It happens to all of us at one time or another. You purchase a house that already has a garden. A friend or neighbour gifts you with a plant that you (or they) can't remember the name of. You take a plant home from a nursery but lose the tag. Or purchase something at a plant sale without a name. I think I've had each of these scenarios happen to me at one time or another.
Some people might not be terribly concerned about the name of their plant but many of us like to know what our plant is called so that we can learn how to better care for it. Does it require full sun or shade? Should it be given lots of moisture?
|This blue grass is a plant sale purchase but the name is unknown|
1. Look at other people's gardens. Take a walk down a street in town and look at your neighbour's gardens. You might see your new plant growing at someone else's home. If the owner of the home is around, ask them what it is. If you don't see them, knock on the door. Yes, I said knock on the door. Gardeners love their gardens and more often than not they will be complimented that you noticed their yard. Unless you've caught them in the middle of some activity, you will likely be told the name of the plant and possibly even given a tour. What if no one is home? or the family's teenage son answers and gives you the incorrect name of the plant? (yes, this happened to me)
2. Take a picture. You brought your camera with you, right? A picture is worth a thousand words and is very easy to post on the internet. Pictures can be posted on your blog or on garden forums. Gardeners worldwide will then be able to see the picture and help you identify your plant. Try forums such as UBC Botanical Garden, Dave's Garden or GardenWeb. A word of advice about posting pictures. Make sure your photo is clear and not blurry. If people can't see it they can't identify it. If it's a flowering plant, try and take a close up of the flower. Also take a separate photo of the leaves. If it's a large tree or shrub, take a photo that shows the shape of the plant. If possible, include a description with your photo of any outstanding characteristics such as leaf shape, colour and climate.
3. Google it. Think about what makes this plant different and google various search terms. For example, if you type 'silver fuzzy leaves' into Google or Google Images you will immediately pull up hundreds of images and descriptions of plants that fit, such as Lamb's Ears and Snow in Summer. You can then browse and possibly find a match to your plant.
4. Check your Garden Encyclopedia. It's not a quick and easy solution but by flipping through the pages of a garden book you may come across your unknown plant. If you know the plant you are trying to identify is a perennial then look at a book of perennials. If it was something you saw while on vacation in Hawaii then you'll need a book of Hawaian plants. If you don't have a Garden Encyclopedia, buy one. Reference books for the garden are indispensible. A couple of my favourite go-to books when trying to identify a plant include:
5. Walk through a Nursery. Go to your local nursery and browse the aisles. You may stumble upon the plant or you can talk to nursery staff who may be able to identify it for you.
6. Browse Seed Catalogues. Seed companies put out glossy catalogues each year featuring photos of the plants their seeds will grow into. These catalogues also contain information on each plant such as sun requirements, height, and bloom time which will also be helpful in identifying the plant you are looking for.
7. Talk to an Extension Agent or Master Gardener. In many countries Extension Agents are located at various Universities to help citizens with agricultural issues. If you're lucky enough to live in an area where there is an agent, give them a call and they may be able to help identify your plant. For those of us in Canada no extension agents are available but we do have Master Gardeners. Separate Master Gardener programs run in each province so do an internet search to find the program closest to you and send off your questions. Master Gardeners often attend at nurseries and gardening events as well so be prepared to ask about your plant when you see them.
8. Read Garden Blogs. There are literally thousands of garden blogs on the internet, with writers in countries around the globe. If your plant came from a specific area you can search for a garden blog in that area and possibly find your plant by reading through their posts or asking the writer personally. To find a garden blog in a specific area visit Blotanical. Blotanical is a garden blog directory and meeting place for garden bloggers. One of it's features is that you can search garden blogs using a google map. By clicking on the continent of your choice a map will come up with blogs indicated by a flower icon.
9. Take a Course. Many cities and towns offer courses through community centers and botanical gardens. Take a look at their course lists and you may be surprised to find courses on plant identification, among other things.