How to Identify Shrubs


Identifying shrubs can be a challenge. There are so many plant varieties that it is often difficult to know where to start. Proper identification skills may take years to develop. Knowing the shrubs in your yard or landscape, however, helps with the identification of pests and diseases endemic in the species. Identifying the species of shrub will also inform you whether the plant needs pruning or any other special care.

Step 1

Contact your local university extension service for a local field guide for shrubs. Extension services will often have a field guide prepared detailing every known native plant in the area.

Step 2

Examine the plant's structure and the texture of the stems and compare it to the field guide. Identify if the shrub has flowers or fruit. Smell the plant to see if there is a scent.

Step 3

Examine the leaves of the plant to determine whether the plant is evergreen or deciduous. Use the field guide using the dichotomous style keys to narrow down the plant species. Dichotomous style will give you two choices, usually starting with leaf shape, such as whether the leaves are wide or narrow. Choose the correct selection for the leaves of your shrub and continue to the next, corresponding step.

Step 4

Determine whether the shrub is a conifer or a broadleaf plant. Conifers usually have needle-like or scale-like leaves. Broadleaf plants have a flattened leaf blade.

Step 5

Determine the growth habit of the plant by observing whether it has multiple trunks, whether the branches come from the ground or if they grow from a single trunk. Also note the height of the plant.

Step 6

Take samples from the tree using a sharp knife if identification from the field guide is not possible. Place the sample inside a plastic bag. Take the sample home and use university website extensions to locate field guides appropriate for your sample.

Things You'll Need

  • Shrub field guide Knife Plastic bag


  • Senecahs: Deciduous Shrubs Identification
  • Colorado State University: Identifying Trees and Shrubs

Who Can Help

  • Cornell University: Trees and Shrubs
Keywords: Shrub identification, Shrub guide, Plant identification

About this Author

Cleveland Van Cecil is a freelancer writer specializing in technology. He has been a freelance writer for three years and has published extensively on, writing articles on subjects as diverse as boat motors and hydroponic gardening. Van Cecil has a Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts from Baldwin-Wallace College.