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Plant identification seems to be a dying area even in the horticulture industry; there are employees and members that still struggle with the basics of plant identification and family groupings.

Anyone interested in gardening or plants has usually come across this problem; you’re walking along enjoying your day and you come across this amazing plant. The only way to truly figure out what this plant is may be to rip it out of the ground and run to the nearest nursery – we would highly advise against that.

New technology makes it much easier to identify plants with smart phone apps, software, and various electronic resources. At ARO we encourage all individuals to use such resources but also it is incredibly important that individuals at the very least understand the fundamentals of plant identification. It not only impresses clients that you easily identify plants; it may even assist you to have better selection or substitution of plants when choosing for customers.

Now where do you start as a beginner in plant identification? There are loads of books, pictures and dictionaries out there to help, however a picture can look completely different depending on the time of year, location and time of day it was taken. The plant you are looking at in real life could look completely different to the image in your book. So instead it is about key characteristics such as; Mono – Dicots, flower anatomy, leaf types and details, fruit, seed, corolla, stems, root and grasses.

Take the time to study the entire plant – not just the feature that catches your eye. Make note of leaf type and arrangement, count parts – the number of petals and stamens, for instance.

Your first goal should be to learn the plant family and to not worry right away about the scientific name of the plant itself. This can help you to identify the requirements of the plant whether it be the type of pesticide or maintenance requirements. Focusing on plant families streamlines the learning process. If two plants shared certain combinations of physical features then they might also share chemical characteristics (be in the same family).

For instance: a plant whose flowers have 4 petals and 6 stamens, with 4 of those stamens being tall and 2 being short, is a member of the mustard family. Many plants in this family are edible (the brassicas, the mustards, nasturtiums).

So, even without knowing the genetics of a plant, horticulturalists are able to make some assumptions about their relationships.

The relationships among plants are being studied today as never before, and plants that were once grouped with a certain family may now be placed into a completely different family. ARO recommends that you use the most up to date families and plant ID, and be sure your resources are up to date.

The botanical field guide we currently provide to our students is the 5th edition from ‘Stefan Mager and Dr Geoff Burrows’. Listed are a number of places you can purchase this guide. It is laminated and a great quick guide to use whilst on job.

Lastly, another very useful resource is the plant selector from Botanical Gardens of South Australia.


If you are looking for a more detailed education of plant identification and names/terms we recommend our 1 day course in plant identification. Contact us for the most up to date class times (08) 8339 1066.