There are many simple ways to identify an unknown plant. The most modern way would be to use an app or look it up online. In this article, I will be sharing and describing my knowledge about some free apps and websites you can use but also the more scientific way of identifying.
The app I use to help me when I am in the forest is called PictureThis. It is great for when you want to know what the plant is called without an extreme amount of research. All you have to do is take a clear picture of the plant in question and then it will tell you its common name and scientific and also related plants. There is an added feature where you can add the plant to "your garden" and it will tell you how much water and sunlight it needs.
A website I also find useful is gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org. This website takes you through a more traditional root of identification, which is called a dichotomous key. A dichotomous key is helps you figure out what the item is in very detailed steps. The Merriam Webster dictionary states that it is "a key for the identification of organisms based on a series of choices between alternative characters". The go botany website allows you to choose different levels of difficulty depending on how much you know of this plant.
Another way of identifying plants is to use a field guide. You can buy flower and plant field guides in a lot of book stores. A field guide has drawn images of the plant you are trying to identify and also images. There are more than 350 000 species of plants which is why a field guide is not the fastest way, but can be useful.
If you do not have access to any of these platforms you can always make yourself a simple
key by asking yourself these few questions:
What habitat does this plant live in? (terrestrial, aquatic, etc.)
What shape do the leaves have?
What colour is the flower?
When does it bloom?
What does it smell like?
There are hundreds of questions you can ask yourself. Then when you have your answers put it in the search bar asking something like "Plants that are terrestrial, have oval shaped leaves..." It is not as efficient as the others because it doesn't always have answers or there are too many answers.
On my walk in the forest I took 10 photos of plants, flowers and berries I did not know. I identified them all using the different platforms I listed above. The easiest was the app and the most challenging was the field guide (I had to use an online one instead of a book). I found the dichotomous key the most amusing because I got to use my brain a bit more, so I decided to make you all a very short dichotomous key with 4 of the flowers I identified. This will help you to understand how it works.
Instructions: Look at the images shown below and then read the phrases. If the phrase describes the image you are looking at, go to the line indicated in parentheses. If it doesn't describe it, go to the line underneath it. Once you have done this you will end up finding the name of the flower in the parentheses.
a: the flower is white (go to c)
b: the flower is not white (go to e)
c: the flower is flat (Daucus carota)
d: the plant has branches all around with bundles of flowers at the end of each branch (Anaphalis margaritacea)
e: the flower has green, oval shaped leaves and stands straight up (Spiraea douglasi)
f: the flower is yellow and round (Tanacetum vulgare)