How to Identify Popular Indoor Plants


Perhaps someone gave you an indoor plant, but you have no idea what it is or how to properly take care of it. Perhaps you purchased a plant from a retailer without paying attention to the sign, and now figuring out proper fertilization and watering seems like a mystery. Learning how to identify popular indoor plants is actually quite simple and only requires a rudimentary understanding of plant structures.

Step 1

Examine your plant for distinguishing features and note them on your pad. Its basic parts are the roots, stems, leaves, perhaps flowers or buds and maybe also fruits and seeds. Record all parts of the plant that are visible and catalog the makeup of the leaves---are they solid, fleshy, leathery or made up of multiple leaflets---as well as the distances between them. Good examples are the fleshy leaves of the Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) that make this houseplant easy to recognize.

Step 2

Note the plants' colors. Are the stems and leaves dark or light green? Do the leaves feature a creamy white variegation that gives them a striped appearance? In the case of the variegation, be sure to note the general pattern, even though leaves may differ greatly. This holds true for the Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema pseudobracteatum), which has a variegation that seems to follow the interior structuring of the leaf.

Step 3

Describe the flowers. Do they appear in clusters or are they solitary? Be sure to note colors, sizes and also when you first noted buds. Additionally, make a note of the flowers if they have a certain shape. For example, the flowers of the Chinese Lantern (Abutilon x hybridum) have a distinctive bell shape.

Step 4

Match available data with authoritative databases. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Texas AgriLife Extension Service operate databases that let you narrow down your search. Even if you only have one fact about the plant---for example, if you know whether a plant is an annual, biennial or perennial---the USDA can help you reduce the number of plants you need to research. The Texas AgriLife Extension Service is a photo database and lets you match up your popular indoor plants with their color photos for a complete name, description and basic care instructions.

Step 5

Visit your local nursery, botanical garden or university extension service. If you are stumped and cannot match your plant to anything in the databases, a professional may be able to tell you what kind of plant you are dealing with.

Things You'll Need

  • Notepad
  • Pen
  • Measuring tape
  • Computer
  • Internet access


  • University of Illinois Extension: Plant parts
  • USDA: Plant characteristics

Who Can Help

  • Texas AgriLife Extension Service
  • Galka Okhapkina
Keywords: indoor plant, leaves, variegation

About this Author

Based in the Los Angeles area, Sylvia Cochran is a seasoned freelance writer focusing on home and garden, travel and parenting articles. Her work has appeared in "Families Online Magazine" and assorted print and Internet publications.