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Plant Identification Tips

Leaves used for plant identification in Midway, UT

Plant Identification Tips

There are so many different kinds of plants out there that it can be really intimidating trying to identify each one. Maybe you’ve moved into a new home and love one of the plants in your yard, but you don’t know what it is or how to take care of it. It would be difficult to memorize each and every plant in the world, but there are some ways that you can differentiate different types. Each plant has different clues in its leaves and roots that can tell you more about what it is. Read this article to learn some simple but effective plant identification tips. 

Woody vs Herbaceous

One of the first things you’ll notice about a plant is its structure. Is it low to the ground? Tall and flimsy? Short and rigid? These are all important things to take note of. You can easily identify if a plant is “woody” or “herbaceous” simply by looking at it and feeling it. A woody plant means that it literally is made of a wood-like material in its stems and center. This is any type of tree or shrub. The wood make-up allows it to stand tall through the winter and will grow in height and girth year after year.

An “herbaceous” plant usually has soft, green stems that aren’t as firm and don’t grow as high. These stems will die back each year and regrow after the cold season (if they are perennial). If they are annual, they will only live for about a year before they die for good. Unlike woody plants, they don’t increase in height and girth year after year. Knowing if a plant is woody or herbaceous is your first hint at figuring out what kind of plant you’re looking at.

Tree vs Shrub

If you determine that the plant you’re identifying is woody, now you can determine if it is a tree or shrub. While it may sound like the answer is obvious, there are lots of times where a small tree can be mistaken for a shrub or vice versa. Usually, a tree will have a trunk of at least 2 inches in diameter. Trees will usually be taller, and the branches stemming off of the trunk are a few inches off the ground. A shrub usually has its branches closer to the ground and is typically thinner all around. Shrubs also tend to have a “bushy” look with smaller and more numerous foliage. 

Deciduous vs Coniferous

Another way to help narrow down a plant you’re looking at is to determine if it is deciduous or evergreen. A deciduous tree is any tree that loses its leaves in the winter, and it usually means a lot of raking on the owner’s end. If you find yourself raking around a tree or plant that loses a lot of leaves, it’s most likely deciduous. 

Coniferous, on the other hand, means that a plant doesn’t lose its leaves or color throughout the year. The leaves are often needle-like and are referred to as evergreen. These trees often look like Christmas trees, but they can come in other herbaceous or shrub forms.

Leaf Count, Texture, and Smell

Once you have a general idea about what kind of family your plant belongs to, you can look at more intricate clues about what the plant might be more specifically. For example, how many leaves are growing off each stem? What are they shaped like? What is their texture? This means looking at if they’re shiny, thin, prickly, or any other observations you can make. Break a leaf off and rub it between your fingers. How does it smell? Is it minty? Herby? 

These are all important questions to ask. Write down your observations. The more observations you make, the easier it will be to narrow down the potential species! Once you have these observations, a quick Google search will usually do the trick to determine what kind of plant you’ve found. If you still aren’t sure, you can contact a professional horticulturist to get their opinion as well.

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