California Native Plant Society

Identifying Native Plants

So often when out on a hike, visiting public gardens, or just touring gardens around your neighborhood, we see a plant or flower that we like, and wonder if it is native to California and whether or not it will work in our own gardens. Will it attract pollinators? Is it compatible with what is already planted in your garden? Or, if not a native, is it an invasive species that could spread beyond the confines of your own garden?

While some plants cannot be easily identified without a complex key or even a microscope, most of the more common plants can be identified by an amateur botanist with an eye for detail. One good way is to make a sketch or journal entry of the plant and the flower, identifying key characteristics (size, shape and color of flower, leaf, stem, and fruit, if available) and habitat details in your drawing or notes, and then accessing one of the sites below to find the plant and determine its benefits and growing characteristics. You can also take a photo of the plant or flower to accompany your notes.

If you do not know the name of the plant, but know the general area where you saw it you can use a search engine such as the one found on the California Native Plant Exchange website. This search engine may help you identify the plant and determine whether or not it is native to California, non-native and/or invasive, and whether or not it is propagated and available for garden use. Once you identify the species, you can access additional resources from this website, such as Cal Flora, Cal Photos, or the US Department of Agriculture’s Plant Database for even more information about the plant and whether or not any nurseries nearby actually sell the plant.

If you already know the name of the species, you can access Cal Flora or Cal Photo directly by clicking on the links below:

 

Regional Plant Identification Sites:

National Park Service: Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains

Access the Geoff Burleigh Photograph and Information Archive on the LA/Santa Monica Chapter Website by clicking here: The Geoff Burleigh Legacy

Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains (and Beyond) - a compilation of plant photos from southern and central California.


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