Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Directory of Recommended Links

Plant and Insect Identification

Identifying a mystery plant on the Internet is tricky, especially if you don't know the botanical terms used to describe plant anatomy. Here are a few tips:

  • Flowers, seed pod/fruits/cones, leaf shape and leaf attachment are all important details for accurate identification.
  • Try using one of the online keys linked below. Typically online keys focus on plants of a specific region or type, such as weeds or trees.
  • Mail or bring in a sample to the Hyde Herbarium in Seattle or email a close up and a growth habit photo to hortlib@u.washington.edu.
  • More Identification Tips

  • Images are not always identified correctly online--check the resource to see if it is reputable. An incorrectly identified image can be misleading.
  • Use a hand lens or some type of magnification when identifying a plant to see further details of the plant.
  • List all the characteristics of the plant, even traits throughout the year, because it helps in the identification process by focusing on details.
  • Use books when keying a plant.  The Botanical Garden Vols. 1 & 2 is a good alternative to a traditional key for visual people.
  • Preserve samples of plants for identification, put them in a bag in a refrigerator (for a short time) or try pressing the plant piece flat between some newspaper in a phone book. The only issue with this is fruit/berries may cause a mold problem.
  • Not in Seattle? Try local Master Gardener Programs for identification help.

A large collection of plant images, mostly woody trees and shrubs, with various browsing methods to find the images. The most useful method is a map of North America divided into bioregions. Each bioregion has an associated list of dominant plants. Created by Steve Baskauf of Vanderbilt University.

Caterpillars that can be Mistaken for Gypsy Moth
Good photos and descriptions of the Gypsy Moth caterpillar to help identification, plus photos of three caterpillars commonly confused with Gypsy Moth.

Desert USA: Desert Plants
An informative site with photos and cultural information on a number of desert flowers, trees, and shrubs. It also includes links to related articles about desert wildflowers and life in the desert.

Discover Life: Plantae
Resources for identifying plants, angiosperms, gymnosperms, flowers, fruits, seeds and leaves.

eNature Field Guides
Field guides to wildflowers, trees, and native plants including pictures, description and habitat.

Flora of North America
FNA's mission statement reads: "FLORA of North America (FNA) is a project undertaken by North American botanists to provide authoritative, up-to-date information on the names, relationships, characteristics, and distributions of the approximately 21,000 species of plants that grow outside of cultivation in North America north of Mexico." This extensive database of North American plants is organized by family, then down the line by genus and species. The information provided includes a detailed botanical description, citations to selected references, line-drawing images, which can be enlarged to positively identify the plant, and relevant links.

A community for gardeners with a forum for discussion and asking questions and an extensive database of plants with photos. Registered members can create blogs and list what plants they have to share or want to acquire. You can also listen to regular podcasts from site owners and avid gardeners Dave and Trish. This site will get you through the winter and let you share your gardening passion with like minded folk. Garden.org is published by the National Gardening Association.

Identify this Plant Gallery
A forum on gardenbuddies.com where people post plant photos and users help to identify it.

Identifying Gypsy Moth Early Larval Instars
Photos to identify Gypsy Moth in the caterpillar stage.

Information Resources for Plant Identification
A list of the best books, articles and websites on plant identification.

Interactive Keys - Descriptions, Illustrations, Interactive Identification, and Information Retrieval from DELTA Databases
This site makes available numerous data sets of plants and animals that work with a free program called IntKey. First download and install this small program, then download a data set such as Grass genera of the world or Flora of China, which will trigger the program to run. By selecting certain traits, such as leaf shape, non-conforming taxa are eliminated.

King County Noxious Weed ID
Photos and descriptions for weed identification in King County, WA. Search by common name, Latin name, or thumbnail photo.

King County, Northwest Yard and Garden
A collections of resources for sustainable yard and garden care. Find information on rain barrels, making compost, Northwest native plants and listen to episodes of the Yard Talk podcast.

Learning to Identify Plants by Families
An article that introduces you to the basic patterns of identification for seven of the largest and easiest-to-recognize families of plants, which are found worldwide.

Mountain Nature Network: Identify a Plant
Mountain Nature Network offers multiple ways to identify plants of western North America. Search for a plant by common or Latin name, by family, or by starting with its color.

Oregon State University: Landscape Plants
The site features images and information on over 900 landscape plants (mostly woody) listed in alphabetical order by genus. Use the Plant Search to filter by attributes such as flower color or leaf shape to narrow down the possibilities.

Oregon State University: Trees of the Pacific Northwest
This site provides assistance with identifying common conifers in the Pacific Northwest. It includes information about specific genera, user-friendly dichotomous keys, and a mystery tree section where you can test your knowledge.

Plant Identification: Examining Leaves
An article by Pat Breen, Oregon State Univ., Dept. of Horticulture describing common characteristics of plants that are useful in identifying them.

Plants of Washington Identification Key
Help for identifying plants, trees and lichens of Washington. This simple random access key can help you identify an unknown plant by narrowing the number of species that could possibly match your plant.

Texas A & M University Insect Identification

UC Davis IPM Online Guide to Healthy Lawns
Identification key to weeds

UConn Plant Database
This site includes information about trees, shrubs and vines that do particularly well in the Northeastern United States. You may search for plants by attribute or characteristic, or you may browse by Latin name. Each entry has a fact sheet, photos and a list of cultivars, if available.

Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheetss
Search or browse the tree fact sheets, created by Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Virginia Tech Dendrology Tools
If you have an unknown tree specimen, you can try to figure out what it is by using one Virginia Tech's leaf or twig keys.

Virginia Tech Insect ID
Virginia Tech insect id, including organic/biological controls

Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board
The Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board (the Board) advises the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) about noxious weed control in Washington State. This site includes a weed list, weed identification and weed laws for WA.

Weed Identification
Enter information about an unidentified weed, and compare it with photographs and text descriptions of weeds that share similar characteristics.

Weed Images and Descriptions
The Rutgers Cooperative Extension provides close-up photos and descriptions of many weeds found in New Jersey, but are also common throughout the U.S.

What Tree Is It?
Help with identifying trees by leaf, by fruit and by name--click on the chain of illustrated characteristics (fruit, leaf) for the tree you want to identify until you narrow it down to a genus and species with the help of this informative website. It features common trees of Ohio.

What Tree is That?
The National Arbor Day Foundation's version of a tree identification tool. A series of pictures and questions are used like a dichotomous key to identify mystery trees by process of elimination. A very good animated interactive tutorial illustrates how to use a dichotomous key.

WSU Puyallup Plant & Insect Diagnostic Laboratory
A service for professional gardeners and arborists that diagnoses plant and insect samples for a fee.

WSU's Pest Leaflet Series
"The Pest Leaf Series (PLS) was initiated in the WSU Puyallup Plant & Insect Diagnostic Laboratory to produce brief "bulletins" on problems frequently received at the laboratory, for which no formal extension bulletins or other readily available information exists. The PLS covers insect problems, diseases, abiotic problems, and other miscellaneous situations on which we are regularly asked to provide information."