How to Identify Leaves and Flowers


Identifying leaves and flowers involves describing the color and configuration of samples and matching those characteristics to reference materials. You can do this more quickly and easily when you know the location the leaf or flower was grown and have plant guides that are specific to that area. No one knows how many different trees, shrubs, and flowering plants there are in the world because new ones are discovered every day. However, the process of identification using descriptive characteristics of leaves and flowers is the same.

Step 1

Note the overall characteristics of the plant. Measure the height of the plant and describe the type of trunk or stem. See the amount of sun the plant receives. If the plant is in flower, add the season to your description.

Step 2

Describe the color of the plant's flowers. Color is the characteristic easiest to observe, and many identification aids or plant keys begin with the color of the flowers.

Step 3

Count the number of petals on the flower. Note if the flower's petals are distributed evenly or lopsided. Determine the overall shape of the flower---cluster of petals or tubular? Count the number of flowers on a stem and measure the diameter of the flowers and flower parts.

Step 4

Look at the leaves of the plant in relation to one another. See if the leaves alternate at different heights on the stem or if each leaf has another leaf on the other side of the stem at the same height. Leaves may also be whorled with several leaves at the same level attached to the stem or the leaves can form a ring with several leaves equidistant from one another around the stem.

Step 5

Examine the leaves of the plant. Identify the overall shape of the leaf---oval, spear-shaped, needle, egg, or heart shaped. Measure the length of individual leaves. Determine if the leaves are attached directly to the plant stem or if they have a stalk, called a petiolated leaf.

Step 6

Look at the edges of the leaves. Note if the edges are smooth, lobed, or serrated. Check to see if the leaves and stem have little bristles or hairs or if they are completely smooth.

Step 7

Compare your leaf and flower characteristics with the description in your reference book to complete your identification.

Things You'll Need

  • Notepaper or index cards
  • Pen or pencil
  • Ruler


  • USDA Plant Database
  • Wildflower Identification Guide
  • Observable characteristics of plant leaves
Keywords: plant identification, identifying flowers, plant leaves

About this Author

Barbara Brown has been a freelance writer for four years. Prior experience includes 15 years as a writer, project manager and knowledge analyst in defense systems advanced information. She is acknowledged for contributions to three books: Leadership Elements, Knowledge Acquisition, and State-of-the-Art for KA. Barbara has a masters in psychology from SMU and training in artificial intelligence and project management.