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wildflowers

How to Identify Wild Plants

Benjamin Kilbride, Editorial Assistant at The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Whether you’re in the great outdoors or your own backyard, use this guide to learn how to identify native plants!

Note: Never eat any part of a wild plant (including its berries) unless you know exactly what it is. This guide should be used not as a means to identify plants, but only as a guide for beginners. Purchase a reputable and recently published identification guide to learn more.

What to Look For When Identifying a Plant

Examine these five parts of a wild plant to narrow down the possibilities. 

Flower

• What color is it?

• How many petals does it have?

• What is its shape?

• Is it symmetrical?

 

Fruit/Berries

• What color is the fruit or berry?

• Is the fruit or berry hairy, powdery, or shiny on the outside?

• Is the fruit or berry juicy or pulpy when squished?

• Is the berry a single (blueberry) or a compound (blackberry) structure? 

 

Leaves

• How are the leaves arranged? Are they located mostly near the base of the plant or in an alternate manner?

• Are the edges of the leaves smooth, toothed, or jagged?

• Is the shape of the leaves elongated or more round?

• Do the leaves have a stalk or grow directly from the plant stem?

• Are the leaves hairy or smooth?

 

Seeds

• What is the shape of the seeds?

• Do the seeds have a mode of transport (burs, wings, or parachutes)?

 

Stem

• What color is the stem?

• Is the stem hairy?

• Does the stem have markings of any kind, such as bark scales, thorns, or warts?

  

Five Common Plant Families Found in North America

Asteraceae (Aster and Sunflower Family)

• Flower is tubular or has a tongue shape

• Leaves are variable, with veins extending from the base to the tip of each leaf and smaller veins branching off the main one

• Fruit is a dry nut, often covered in small hairs on the top

• Stem is sometimes covered in small soft hairs

Examples of plants in this family are dandelion, sunflower, and artichoke.

 

Boraginaceae (Borage Family)

• Flower is tubular

• Leaves alternate on stem

• Seeds are grouped in pockets of four

• Stem is covered in stiff hairs

Examples of plants in this family are borage, forget-me-not, and comfrey.

 

Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

• Flower is usually solitary

• Leaves are reduced or absent

• Fruit is a berry

• Stem is sometimes triangular or flattened

Examples of plants in this family are prickly pear cactus, Christmas cactus, and dragon fruit.

 

Ericaceae (Blueberry Family)

• Flower is bilateral

• Leaves are smooth-edged and often leathery and evergreen

• Fruit is a berry

• Stem is woody and has bark scales

Examples of plants in this family are blueberry, cranberry, and wintergreen.

 

Lamiaceae (Mint Family)

• Flowers are in groups

• Leaves are opposite each other at 90-degree angles

• Seeds are grouped in pockets of four

• Stem is usually quadrangular (square)

Examples of plants in this family are basil, mint, and sage.

Old Farmer's Almanac