Improve Your Plant Identification (in 10 Steps)

I often get asked, “how can I improve my plant ID”? Whether it’s to improve your identification of edible, medicinal, or other useful plants or just to impress your friend plant identification is a useful skill. After the round-up of wild food books last week I thought was a good time to answer this question.

So here are ten steps you can take to improve your plant identification skills:

Establish a baseline: start off in an environment you’re used to and have regular access to. Take regular walks and you’ll start to notice things and get a sense of what’s normal. You’ll quickly know when there’s something new and spot any changes.

For the bushcraft or wild food enthusiast it’s nice to have general knowledge but for starters, cut the list of possibles down to those edible or useful for bushcraft and ignore the rest.

There are some good plant identification books out there (and some awful ones) but they can be subjective and sometimes unclear. Don’t rely on them entirely but use them as a guide.

Using a key will bring a degree of science to your plant identification. You’ll need to spend a bit of time learning how to use it but a good key (such as The Wild Flower Key by Francis Rose) will allow you to learn the specific features that positively ID a plant as well as the features that distinguish them from other (possibly poisonous) plants.

Wild food and plant identification courses are great for getting some inspiration, meeting some interesting people, and learning from someone who knows their stuff.

By keeping an eye on the plants on your patch you’ll get to know how they change through the seasons.

Aim to work your way up to identifying young plants when they’re at their most succulent but most difficult to ID.

Develop an inquiring mind.

Get into the habit of making it a study rather than just looking at some plants. Aim to tick off a plant every month or every week if you have time.

Finally, Making notes and taking pictures will help the information stick.