Practical Plant Identification

Taxonomy is the study of genetic lineages in order to classify plants according to how their traits diverge over time. It is closely related to the practice of Systematics which overlaps in functionality, but also includes additional details about each of the members. There is no singularly accepted taxonomic structure because life is fluid and traits change back and forth over time to suit their environment.

This complex classification system relies heavily on advanced technology, training, and patience that is not readily available to most consumers so I’ll just provide you with a foundational background before progressing into an informal but practical approach that wll likely suit you better


Typically the purpose of identification for the average person is one of 5 reasons.  To confirm if a plant is poisonous or not, to better take care of a plant that is owned, to recognize something they saw at a neighbors and would like to purchase, or to determine if something is native or if a plant is of invasive concern.  Those are the most common questions in identification groups and forums with the first 3 being the most prevalent.  Each of these will have their own section below. 

The fundamentals of Taxonomy generally flow from Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. These tiers often include sub-tiers and side-tiers like divisions and clades as well to differentiate closely related specimens that have diverged evolutionarily in some way, but not completely from its common ancestor. all plants are contained within the Domain Eukarya and Kingdom Plantae. Fungi are in their own kingdom and will be discussed in a later article.

Differentiation of Plantae

  • Vascular (tracheophytes): Roots, Stem, branches, Leaves.
  • Non-Vascular: Mosses, Liverwors, Hornworts, Etc,

Differentiation of Tracheophytes

  • Angiospermophyta: Flowering: Reproduction by seeds contained in fruits or flowers,
  • Gymnospermophyta: Reproduction by Spores or naked seeds contained in cones and other woody structures

Differentiation of Gymnospermophyta

  • Cycadophyta (cycads) : Limited Species Remaining
  • ginkgophyta (ginkos) : Nearly extinct
  • Gnetophyta (Gnetos) : Nearly extinct
  • Coniferophyta (Conifers)

Differentiation of Angiospermatophyta

  • Monocotyledonae (monocots) Having 1 leaf within the seed, typically develop adventitious roots. simple leaves, parallel veins, each floral whorl has 3 members.
    • Poales (grasses, bromeliads, cypress, etc.)
    • Zingiberales (ginger, turmeric, heliconia, canna lillies Bananas etc.)
    • Commelinales (Spiderwort, Bloodwort, water hyacinth, etc.)
    • Arecales (palms like Coconut, date, etc.)
    • Asparagales (asparagus, amaryllis, Iris, orchids, etc.)
    • Liliales (Lillies, tulip, Greenbrier, etc.)
    • Pandanales (screwpines, etc.)
    • Dioscoreales (yam, Aletris, etc.)
    • Petrosaviales (endemic to Asia)
    • Alisamatales (Aquatic species like Duck potato, Water Plantain, etc.)
    • Acorales (sweet Flag, etc.)
  • Dicotyledonae (dicots) Having 2 leaves within the seed, typically develop tap roots. Tetra/pentamerous flowers. reticulate venation of leaves.
    • Ceratophyllales (hornworts)
    • Ranunculales (buttercups, poppies, etc.)
    • Proteales (lotus, macadamia, plane trees, etc.)
    • Trochodendrales
    • Buxales (cape Box, Common Box, etc.)
    • Gunnerales
    • Dilleniales
    • Saxifragales (currants, Gooseberries, Sedum, Kalanchoe, etc.)
    • Vitales (grapewine, virginia Creeper, etc.)
    • Zygophyllales
    • Fabales (tamarind, legumes, Pagoda Tree, Golden Rain, Milkwort, Locust, Licorice, Rooibos, Jicama, Pigeon Pea, Butterfly Pea, etc.)
    • Rosales (plum, cherry, peach, apricot, almond, Apple, Rose, Hemp, Mulberry, elm, Blackberry, Rubber Tree, Stonecrop, Ficus, Nettle, Raspberry, etc.)
    • Fagales (Birch, Beech, Oak, walnut, Hazel, Hickory, etc.)
    • Cucurbitales (melon, Squash, Gourd, Cucumber, Zucchini, etc.)
    • Celastrales (bittersweets)
    • Oxalidales (wood Sorrel, Oxalis, types of pitcher plants, Davidson’s Plum, Coachwood, etc.)
    • Geraniales (geranium, Bridal Wreaths, etc.)
    • Malpighiales (willow, violet, poinsettia, coca, pansy, passion vine, Spurge, etc.)
    • Myrtales (myrtles, Clove, Guava, Eucalyptus, Pomegranate, Primrose, etc.)
    • Crossosomatales (bladdernuts, etc.)
    • Picramniales
    • Huerteales
    • Sapindales (citrus, Maple, Lychee, Rambutan, Mango , Cashew, Frankincense, Myrrh, Mahogany, Neem, etc.)
    • Malvales (Balsa, Cacao, Kola, Hibiscus, Cotton, Kapok, Okra, Baobab tree, Hollylocks, etc.)
    • Brassicales (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Brussel Sprouts, Moringa, Turnip, Radish, etc.)
    • Berberidopsidales
    • Santalales (Mistletoe, Most Parasitic Plants, etc.)
    • Caryophyllales (cacti, carnations, amaranth, beets, most carnivorous plants, Bougainvillea, Spinach, etc.)
    • Cornales (Dogwood, Hydrangeas, Tupelos, etc.)
    • Ericales (tea, persimmon, blueberry, Brazil Nut, Azalea, mamey Sapote, Cranberry, etc.)
    • Icacinales
    • Metteniusales
    • Garryales (silk Tassel, etc.)
    • Gentianales (coffee, Frangipani, Gardenia, Oleander, Periwinkle, Desert Rose, etc.)
    • Boraginales (borage, comfrey, oyster plant, forget-me-not,
    • Vahliales
    • Solanales (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, petunias, nightshade, morning glory, sweet potato, etc.)
    • Lamiales (lavendar, Lilac, Olive, JAsmine, Teak, Snapdragon, Sesame, Ash Tree, Mint, Basil., Rosemary, Sage, etc.)
    • Aquifoliales (hollies, etc.)
    • Asterales (sunflowers, lettuce, wormwood, chrysanthemum, artichoke, marigold, echinacea, daisies, etc.)
    • Escalloniales (Escallonia, Laurels, etc.)
    • Bruniales
    • Paracryphiales
    • Dipsacales (viburnum, elderberry, etc.)
    • Apiales (carrots, celery, parsley, english ivy, etc.)