Winter flowers and small leaves with serrated edges lead to identification as Camellia sasanqua. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

A common diagnostic service offered at your local UF/IFAS Extension office is plant identification. Whether you need a persistent weed identified so you can implement a management program or you need to identify an ornamental plant and get care recommendations, we can help!

In the past, we were reliant on people to bring a sample to the office or schedule a site visit, neither of which is very practical in today’s busy world. With the recent widespread availability of digital photography, even the least technology savvy person can usually email photos themselves or they have a friend or family member who can assist.

If you need to send pictures to a volunteer or extension agent it’s important that you are able to capture the features that are key to proper identification. Here are some guidelines you can use to ensure you gather the information we need to help you.

Entire plant – seeing the size, shape, and growth habit (upright, trailing, vining, etc.) is a great place to begin. This will help us eliminate whole categories of plants and know where to start.

Stems/trunks – to many observers stems all look the same, but to someone familiar with plant anatomy telltale features such as raised lenticels, thorns, wings, or exfoliating bark can be very useful. Even if it doesn’t look unique to you, please be sure to send a picture of stems and the trunk.

Leaves – leaf color, size and shape is important, but also how the leaves are attached to the stem is a critical identification feature. There are many plants that have ½ inch long dark green leaves, but the way they are arranged, leaf margin (edges), and vein patterns are all used to confirm identification. Take several leaf photos including at least one with some type of item for scale such as a small ruler or a common object like a coin or ballpoint pen; this helps us determine size. Take a picture that shows how leaves are attached to stems – being able to see if leaves are in pairs, staggered, or whorled around a stem is also important. Flip the leaf over and take a picture of the underside, some plants have distinctive veins or hairs on the bottom surface that may not be visible in a picture taken from above.

Flowers – if flowers are present, include overall picture so the viewer can see where it is located within the plant canopy along with a picture close enough to show structure.

Fruit – fruit are also good identification pictures and these should accompany something for scale to help estimate size.

Any additional information you are able to provide can help – if the plant is not flowering but you remember that it has white, fragrant flowers in June, make sure to include that in your description.

Learning what plants you have in your landscape will help you use your time and resources more efficiently in caring for you yard. Contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office to find out who to send requests for plant id.

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