As you probably already know, different plants require different kinds of care. Some like to be in the sun and some do better in the shade. Some need to drink a couple of times a week and some only need watering once a month. If you purchase your plant at a greenhouse or nursery, identification will not be a problem. The purchased plant should come with a tag that includes the name of the plant as well as care instructions. However, we don’t always get plants from the nursery. If you get your plant as a gift, do your best to gather all possible information from the gift giver. If it is a starter plant, find out what kind of environment the parent plant flourished in.
Sometimes you get a hold of a plant that is hard to identify. If you don’t know the name of your plant and you don’t have much information about it, there are a couple of things that you can do. Most likely you will resort to matching up your plant to pictures of other plants in a book or online. This can be quite difficult because you might not find an exact picture of your plant. Some common houseplants have hundreds and hundred of varieties. For example, the philodendron has more than 500 different species. The trick to identifying your plant is to find a close relative if you cannot find a perfect match.
One place to start looking if you need to identify a plant is online. The web is filled with pictures and information on houseplants. Two good sites that you might want to check out are gflora and Aggie Horticulture. Both of these sites feature plenty of pictures of both common and uncommon houseplants. You will also be able to find forums on the web were you can write in with a description or a picture of your plant and get an opinion about its identity. Dave’s garden is a popular website that offers both pictures and the opportunity to converse with horticulture enthusiasts.
Another place to look is at books. Several books out are geared towards helping you identify plants. One of the better books is The New Houseplant A-Z: Everything You Need to Know to Identify, Choose, and Care for the 350 Most Popular Houseplants. This book, by Peter McHoy, features over 600 pictures in its 128 pages: a great resource if you are going to be identifying more than one houseplant.
If you really have a mystery plant on your hands, you might have to take it to an expert. When talking to botanists or a horticulturist about your houseplants, you should try to learn a few things so that you can speak their language. The experts will be very interested in things like leaf arrangement. Look at your plant and see how the leaves come off the stems. If they come off in pairs, the arrangement is “opposite”; if they come off one at a time, the arrangement is “alternate” and if they come off in groups of three or more, the arrangement is “whorled”.
Another thing you should know about the leaves is how the veins are arranged. If there is one vein that other, smaller veins come from, your venation is pinnate. If several veins come from one site of origin, the arrangement is palmate.
Just being able to describe the color of the leaves, the arrangement of the leaves, and the venation of the leaves will help an expert to identify your plant. If they are unable to help you with just a description, try taking the plant in to get help.