How to Identify Unknown Flowers

Overview

You may see a beautiful but unknown flower as you take a daily walk that you'd love to add to your garden. But how do you go about identifying it? You can generally find the answer by looking in a few key places such as your computer, the library or your local nursery for the answer on how to identify these unknown flowers. Determining the identity of these unknown plants just requires perseverance and detective work.

The Easy Way

Step 1

Take a picture on a digital camera to use as reference while researching or when visiting the garden center. Or if possible, use scissors to clip off a full set of leaves and a single bloom or cluster if the plant grows in this manner. Place the leaves and flower into a plastic storage bag to preserve the flower and foliage color.

Step 2

Get permission when taking a sample; some national parks and similar areas will require collecting permits.

Step 3

Visit a garden center, nursery or nearby university cooperative extension office to ask for assistance and show them either your photos or your sample. All specialize in native plants as well as all types of plants that survive in your local climate and should be able to do a quick ID.

If You Like a Challenge

Step 1

Narrow down the type of plant by watching the growth habit of the plant through the various seasons. Perennials emerge in the early spring after spending the winter sheltered in the soil. Annual plants won't survive the first hard frost in the fall. This initial growth indicator places the plant in one of two type categories: annual or perennial.

Step 2

Keep notes of your findings. Flowers often resemble plants in the same family. Pursue similar types of flowers to check all cultivars in a family to find or rule out different specimens. Count the number of individual petals on the flower. Note whether petals overlap or feature distinctive edges. Many plants have multiple color cultivars in the same family. Look for the flower shape before the color to help identify the plant.

Step 3

Consult an online plant database based on plant type (annual or perennial) or by flower color, such as the USDA Plants Database and look for your flower type.

Step 4

Consult a plant dictionary at the library to identify the type of plant based on growing habits. Begin with either annual or perennial flowers. If the plant forms into a bush, check the listings for flowering shrubs. Shrubs can be evergreen (keep leaves year-round) or deciduous (loses leaves in the fall). This distinction often helps narrow down the type of plant.

Things You'll Need

  • Digital camera
  • Scissors
  • Clear plastic storage bag

References

  • Intermountain Herbarium at Utah State University: Making Good Specimens
  • USDA Plants Database

Who Can Help

  • Plant Facts Database
Keywords: identifying a flower, identifying unknown flowers, researching flowers

About this Author

S.F. Heron is an avid gardener with three years of experience in online writing and a working background in aviation and earth and ocean sciences. She is published on various sites, including Helium, eHow and Xomba. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.