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How to Identify Perennial Plants

By Julie Christensen ; Updated September 21, 2017
Shade loving hostas are loved for their wide, rich foliage.
Hosta image by Michele Maakestad from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Perennials are long-lived plants that return every year. They generally are slow to mature, but they reward patient gardeners with low-maintenance blooms and foliage. Hundreds of varieties exist, so a good guide book is helpful for identifying the perennials in your yard. Caring for perennials is simple, once you've identified them. Meet their soil, sun and moisture needs, and you'll have happy, healthy plants that last for years.

Bleeding heart prefers cool, moist soil.
wet bleeding heart image by Michael Cornelius from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Determine if the plant prefers sun or shade. Flowering, shade-loving perennials are less common than those that thrive in sun. They include lamium, hosta, astilbe, columbine, foxglove, bleeding heart and delphinium. If the perennial in question grows well in the shade, it is likely one of the above flowers.

Virginia creeper is often used to cover fences.
multicolor foliage of creeper image by Maria Brzostowska from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Examine the plant to determine its mature size and growing pattern. Some perennials, such as jupiter's beard, sage and catmint, grow so large as to be almost bush-like, while other perennials are low-lying ground covers. These include vinca, lamium, ajuga, sweet woodruff and wild ginger. Does the plant twine or attach itself to structures? Common perennial vines include honeysuckle, clematis, ivy, Virginia creeper and trumpet vine.

Iris bloom in late spring to early summer.
iris image by Edsweb from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Study the plant over a season to determine when it flowers. Many perennials bloom all summer long, but some spring-blooming perennials include peony, iris, sweet woodruff, vinca, veronica and snow-in-summer.

Bell flowers look like bells.
bell-flowers image by Jakub Cejpek from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Inspect the flowers. Some perennials have distinct shapes that are reflected by their names. Bellflowers look like bells. Trumpet vines' blooms look like trumpets. Salvia, delphinium, penstemon and catmint produce spears of blossoms. Cone flower, echinacea, blanket flower, black-eyed Susan and coreopsis all produce bright flowers on single stalks that resemble sunflowers.


About the Author


Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."