How to Identify Foliage Plants


Home and atrium interiors would look drab and lifeless if it weren't for foliage plants. Plants that flower but have much showier or elegant leaves are referred to as "foliage plants," and usually are marketed as houseplants. They come in an array of species, shapes, forms, heights and colors, making it difficult to know all their common or scientific names. Investigate their identities through visual comparison or asking more knowledgeable plant enthusiasts for their assistance. Perusing houseplant books, visiting garden centers and greenhouses can lessen the dilemma in trying to learn a plant's identity. Taking and posting digital photos online also is an easy solution.

Step 1

Ask a neighbor or extended family member whether she knows the name of the foliage houseplant, especially if she's seen the plant in your home. If you have a photo of the plant, show it or email it. Chances are high that someone you know may know the common or botanical name of the plant to help you research it more. Jot the name down so you don't forget it.

Step 2

Look through the table of contents or index of houseplant books and magazines. Investigate or purchase books with titles like "tropical plants," "foliage plants" or "common houseplants" to see whether there is a broad selection of full-color photographs to examine. Become familiar with the plants seen in the literature, especially once encountered with repetition.

Step 3

Visit a local retail garden center or nursery with a tropical greenhouse that sells houseplants. Often looking at the common foliage plants sold reveals names and a hint at the species and diversity of plant materials available. Look for a plant label or ask a store worker for help learning a name.

Step 4

Take a digital photograph of your unknown foliage plants and post it to a photo-hosting website. This will allow you to [pose questions to other plant-focused people worldwide to identify the plant in the photo. Check back regularly to the website where you posted your image and request and monitor responses and investigate leads.

Tips and Warnings

  • If you take a foliage plant cutting or houseplant to a nursery for identification, make sure it is not infested with insect pests like white flies, aphids or scales. You don't want to spread pests to businesses that make their livelihoods by selling healthy plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Writing utensil
  • Notepad


  • Indoor Tropical Foliage Plants
  • How Well Do You Know Your House Plants?"
Keywords: houseplants, foliage plant identification, mystery 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.