Whether planted in a landscape or growing wild beside the road, everyone enjoys looking at flowers. The curious want to know the name of the plant and perhaps its growing habits. To identify flower plants, you need to use your powers of observation to describe the plant’s characteristics using concepts that botanists use in classification. Many flowering plants appear similar upon first glance; however, detailed descriptions provide the data needed to compare a specimen with exemplars for identification.
Use a notebook to write down features of the flowering plant. Taking a picture helps you remember details and provides a basis for comparison with plant photographs.
Describe the flower’s color. Move beyond simple primary colors like red or yellow and consider the shades and any variation in the color distribution. For example, dark red or red-purple is more descriptive than red. Make a note if the color varies in intensity toward the center or outside of the petals.
Note if there are markings on the petal color, such as strips or spots.
Count the petals and measure the size of the flower.
Describe the shape of the flower. Botanists use terms like symmetrical if all the petals are the same length and distributed evenly around the center. Flowers may also be tubular, asymmetrical or clustered.
Observe whether there are multiple flowers on a stem or only one.
Describe the plant on which the flower is growing, including its height, width and whether it is a single plant or in a field of similar flowers.
Look at the plant’s leaves. Describe their color and size. Decide if the leaves are distributed opposite one another on the stem or alternating. Note if leaves are singular or clusters and if they are attached directly to the stem or with a petiole (a slender stalk).
Describe the leaf texture and shape. Leaves may be round, oblong, heart-shaped or linear.
Describe the veins of the leaf. Are they parallel like veins on grasses, pinnate (radiating off a center vein) or palmate (diverging from a main point like fingers on a hand)?
Identify the type of leaf edge. Leaves may have smooth edges, curved or sinuate edges, lobes, serrations or dentations, which are forward-pointing, tooth-shaped edges.
Note the growing habitat. Is the plant in full sun, partial shade or deep shade?
Compare your notes and picture with a regional plant guide, then identify it.