A houseplant’s identity is usually printed on a tag that accompanies a purchased plant. But if you obtain a houseplant by other means, such as receiving a plant as a gift or as an heirloom, the plant’s identity may not be as obvious. Houseplant identification is the first step to providing proper care for your houseplant. Most houseplants are easy to identify by their leaves.
Examine the leaves on a houseplant. Many plants such as devil’s ivy produce plants along the length of stems. Other plants such as cactus and pines have needles instead of flat leaves.
Touch the leaf to determine its texture. Leaves that have a waxy or leathery coating such as the desert rose are often succulents that come from a desert climate. The leathery or waxy texture helps to guard the leaves against moisture loss.
Turn the leaf sideways to gauge the thickness of the leaf cuticle. Leaves that are thick such as jade plants are typically from plants grown in a sunny environment. The plant produces a thick cuticle in response to the additional sunlight it encounters.
Run your finger along the leaf’s edge to feel the texture of the leaf edge. Leaves may be smooth along the edge, jagged or may contain deep indentations called lobes. Examine the leaf’s overall shape. Some leaves are attached to stems, such as those of spider plants. Others grow directly from the ground, such as peace lilies. Some leaves, such as those of ferns, grow as compound leaves in which the entire leaf is made up of multiple smaller leaflets. The shape of a leaf is a major determining factor in the houseplant’s identity. For example, African violet leaves are round with a slightly ruffled edge, while English ivy is triangular in shape with a smooth edge and shallow lobes. Mother-in-law’s tongue produces sword-shaped leaves.
Examine the leaf’s coloring. Some houseplants have striped or variegated appearances, such Chinese evergreen or dumb cane.
Narrow your list of possible plants to those with leaves that match the description of your houseplant. Texas A&M maintains a picture database of houseplants called the Interiorscape Plants Picture Pages. Other good resources include your local county extension service, employees at nurseries and garden centers and books on houseplant care.