How to Identify Flower Plants

Overview

Whether planted in a landscape or growing wild beside the road, everyone enjoys looking at flowers. The curious want to know the name of the plant and perhaps its growing habits. To identify flower plants, you need to use your powers of observation to describe the plant's characteristics using concepts that botanists use in classification. Many flowering plants appear similar upon first glance; however, detailed descriptions provide the data needed to compare a specimen with exemplars for identification.

Step 1

Use a notebook to write down features of the flowering plant. Taking a picture helps you remember details and provides a basis for comparison with plant photographs.

Step 2

Describe the flower's color. Move beyond simple primary colors like red or yellow and consider the shades and any variation in the color distribution. For example, dark red or red-purple is more descriptive than red. Make a note if the color varies in intensity toward the center or outside of the petals.

Step 3

Note if there are markings on the petal color, such as strips or spots.

Step 4

Count the petals and measure the size of the flower.

Step 5

Describe the shape of the flower. Botanists use terms like symmetrical if all the petals are the same length and distributed evenly around the center. Flowers may also be tubular, asymmetrical or clustered.

Step 6

Observe whether there are multiple flowers on a stem or only one.

Step 7

Describe the plant on which the flower is growing, including its height, width and whether it is a single plant or in a field of similar flowers.

Step 8

Look at the plant's leaves. Describe their color and size. Decide if the leaves are distributed opposite one another on the stem or alternating. Note if leaves are singular or clusters and if they are attached directly to the stem or with a petiole (a slender stalk).

Step 9

Describe the leaf texture and shape. Leaves may be round, oblong, heart-shaped or linear.

Step 10

Describe the veins of the leaf. Are they parallel like veins on grasses, pinnate (radiating off a center vein) or palmate (diverging from a main point like fingers on a hand)?

Step 11

Identify the type of leaf edge. Leaves may have smooth edges, curved or sinuate edges, lobes, serrations or dentations, which are forward-pointing, tooth-shaped edges.

Step 12

Note the growing habitat. Is the plant in full sun, partial shade or deep shade?

Step 13

Compare your notes and picture with a regional plant guide, then identify it.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not pick flowers to identify later unless you have permission.

Things You'll Need

  • Notebook and pen
  • Camera
  • Measuring tape
  • Reference guide for flowers

References

  • Botanical On-Line: "Leaf types"
  • USDA National Resource Conservation Service: "Conservation Plant identification Tools and Guide"
  • 2 Be in the Wild: "Identifying Wildflowers with this Key"
Keywords: identify flowers, flower identification, flower colors identification

About this Author

Barbara Brown has been a freelance writer since 2006. She worked 10 years in health care, testing children and training parents before moving into information research. She has been certified as a psychological associate and professional counselor in Texas. She is studying to be a master gardener and has a master's in psychology from Southern Methodist University.