How to take pictures for plant identification


By Robin Young | PREVIEW Columnist

One of the best ways to get an accurate plant identification is to ask a local expert. The preferred method is to bring a sample specimen, root and all, but sometimes that’s not practical. 

The second best option is to take pictures of the plant. These days, it’s easy to whip out your phone and snap a quick picture, but in this case, let’s slow down a bit.

To identify a plant, you need a good, clear picture of its constituent parts. A picture taken chest high of a grouping of plants that only grow to ankle height is going to be tricky to identify. There are plenty of plants that I can identify from a single leaf, bloom or maybe even a stem, but don’t give me too much credit.

To take great photos for plant identification, you should take three pictures: a photo of the entire plant and its growth habit, a picture of the flower, and a close-up of the leaf. These features give plant experts the big and small picture (pun intended) of the specimen. 

The growth habit, leaf features and flower are all used to identify plants when using a dichotomous key, which is what I will use if the plant is unfamiliar to me. A dichotomous key is a series of yes/no questions that eventually land you on the right species. Questions in a dichotomous key will look like: Does the plant grow erect? Does it sprawl across the ground? Are the leaves lobed? Are the leaves serrate? But the key is littered with words like glabrous, stellate, peduncles, papillose and seven different words that mean hairy.

Back to the picture-taking. A lot of plants are green and when taking a photo in their natural setting, sometimes it is difficult to get a clear image of exactly what you need identified. Or, the wind is blowing so hard that your subject won’t sit still for a minute and your camera will only focus on what’s behind it. I have spent many long minutes in the field trying to photograph a swaying weed and, much to my dismay, every picture was blurry. In these cases, I recommend taking the picture of the entire plant in the field and bringing a bloom and a section of the stem inside the house and placing them on a piece of paper to take a picture. When collecting the stem, you want to find a good section that contains any branches and a handful of leaves. If the plant’s branches are opposite of each other or alternating is another indicator of its identity, so you do not want to take a single branch. 

There are plenty of plant identification apps that work pretty well, but, in my experience, its always best to get a second opinion. 

For these and other events, please check out our facebook page at Archuleta County Extension or call the office at 970-264-5931

Upcoming events 

June 1 — Cottage Foods certification online.

Save the date for the viticulture workshop to be hosted at Fox Fire Farms on July 15. 

The Archuleta County Fair is the first full weekend in August, Aug. 3 to Aug. 6. Go to for more info. Volunteers are wanted.

For more on these and other events, please check out our Facebook page at Archuleta County Extension or call the office at (970) 264-5931.

CPR and first aid classes

CPR and first aid certification classes are offered every other month by the CSU Extension office, generally on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. The cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for CPR, first aid or recertification. Call the Extension office at (970) 264-5931 to register.