This message will be important for helping people learn the identity of an unknown plant. Those who know something about plant identification need to learn a number of things about the plant in question in order to determine its identity. This information is usually lacking when questions are posed because people don't always know what information is needed. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it will help us help you.
1. Where are your from? There are so many plants that people often need to specialize in a region. Further, there are many plants that look very similar to each other that occur on different continents. Knowing where the plant is from helps us narrow down the choices that must be made.
2. Where was the plant growing (i.e., what is its ecology)? Tell us what habitat the plant was growing in. Be as specific as possible. If you do know other plants that were growing around it, list those associated species as it can often help paint a better picture of the place the unknown plant was seen. Use scientific names if you know them, it eliminates ambiguity.
3. Provide an image (or mulitple images of the plant). Try to give as much information as possible. For herbaceous plants, show leaves and flowers, as well as the habit of the plant. For woody plants, show the bark, leaves, and flowers or fruits (if possible).
4. Provide an accurate picture of the plants morphology. This is the part that will be the hardest for some, but we need to know how the plant is put together, so to speak, in order to tell you what it is. Here are some important things you can provide:
a. Leaf type (simple or compound)
b. Leaf arrangement (alternate, opposite, or whorled)
c. Leaf duration (deciduous or evergreen)
d. Leaf margin (entire or toothed)
e. Plant duration (annual, perennial)
f. Plant height
g. Flower color
h. Details of flower (e.g., number of petals, number of stamens, etc.)
i. Inflorescence type (i.e., how are the flowers arranged--spike, raceme, panicle, etc.)
j. Fruit type (e.g., capsule, achene, berry, drupe--if you don't know these words, describe it as best you can [is it dry? does it open up? how many seeds?])
k. Special features (e.g., hairs, glands, resin dots, odor, unusual colors, odd structures).
The better you can describe the plant, where it is from, and where it grew, the better we can help you with an accurate identification. Knowing the identity of the plant (confidently) is vitally important before you can do anything with the plant. As always, you must confirm the information you get from anyone on PaleoPlanet. They are working with limited information and unintentional mistakes can happen.
[Check back here after the weekend. I'm going to post pictures of the vocabulary words I used so that there will be a pictorial glossary to help people learn about leaf arrangment, leaf type, etc.]
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