7 Steps on How to Identify Plants: Including Manual Identification and Plant Identifier Apps


Plant identification is the science of classifying plants based on their morphological features. Since plants have numerous distinct traits, observing and memorizing the combination of these attributes is tricky.

To identify a plant, you’ll need to examine the leaves, roots, stems, and defense-related characteristics of the plant. Understanding the plant’s growth requirements and geographical location will also help you figure out the plant’s identity.

Luckily, you can bypass all of this work with the help of plant identifiers. These useful applications match the picture of your plant with thousands of images on their databases, accurately naming your plant.

Some of the popular plant identification apps include PictureThis, PlantNet, iNaturalist, PlantSnap and Google Lens.

Plant identifiers artificial intelligence depends on the quality of the image and its database. You might get inaccurate results if you provide an image with poor quality. In this case, your manual identification skills will come in handy. 

If you want to improve your visual identification skills, practice is key. Understanding the botanical descriptors of each family will help you narrow down the plants. Then, you can easily name the plant through its unique features. 

How to Identify a Plant

Plant identification, known as taxonomy, is a detailed science concerned with classifying, naming, and identifying plants. This is the basis of assigning plants to specific groups with the same characteristics, called species.

If you’re new to horticulture, all plants might look identical, especially if there aren’t any flowers or fruits to make the identification easier. Each species has similar morphological traits. From there, narrowing things down is simple.

Taxonomists use the most prominent physical aspects of the plants to identify them, which means you can name a plant by looking at it.

1. Examine the Leaves

Leaves are the most common botanical descriptors. To the inexperienced eye, most plant leaves are identical.

Yet, leaves have numerous distinct elements, acting like fingerprints. Once you notice the many minor differences between leaves, you’ll realize no two plants share the same foliage.

It’s important to know that leaves on the same plant aren’t identical. Some foliage might be darker or lighter, depending on how much light it gets. So, you should check for the most distinct aspects, including:

  • Leaf structure: Leaves can be simple, with one blade, or compound, containing multiple leaflets. Each leaf should have a bud, while leaflets share a terminal bud.
  • Leaf shape: Foliage can be long, short, wide, narrow, thick-ended, or tapered. This is the simplest feature to identify.
  • Leaf base and apex: The top and base of the leaf also have different shapes. If you can’t pinpoint the exact shape of the entire leaf, the base and apex will come in handy.
  • Margins: The outer edges of the blade can be flat (entire), toothed (serrated), or ciliated.
  • Serration types: If the margin isn’t flat, the teeth will have different shapes. The foliage might have sharp teeth, lobes, dents, or spines among others.
  • Venation: The veins of the foliage have many shapes and orientations. They can be parallel, reticulate, longitudinal, pinnate, or dichotomous.

2. Identify the Leaf Arrangement

After looking at the leaf itself, you should also view the position of all leaves in relation to one another.

The stem carries a group of leaves, each pudding from a specific point of growth (node). The location of the petioles on the same stem is called the leaf arrangement.

Accordingly, the leaves don’t spud randomly on the stem. They have growth patterns based on the nodes. The most common leaf arrangements include the following:

  • Opposite: Leaves grow opposite to each other, with two petioles growing from a single node. 
  • Whorled: Similar to the opposite arrangement, multiple leaves grow from a single node.
  • Alternate: Each growth node produces a single leaf. The leaves grow on alternate sides of the stem.
  • Decussate: Decussate arrangement is a combination of both opposite and alternate patterns. Two leaves bud from one node, but the leaves on the next node grow on the alternate side of the first growth node.

3. Observe the Stems and Branches

The stem and branches are essential morphological attributes. You can significantly narrow your options down if you know a plant is herbaceous or woody.

Herbaceous plants are those with soft stems, resembling petioles. Typically, herbaceous plants are perennial or annual. Their soft stalks don’t survive the winter.

On the other hand, woody plants have xyloid stalks or thick trunks that can persist through tough conditions.

The woody plants can either be shrubs or trees, depending on the position of the branches. As you might expect, the branches of the smaller shrubs grow near the base, while the trees have remarkable branches.

Some plants are also multi-stemmed, such as shrubs, while others have a single, sturdy stem. The stems and branches come in different colors and textures.

The stem of the plant might have a distinct orientation, such as trailing vines or underground rhizomes and bulbs.

4. Check for Hairs, Thorns, and Barbs

Some plants have pubescence, or small hair-like structures on the surface, while others are smooth. These trichomes can be found all over the plant, or only on the leaves.

Defense-related characteristics are also excellent plant identifiers. First, check for the presence or lack of thorns and barbs. Then, the location of these elements will be different based on the plant species.

A study by Sakshi Watts assessed that a single plant genus can have varying types of trichomes depending on the species. 

So, you can take this one step further by examining the plant under the microscope. This allows you to know the exact type of trichomes present. The hairs can be any of the following:

  • Unicellular/Multicellular
  • Glandular/Non Glandular
  • Bulbous/Sessile/Capitate/Sellate/Uncinate/Pilate/Capitate

5. Examine the Roots

Roots can tell of the plant’s species. Roots have specific sizes, shapes, and growing patterns.

The most common root types you’ll find include the following:

  • Tap roots: These roots have a thick primary root, from which secondary shoots grow. Tap roots can penetrate deep into the soil, anchoring the plant to the ground.
  • Fibrous roots: Fibrous roots consist of multiple small shoots that branch out extensively. There are no primary roots.
  • Tuberous roots: Tuberous roots are fleshy roots that store nutrients. The secondary roots are short, and the primary shoots are swollen.
  • Creeping roots: These roots don’t extend vertically. They’re present near the top of the soil, traveling long distances horizontally.
  • Water roots: Water roots allow the plants to grow submerged in water. They’re thin, fragile, and the easiest shoot type to identify.
  • Adventitious roots: These roots can develop above ground as a result of injury. They’re not true roots, so you shouldn’t use them to identify plants.

6. Note the Region and Climate

Different plants grow in specific regions, which makes it easier to pinpoint plant families depending on their growth requirements and the area.

You can also determine the plant’s growth region based on its characteristics. For example, cacti and succulents have fleshy exteriors, spines, and water stored in the stems, making them native to desert climates.

In recent times, plant species have been disappearing from locations and growing naturally in other areas due to climate change.

Alexandra Kosanic, professor of ecology, noted the importance of tracking the everchanging geographical distribution of plants.

This can be achieved through citizen scientists and plant enthusiasts as well as experts. For this reason, learning to identify plants is crucial.

What Other Methods Are There for Plant Identification?

Learning all the distinct traits of plants is incredibly difficult, especially since there are endless combinations of these features.

That’s why very few people can identify plants by simply looking at them. So, it’s crucial to find alternative plant identification methods.

Here are the other available ways to identify plants:


Even experts can misidentify a plant based on its morphological features alone. Numerous plants share physical aspects, making them particularly indistinguishable from one another.

That’s why you should do a lot of research before ultimately naming the plant. Don’t search for the plant’s anatomy only. You must also study similar plants. This way, you’ll be able to distinguish between them.

If you want to bring a plant to your garden or consume it, but you’re unsure about the plant’s identity, it’s best to leave it be. You don’t want to risk growing an invasive plant in your garden or getting poisoned.


An expert’s opinion can help you identify the plant you’re interested in. You don’t have to look for an experienced taxonomist to identify your garden plants! Your local gardening community will help you identify plants in your area.

Alternatively, uploading a picture to online forums might give you the answer you need. Make sure you include a lot of detailed photos of the plant.

Plant Identifiers

Since technology is constantly improving, you can now use your phone to identify plants! T. Munisami was able to create an automated plant identification system that classifies plants based on just the features and color of leaves.

Nowadays, you can install plant identifier applications that name your plants through pictures with surprising accuracy.

What Are Plant Identifier Apps?

Plant identifier apps are handy advancements that allow you to identify plants in seconds. All you have to do is snap a clear picture of the plant, and the app will do the work for you.

These apps are powered by artificial intelligence and an extensive database. First, the algorithm learns and stores different plants along with thousands of pictures.

Afterward, users can take pictures on the application, and the artificial intelligence will match the plant with its counterpart on the application’s database.

You should note that the accuracy of plant identifiers depends on the provided photos. If a picture is blurry, or contains a lot of secondary elements, the identifier won’t be able to precisely compare it to its database.

Here are some of the most popular plant identifiers:

  1. PictureThis

If you want an app that can identify both wild and indoor plants, look no further than PictureThis. The innovative platform provides you with everything you need to know about growing plants, from care routines to watering reminders.

The platform has expert users, who will gladly answer your questions. If your garden isn’t looking too good, PictureThis allows you to keep your plant’s health in check through the Health Diagnostics feature. The app will diagnose the plant and offer treatment options.

PictureThis will present the name of the plant as well as other safety information. You won’t have to look up specific details on the plant. The app will immediately tell you if a plant is toxic to humans or pets.

While it’s ideal for identifying plants, you can also use it to identify birds, insects, and even allergens. This makes PictureThis an all-rounder application for nature enthusiasts.

This app stands out from the rest of the plant identifiers due to the 360° identify feature. A study conducted by J Otter concluded that PictureThis is one of the most accurate plant identification apps available. It scored an impressive 59% accuracy.

  1. PlantNet

PlantNet is one of the most popular plant identification platforms for a reason. It has exceptional performance on both Android and iOS. It’s completely free, and there are no pop-ups or ads, making for a seamless experience.

This app works through members’ contributions. When you upload a photo of your plant, the application compares it to thousands of images added by other users. So, the more PlantNet grows, the more plants the application can accurately identify.

It’s crucial to upload high-quality pictures to PlantNet. Not only will this help you get an accurate result, but it’ll also improve the platform.

The application will guide you through snapping a picture of your plant. You’ll need to minimize background elements, keep the plant focused, and zoom into the distinct features of the plant.

If you enable geolocation, PlantNet’s plant identification system will be more accurate. This way, you can search for plants based on your location.

Moreover, the collaborative platform allows you to join different groups, where you can share your green passion with like-minded individuals. The most popular groups contain over 1,000 members.

  1. iNaturalist

iNaturalist is the perfect application for researchers, educators, and citizen scientists. All users can share information and contact each other, creating citizen science projects.

The platform relies on its users to enhance the experience. It frequently prompts active users to identify images that other users uploaded. In this case, either the uploaded picture was unclear or there aren’t any similar plants on the app’s database.

iNaturalist is a plant identifier and a social media platform in one app. The active community helps each other learn about wildlife and keep track of plant species around the world.

In turn, iNaturalist created a data visualization tool that displays trends in species activity and distribution over time. This is pretty beneficial for researchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

What’s more, the platform emphasizes the importance of continuous learning through its Explore feature. You can tour the plants of the world, filtering based on date, location, or species.

  1. PlantSnap

Another excellent plant identifier is PlantSnap. It might not be as accurate as other contenders on the list, but that’s only because of the lack of users. In turn, this means a smaller database.

What makes this application ideal is its availability in 30 different languages. It also provides users with tutorials on how to take high-quality images in order to get accurate results.

PlantSnap is as simple as can be. There’s no complicated navigation or different communities. The platform does exactly what it promises, which is identifying plants.

Unfortunately, PlantSnap has a couple of drawbacks. While the app is completely free, it has frequent ads. What’s more, you’re limited to only 10 searches per day.

  1. Your Phone

Did you know that your phone can double as a plant identifier? If you have an internet connection and Google, the modern technology will immediately name your plants, without needing to download extra applications.

How to Use Google Lens to Identify Plants?

Google Lens is an image recognition technology that can analyze content in real-time. This technology wasn’t made with plant identification in mind, but it has since improved to identify different plants as well.

This isn’t a plant identifier, as Google Lens will direct you to Google search results after identifying the plant. There’s no plant database, and you can’t connect with other users.

It’s still an easy-on-the-pockets option if you want to identify plants quickly and accurately. Google Lens is also user-friendly.

The innovative technology will show the plant’s name and supply you with information related to it. You don’t even need to snap a picture. All you need to do to identify plants is follow these steps:

Step 1: Download the Application

Google Lens is available for iOS and Android. For iOS, you’ll need to download the Google app from the App Store. It’s free and there are no system requirements.

If you have an Android phone, the Google Lens feature will already be available within different apps. It’s built into the camera, available within the Photos app, and you can access it using Google Assistant.

Step 2:  Accept Permissions

To use Google Lens, you need to give the application permission to access your photos and your camera.

Step 3: Take Live Photos

From there, open Google and click on the camera button near the search bar. Make sure you’re getting a clear shot of the plant.

Focus the camera on the plant, and Google will immediately give you suggestions of related results, including the plant’s name. Clicking on these suggestions will provide you with more details about the plant.

Android users can also identify plants in their gallery. Within the photos app, select the picture of the plant you want to identify and click the lens. Then, you’ll get the plant name.

Step 4: Upload Pictures

If you’ve taken a picture of a plant before downloading Google Lens, you can still use the technology to identify the plant.

You’ll need to upload a picture to Google, and it’ll reverse search for you.

How to Use Pictures to Identify Plants?

You don’t need to purchase a plant identifier subscription or even install apps on your phone. If you have a camera, the internet will help you identify plants.

The reason for this is none other than Google reverse image search. On the Google image search bar, you’ll find a camera button. This will allow you to upload an image, and Google will find the plant for you.

This might be similar to Google Lens, but reverse image search only gives you results of similar photos. Google Lens will analyze the content of the photo and provide you with tailored information.

Keep in mind that to make the most out of reverse image search, you need to have a highly detailed picture of a plant element. Otherwise, Google will show you pictures of similar-looking plants.

iOS Visual Look Up

Your phone already has built-in visual identification. While this feature isn’t particular for plants, the Visual Look Up feature on iOS is ideal for plant identification.

This works on newer iPhone models. All you have to do is take a detailed picture of the plant. Next, open the “Photos” app and swipe up to get the info panel of the picture.

If the picture is clear enough and Visual Look Up is available on your phone, you should find a “Look Up” option, with “Plant” next to it. Click the banner to learn all the information on the plant.

Online Forums

Online forums might not be your first option when looking to quickly identify plants. It’ll take time until a user answers your question, making it unsuitable for real-time plant identification.

Well, the best part about online forums is the accuracy. If a picture is unclear or an expert needs you to provide more detail on the plant, they’ll simply tell you so.

On the other hand, plant identifiers won’t ask you to retake the picture. The artificial intelligence will only match the picture with their database, giving you inaccurate info.

Online communities are a great place to connect with compatible people. These are also excellent sources if you want to learn how to identify plants.

What Are the Most Distinctive Features to Consider When Identifying Plant Families?

Plant families all share common features, making it easy to group an unknown plant into a specific family.

Typically, each type of plants will have one or two distinct elements, unlike other families. These don’t have to be obvious morphological aspects.

For example, the identifying characteristics of Brassicaceae/Mustard plants are the presence of four petals, four sepals, and six stamens; four of which are tall and two short.

Polygonaceae plants have translucent stipules and alternate leaves, unlike other families.

Accordingly, you don’t need to inspect every tiny detail of a plant to identify it. Searching for the identifying characteristics of plant families should be sufficient.

The most distinctive aspect of plants has to be their flowers, fruits, and seeds. Identifying a family through flowers is rather simple, as these colorful elements are easily observed.

Not all plants produce flowers, though. In this case, leaves are commonly used to decipher the plant’s identity.

How to Identify Araceae Plants?

Araceae plants, also known as the arum family, are a group of monocotyledonous flowering plants. They’re one of the easiest families to identify due to their distinct flowers.


The Araceae plants have a distinct inflorescence. The flowers grow on a central fleshy axis called spadix. The inflorescence is then surrounded by a modified leaf, resembling a flower petal.

As for the leaves of the plants, they’re glossy and arrow-shaped.


The recognizable Aracea plants have rhizomes. The rhizomes are both a stem and a root at the same time. The stem eastenders vertically underground, growing lateral roots.

As for the above-ground stems, they grow anywhere between eight inches to two feet.


Despite the gorgeous appearance of Araceae flowers, they have an incredibly unpleasant smell. This smell is akin to rotten meat, which caused the plants to be nicknamed “corpse flowers.”

According to the Turkish Journal of Botany, the source of this scent is the central inflorescence.

False Arums

Identifying Araceae plants might be easy, but certain plants share physical characteristics with this family without being true arums. These include:

  • Calla lilies
  • Caladium
  • Monstera
  • Philodendron

For this reason, experts rely on the microscopical elements of Araceae plants. The leaves of the plant contain calcium oxalate raphides.

It’s crucial to learn that most arum plants are toxic to humans and pets due to the calcium oxalate. So, if you suspect that a plant belongs to this family, keep it away from your home.

How to Find a Plant Name?

Plants aren’t named randomly. They’re classified based on their morphological traits into the following hierarchy:

  1. Kingdom
  2. Subkingdom
  3. Superdivision
  4. Division
  5. Class
  6. Subclass
  7. Order
  8. Family
  9. Genus
  10. Species

To find a plant’s name, you can start at the top of the classification, and narrow it down as you further classify the plant.

Once you’re down to the plant’s species, here’s how you can name it:

  1. First, pinpoint the plant’s characteristic features. You should look at the flowers, fruits, and leaves.
  2. Next, take note of the climate and the region. Plants are incredibly sensitive to weather, and will only grow in certain locations.
  3. From there, you can find the plant’s name by Googling the distinct elements. You’ll find a list of plants with similar morphology.
  4. Alternatively, plant identifiers will help you determine the plant’s name in no time by matching its picture to other plants on the app’s database.

Since these apps rely on the quality of your photo, they’re not always accurate. Accordingly, your next best option would be finding botany books, asking experts, or uploading the picture to an online nature forum.

How Can You Identify a Leaf?

Leaves have the fingerprints of the plant. No two plants possess the same leaf. For this reason, identifying leaves is the key to finding a plant’s identity.

This takes a lot of time and training, as leaves have many details, including the following:

  • Shape
  • Color
  • Size
  • Orientation
  • Apex and base
  • Venation
  • Arrangement
  • Margins
  • Trichomes

These traits can combine in thousands of different ways, making for unique leaves.

To accurately identify leaves, you’ll need to constantly practice. Over time, your knowledge will grow, and you’ll be able to name a plant by only looking at the leaves!

How Can You Improve Your Visual Plant Identification Skills?

You can improve your visual plant identification skills in many ways. First, you should look at as many plants as possible. Carefully explore the elements of the plant, and pay attention to the small details.

You should take note of the most telling features of each plant. You can spend hours inspecting a plant’s foliage, only to recognize it through the distinct stem.

Certain details help group plant families together. After you’ve associated a plant with a family, it’ll be easier to name it.

Moreover, reading botany books will significantly improve your identification skills. Don’t cram information or try to memorize it.

Start by understanding the morphological aspects of plants. Then, move on to learning about the specific plants growing in your region.

Summary of Plant Identification

Plant identification is a science based on studying the morphological aspects of a plant. All you need to do to find a plant’s identity is to look at it!

Each trait of the plant can further narrow down the options. This includes everything from the flowers of the plant to the presence of trichomes on the leaves.

Nowadays, technological advancements have allowed us to find the identity of a plant by snapping a picture. This doesn’t mean taxonomy is obsolete, though.

Not only can the algorithm behind these applications be inaccurate at times, but the artificial intelligence depends on human input. Every time a user searches for a plant, it’s added to the identifier’s database. Then, this data helps other users search their plants.