How do you identify plant leaves?


Quick Answer

To do this, you are going to want a plant identification key. These are available as books to take into the field or apps and websites online.

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Full Answer

Identification keys are like choose your own adventure books for plants. The key tends to open with very general questions about the leaf and you follow the instructions as the key narrows down the possible types of plants. Many factors go into identifying a plant leaf, and some of the most important traits are not limited to the leaf itself, but how it grows in relation to other leaves. For instance, some plants may have leaves that look very similar, but on one the leaves may grow in a symmetrical fashion (the leaves grow from directly opposite sides of the stem) and on another they may grow in an alternating fashion. Some characteristics can help you narrow down the plant quickly: Is the leaf needle-like or broad, does the leaf have lobes and if so how many, are they compound leaves (many growing from one stem) or simple (just one coming directly from the branch). There are some apps available to help with this, and some universities have resources online. Books are available from most book stores for enthusiasts. The quickest thing may be to learn the traits of very distinctive plants, such as the maple, oak, and poison ivy.

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