Florida botanists must rely on visual cues from specific plant organs to help identify plants within the region. The leaves, fruits and flowers of the plant all have unique characteristics that help limit the possibilities. Florida climate offers plants increased resources, which can result in subtropic foliage being highly colorful and unusual in shape or size, making them easily identified.
Monitoring the average climate and properties of the plant's habitat is an effective way of determining the plant's identity. Although generally a humid subtropic, some parts of Florida are susceptible to dry seasons or brief periods of freezing.
Florida's climate directly affect's the plant's leaf structure. With long growth seasons and short dormancy periods, leaves often stay on the plant all year long. They are designed to absorb more sunlight and minimize water loss. Plants in these areas have to be adaptable to seasonal change to protect themselves from sudden changes. It is unlikely for plants that are highly susceptible to cold damage or water deprivation to grow there.
Florida's subtropic climate is ideal for a large variety of flowering plants. The naturalized Bird of Paradise flowers have brilliant orange to red coloring. The orange blossom, the state's flower, is hard to identify with its small white flower clusters, but it is one-of-a-kind in its powerfully sweet aroma. Even the leaves of this flower are fragranced and sweet, attracting pollinators for miles. Florida's aquatic plants include the pickerelweed, whose unique flowers and leaves emerge over the water's surface while being firmly rooted underwater.
Florida shrubs are mostly broad-leaved, with each individual leaf divided into smaller leaves, known as "compound leaves." Some leaves can be identified by their glossy surface, made to reflect sunlight and protect against water loss. Other native or naturalized plants have palm leaves with large surfaces. These plants do not have to conserve energy to survive through dormant winters and can maximize their resource-gathering potential.
The varieties of trees that occur in Florida are very similar to shrubs in all but size. There are broad-leaved trees, such as the sweetgum and cottonwoods. Coniferous trees have also been introduced into Florida. These trees have needle leaves, which make use of increased photosynthetic surfaces while limiting the costs of resources in development. If damaged, pine stems are able to develop new buds just below the damaged area to replace any lost leaves.
Often when a plant's identity can not be fully determined based on visual cues or location, botanists look into the inner working of the plants. The organization of a plant's cells and its biological processes are studied. Fruits and vegetables process food compounds in areas different from other plants, such as in modified roots, leaves or stems. Tropical plants, like those found in Florida, are especially known for their unique survival methods and physiology. For example, the mangrove is a coastal plant whose extensive root system is an excellent interface between salt and fresh water.