How to Identify a Plant Ground Cover


Although vines are usually thought of growing up a support, they also can sprawl horizontally to make a dense, attractive ground cover. Learning the identity of a ground cover, or any low, spreading plant, can be done by your own research or more easily and efficiently through visual identification by a plant enthusiast or professional. Relying on the characteristics of the plant's leaf is the quickest means to identify the ground cover, although other attributes such as flower and fruit can guarantee an accurate identification.

Step 1

Trim off a leaf and stem of the ground cover plant with a pruners or scissors. If there is a flower or fruit present, collect it as well. Alternatively, take a photo of the plant, making sure to get a good shot of the leaf and any other unique characteristic.

Step 2

Gather the plant sample and take to a local plant nursery or garden center and ask a clerk for help to identify it.

Step 3

Walk the nursery stock at the store, comparing your plant sample's foliage with plants at the nursery. Look for similarities and note the name of the plant on the plant label, writing it down. Include the botanical name as it provides a more absolute reference to a plant's identity in reference books.

Step 4

Take the plant sample, if you still aren't sure what it is, to a Cooperative Extension Office and asking a horticultural specialist to identify it. Or, a local botanical garden or arboretum will likely have a staff member who can identify it.

Tips and Warnings

  • If your plant sample is diseased or laced with bugs or other pests, do not take it to a nursery or garden. First put it in a sealed plastic bag so you do not inadvertently spread the disease or bug to the plants at the facility you are visiting to ask for help in identification.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears/scissors


  • "Plant Identification: Examining Leaves"; Pat Breen.
Keywords: mystery plant, plant identification, what is this plant?

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.