulpwood, purport, quick, quid, quiddity, quintessence, quintessential, rag pulp, range of meaning, real issue, real meaning, recap, recapitulation, reference, referent, relation, relevance, resume, rock bottom, root, run-through, rundown, salient point, sap, sauce, scope, semantic cluster, semantic field, sense, short, significance, signification, significatum, signifie, sine qua non, smash, soul, span of meaning, spirit, sponge, spunk, spunkiness, squash, stamina, storm center, stout heart, structural meaning, stuff, substance, substantive point, sulfate pulp, sulfite pulp, sum, sum and substance, summary, summation, symbolic meaning, tenor, the bottom line, the nitty-gritty, the point, thrust, totality of associations, toughness, transferred meaning, true grit, turning point, umbilicus, unadorned meaning, undertone, upshot, value, virtuality, weight, weightiness, white lead, wood pulp
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