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Horticulture & Plant Identification

Fountain in garden. Garden design image by L. Shat from

Horticulturists fulfill many roles within the production, storage, processing and transportation sectors of both the agricultural and ornamental plant industries. Within these various subgroups of horticultural work, the professional must identify different types of plants. In order to fulfill job-related duties, horticulturists must have a thorough knowledge of plants and their individual needs.


Prehistoric humans gathered various types of plants to provide food, clothing, shelter and funeral adornments. Although not trained horticulturists, early man had the ability to first identify plants and then shift from simply gathering to cultivating. Gardens in ancient Egypt showcased the collective beginnings of Western horticulture, in which plants from around the known world were showcased in terraced, well-landscaped areas. Egyptians used architectural features, irrigation systems, biotechnology and pest control.

Many cultures contributed to the steady rise of horticulture, from the recognition of geographical plant identification in the 1700s to the formation of horticultural sciences into the early 1900s. Today's horticulturists continue to make strides in areas involving chemical applications, mechanical maintenance, genetics, crop production, landscaping aesthetics and agricultural transportation.

The Importance of Identification

With 321,212 recognized species of plants, horticulturists face a large task in terms of plant identification. Different types of plants are used for different purposes. Specialized horticulturists use plant identification for different reasons as well. Ornamental and landscaping horticulturists identify plants to select the appropriate plants for specific locations. Agricultural horticulturists use plant identification methods in the production of pest-resistant varieties and in the control of weeds. Horticultural work goes beyond the identification of a specific plant to the identification of purpose, such as food application or medicinal qualities.

From Class to Order

Horticulturists use a specific set of steps to identify a plant, which focuses on how the plant is related to other plants. The plant first belongs to one of two classes: angiospermae or gymnospermae. Angiosperms reproduce with flowers, while gymnosperms reproduce without flowers. The subclass is determined by whether the plant produces two seed leaves (Dicotyledons) or one seed leaf (Monocotyledons). Dicotyledons are then placed in one of six suborders. Monocotyledons are placed in one of four suborders. Each suborder is further divided into orders, with each name ending in the suffix "-ale."

Determining Family Through Cultivar

Each order is divided into families, which often share easily identifiable botanical features. Sub-families further group plants together according to features. Tribe, sub-tribe, genus and species classifications continue to narrow down the grouping of plants to the point where there are virtually no botanical differences within the species. Varieties and form classifications aid in the identification of specific plants based on minor differences, such as the color of flowers. Horticulturists continue the identification process down to the cultivar, the most specific identification level. Cultivars are deliberately cultivated plants.

Horticultural Skills

To identify plants and fulfill other duties, the horticulturist must maintain a thorough knowledge of plants and plant families. The ability to identify a plant gives the horticulturist knowledge of how to manage or maintain the plant. Understanding the relationship plants share give horticulturists an insight when developing better production, shipping and storage methods for agricultural and ornamental plants.

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