It is important to identify your houseplants so that you know how to take care of them. The problem is that there are thousands of varieties of houseplants and identification of your exact variety might be difficult if not impossible. However, there are steps you can take to help you identify your plant. Read on.
Step 1: Get information form the source.
Houseplants do not just spring up overnight, and the stork doesn't bring them. Every new houseplant comes from somewhere and generally, you know the source. If you purchase the plant, you probably won't have to identify it; it should have a name and care instructions available at the time of purchase. If you are given the plant as a gift, it might be harder to come up with a name. Often people don't know the names of their plants, and if they take a starter to give you, you won't know the name either. This isn't a horrible problem because you can still get care instructions from the person giving you the plant. However, it will save you the headache of identification if you can get a name when you get your plant.
Step 2: Look through pictures.
There are several resources where you can look through pictures of plants. There are A to Z guides available on the Internet and there are A to Z guides available at bookstores. When looking through these picture guides, keep in mind that they will only show the more common of the plant varieties. If your plant looks almost the same but not quite the same as the plant in the picture, you can probably assume that it is some variation of that plant. For example, most spider plants feature leaves that are dark green on the outside and light in the center. Your plant may look just like the spider plant in the picture, only yours has the color reversed. Your plant is a spider plant; it is just one of the less common varieties. The care instructions will be the same.
Step 3: Ask for help.
If you cannot identify your plant by trying to match it to a picture, you will have to ask for help. There are some great resources for help on the Internet; one of the better resources is a forum found at the UBC Botanical Garden web site. This forum offers a section called "indoor plant identification". You can post pictures of your plant right to the forum board and ask for help in identification. The users of this website seem to be quite enthusiastic about helping to identify plants. There are several responses to each query for identification help. The other place you might find help is by taking the plant, a leaf, or a picture of the plant to a local nursery or greenhouse and asking one of the experts there for an opinion. You might not find the exact name of the plant, but you might receive some leads that will help you on your quest.
Tips and Warnings
When you are trying to identify plants, it is a good idea to learn some of the vocabulary that botanists use when describing leaves. Learn the difference between opposite, alternate, and whorled patterns. Also, learn the difference between pinnate venation and palmate venation. If you have to go to a real expert for advice, they will appreciate it if you can speak at least a little of their language.
Find an A to Z guide at gflora
Find another A to Z guide at Aggie Horticulture
Post questions to the forum at UBC Botanical Garden
Ask Dave at Dave's Garden