Whether you are setting out to identify a pretty spring wildflower or to pin down an obnoxious garden invader, plant identification is not a mysterious process. Certain features can give away the identity quickly, and certainly, a cluster solves the puzzle best. Be observant of the following features as you study the profiles in this book and/or seek confirmation from other sources.
- Is the plant a sprawler or a climber? Herbaceous or woody?
- Does the plant grow from a single stem or does it have multiple stems?
- Does the plant produce suckers? Does it form a colony?
- Are there aboveground runners, perhaps rooting at the nodes?
- What can you tell about the root system?
This basic piece of information sometimes makes or breaks plant identification. If you find a plant growing in a dry spotbut in researching it Iearn that it grows in wetlands, you might have to start over.
Ditto if you find a plant prospering in shade when your research says that it is a sun-lover.
Likewise, if a plant grows in chalky (alkaline) soil, but the literature shows that it prefers acidic soil, you might have to go back to the drawing board to identify the plant correctly.
That said, realize that many weeds and invasives are resilient and can show up in unexpected places or tolerate a broad range of growing conditions.
- Are the leaves arranged opposite each other aiong the stem or do they aiternate? What is their shape: heart-shaped, lance-shaped, lobed, dissected, or something else? Note the color.
- Is it variegated? Does it change with the seasons? Are the leaves smooth or hairy, glossy or not? Are the margins serrated, scalloped or otherwise marked?
Flowers and Seedheads
- When plants are closely related, oftentimes the blossoms or seedheads will immediately narrow things down, not just to the genus, but also to the very species.
- Observe color.
- Count petals, pistils, stamens.
- Note size and/or width of flowers and seeds. Try to work with a plant that is fuily mature or open, rather than one that is just unfurling or starting to flag or fade away.
- Note bloom time and duration.
- Fruits and berries give away a plant's identity quickly, too, particularly when they are fresh and ripe.
- Note whether they are carried individually or in clusters.
- Do they hang along stems or are they only at the ends of the stem? What size and color are they?
- Cut open a fruit or berry to see the density and color ofthe flesh and to look at the seeds.
- By observing the fruits on the plant, you might even be able to determine which animals or birds like to eat them.
- Does the unidentified plant resemble a plant you already know?
- Does it look vaguely familiar or related? For instance, while it is no beauty in terms of blossoms or bush, it is easy to see that the multiflora rose is a rose. Ox-eye daisy is obviously a daisy. And so on.
By Teri Dunn Chace.
Publisher: Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2013.
These are notes I made about gardening. See more gardening notes