Learning to Recognize Plants

Most visitors to the mountains would like to learn more about the wildflowers and trees that surround them. Unlike animals and birds, the wildflowers don't simply disappear as you approach them. Though they may appear still, anyone who takes the time to photograph these flowers will lament the constant winds found in the high country. Learning to identify the plants takes a little time and a lot of patience. The number of species is large and the variety even larger. Before pulling out your flower book (or pulling up this site), take a few moments to examine your new friend. 

The Flower

  • What colour is the flower? 
  • How many petals are there? 
  • Are the petals spread wide, or is the flower more tubular? 
  • Is the flower symmetrical?
  • Does the flower have a spur?

The Leaves

  • Notice the arrangement of leaves. They may be primarily basal (near the base of the plant), or arranged in an alternate or opposite manner.
  • Are the margins smooth, toothed or doubly-toothed (smaller teeth found on larger ones)?
  • Is the leaf linear or more round in shape?
  • Does the leaf have a petiole (stalk), or does it clasp the stem?
  • Do the veins run outward from a centre vein, or do they parallel the leaf margin?
  • Are the leaves hairy or smooth?

The Stem

  • What colour is the stem?
  • Is it hairy?
  • Are their thorns, warts, bark scales or other markings?

Fruits and Berries

Warning: Don't taste it unless you know exactly what it is!

  • What colour is the fruit or berry?
  • Is the outside hairy, powdery or shiny?
  • Is the berry pulpy, or juicy?
  • Is the berry a single round berry or a compound berry (made up of many smaller units) like a raspberry?


  • What do the seeds look like?
  • Do the seeds have a transportation mechanism like barbs (burs) that attach to fur, wings that allow it to swirl to the ground (maple) or parachutes like the seeds of dandelions.

All Material Ward Cameron 2005