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Identifying Plants: A Landscaper Tip

Updated: Mar 9

So you’re out in your backyard and breathing in the scent of your freshly cut grass and taking stock of the shrubs you spent time pruning. Your compost heap (you are composting right?) has never been more replete with bio-degradable materials. The black gold soil in your raised beds helped grow fresh tomatoes for some delicious recipes. The lush bounty in your kingdom is all your doing, so pat yourself on the back! Yet, in the far corner of your rain garden is a plant you don’t recognize. What is the little thing doing all the way over there? You let your native plants outgrow the weeds to keep them in check but this is different. You check your recent phenology plot and everything seems in order…except for this one plant. Is it the beginning of a sapling? Maybe a young vine? In order for the plant to feel welcomed, you should at least know each other's names, right?

There are lots of reasons you’d want to identify a plant in your yard: personal enrichment, dangerous or invasive species identification, or creating teaching moments for your children like our guest blogger, Alicia Owen! If you’re stumped and want to find out more, there are digital resources for you to explore. Listed below are the most common communities, research tools, and websites that specialize in plant identification.

1. Local native plants society or extension service

Native plant societies are popping up all over the U.S. with more ways to interact online and in-person than ever before. Greenscape Geeks does business in Indiana and North Carolina and we’d like to shout out to INPS (with whom we did an interview a while back!) and NCNPS. These institutions do field trips with their members to practice identifying plants in the field and are super keen on answering posted questions about native and non-native species! The Facebook boards for native plant societies that have one is a great repository of knowledge with lots of folks willing to lend their eyes to your photos. Find your local extension center here.

2. Probably an app for that!

Okay, so the app phrasing may be a bit worn out at this point, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t very helpful tools at your fingertips, literally! While this won’t be a top 10 for plant identification apps (we may do one later) we can say that plant ID apps utility ranges from live feedback from botanists and researchers to free herbarium databases that can teach you traits to look for when narrowing down a species.

3. Online forums

Making an account and chatting with other forum users is how the internet originally did (and still does) message boards. Each forum has different rules for asking questions, making posts, and submitting content, so be sure to read each forum’s rules carefully. Forum users can be particular about when they answer and how; not because they’re insular or gatekeeping necessarily, but because they talk about their passions every day and want to experience new ideas without retreading old ground if they can help it! Some of the most active communities we’ve found are listed below.

-Reddit forum /r/whatsthisplant is 750K members strong!

-Another active community at www.garden.org

What about you? Do you have ancient textbooks or a binder of collected specimens that you refer to? For other Indianapolis landscaping questions, contact us here.