Sometimes we get asked to help with plant identification. While we try to help as much as we can, it is actually difficult and unlikely to positively identify a plant from a single photograph alone or an over the phone description. Often detailed pieces of information need to be obtained for proper identification.
For instance, can you identify the plant featured in this help cover photo? The answer (at the bottom of this article) may surprise you.
Plants Map is a website that offers you the ability to document an online library of plants and showcase plant collections, gardens, landscapes, trails, parks and more. We do not offer as a service plant identification at your landscape.
However, we can provide some tips and resources to help you with your plant identification.
Locals know best
We recommend contacting local sources that can come to your property to identify the plants for you.
Local sources to contact can include your state or county Cooperative Extension or Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Tree Stewards, Dept. of Conservation, Native Plant Societies, Garden Clubs, colleges and universities with horticulture or botany departments and professionals such as landscape designers, garden centers, etc.
Many botanical gardens and universities also offer classes on botany, plant identification or guided tours and walks.
Document your mystery plant and ask for help
You can also seek help from our community on Plants Map to help you identify plants. When you add a plant that you do not know, we suggest the following:
- The title can be a short description or a temporary name such as ‘Plant 1.’
- Add several photos including a full shot, a clear close up of a flower if possible, and a close up of a leaf and a stem. Often it is helpful to see a photo of the back of the flower as well. You may also want to add more photos over time showing buds, fruit development, seeds, etc.
- In the story of the plant describe any notable features such as leaves are hairy or bark is very shiny.
- Also include in the story a description of any fragrance you might experience from the foliage, flower or even bark.
- Provide some location information and habitat description. Such as found in Virginia in a wet, sunny field or found in New York in a dry woodland.
- Caption the photos with a date or time of year.
The more details you can provide with clear photos and a description the easier it is for someone to assist you with proper identification.
- Post your mystery plant and ask for plant identification assistance on our Home page news section.
- Share your Plants Map mystery plant out to other websites or social channels too like Twitter or Facebook.
Beware of look-alikes
Know that many plants look alike and can be toxic or poisonous. Identifying edible plants should never be done online or with photos alone. Always ask a local professional or expert for help with edible identification.
Answer to the plant identity in the cover photo: This is an Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple). To identify Poison Ivy we recommend: http://www.poison-ivy.org.
Try a key
You can also find identification websites, apps and books that help ‘key out’ plants. Here are just a few of our favorites:
- Newcomb’s Method: Explained by Wilderness College
- Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide
- What Tree is That? from Arbor Day Foundation
- Audubon Field Guides
- Audubon Trees Identification App
- Audubon Wildflowers Identification App
- Peterson Field Guides
- Go Botany: Dichotomous Key to Plant Families
- MyWildFlowers.com Identification Key
- Mister Smarty Plants
- Mistaken Identity: invasive plants and their look-alikes by NYBG