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How to Identify Landscape Plants

By Jacob J. Wright ; Updated September 21, 2017

Across North America, gardeners are able to grow and enjoy a tremendous diversity of plants based on their climate and soils. Identifying plants in your yard can be challenging at first if you do not know the key characteristics of plants vital in their identification and where and from whom to seek advice and assistance. The leaves and flowers of a plant are the quickest way to visually describe and identify a plant; however, bark, seeds, fruits and other descriptors can assist. Searching literature, perusing plant nursery stock and visiting botanical gardens can increase your familiarity with plants. Networking with knowledgeable plant professionals and plant enthusiasts is perhaps the easiest way.

Frequent good-quality plant nurseries and garden stores in your area. Look at what local nurseries and garden centers have as their seasonal inventory and compare if any plants resemble what is growing in your yard. They may have only a fraction of the plants hardy in your area, and usually the sellable plants are labeled and accessible. Ask nursery workers about plants lacking labels.

Attend a local plant society and garden club meeting, or speak with the organization's president. Ask if there is anyone willing to answer your questions or visit your garden to provide plant identifications for you or just share insight and ideas. Networking with people who know the plants that thrive in your area will quickly build your confidence in naming plants and describing plant parts and characteristics.

Look for and through horticultural literature that has plenty of photographs. Buy comprehensive books or check out library reference materials, surf the web or subscribe to gardening magazines and newsletters. Little by little, plant names and images will become more familiar and you can use these materials as a reference as you work in your landscape identifying plants.

Visit a local or regional botanical garden and arboretum at different times of the year. These public gardens feature--and label with common and botanical names--plants hardy in your part of the world. To find a garden near you, visit the American Public Gardens Association website at publicgardens.org.

Find out about horticulture short courses and lectures in your area. Community colleges, garden clubs, botanical gardens and learning centers offer credit and non-credit courses on various plant identification or landscaping topics.

Take a digital photograph of your unknown plant and post it to a photo-hosting website. This will allow you to post your photo in plant-identification forums online and ask people worldwide to identify the plant in the photo. Check back regularly to the website where you posted your image; request and monitor responses and investigate leads other plant enthusiasts provide.


Things You Will Need

  • Digital camera
  • Digitized photographs

About the Author


Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.