How to Identify a Houseplant

It’s important to correctly identify your houseplants so that you can look up the care requirements of the plant. Common names can be helpful but knowing the Latin or scientific name of your plants is even better. If you need to ask someone about a plant’s culture or propagation, knowing the scientific name avoids confusion. Here are some simple ways to help you identify any plant, including houseplants.


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    Ask for help.
    • Take the plant or a few leaves, flowers and seeds to a greenhouse or nursery that sells houseplants and ask if someone can identify it.
    • If your county Extension office has a horticulturist, take the plant to him or her for identification.
    • Take a good clear photo of the plant and some close ups of plant parts and post photos online in garden forums. Ask for help with identification from these online communities.
    • Send photos to plant diagnostic clinics, college horticulture departments or other experts for identification.
  2. Image titled Identify a Houseplant Step 2
    Identify the houseplant yourself.
    • Collect some houseplant reference books, making sure that they cover houseplants and not just native plants or garden plants. Some of these helpful references are listed below.
    • Try the library for plant reference books you can look at for free.
    • Ask nurseries and greenhouses if they have references you can look at.
    • The County Extension offices in many US states may also have references you look at or purchase at a nominal fee.
  3. Image titled Identify a Houseplant Step 3
    Examine the plant carefully. Try to look at a complete specimen with leaves, stems, roots and any flowers, fruits or seeds.
  4. Image titled Identify a Houseplant Step 4
    Answer these questions if possible and record them in a notebook. Use a hand magnification lens if needed.
    • What color and shape is the flower, seed or fruit?
    • Does the flower have male and female sex organs in each flower or flowers with only one type of sex part. See the Tips section for sex part identification.
    • How many petals does the flower have? If it has too many to count, just use the term multiple.
    • Does the flower have sepals--the little green leaf-like structures sometimes found on the back of flowers?
    • Split open fruit or seed pods and see if there are sections inside and what the seeds look like if there are any.
    • What shape and size is the leaf? Are the leaves divided into lobes or leaflets?
    • What is the shape of the leaf’s edge? Is it smooth, or does it have small “teeth” or big jagged “teeth”?
    • How do the leaves attach to the stem? How do the branches attach to the trunk (if it has any)? Are they arranged opposite each other or alternately on the stem or is there no visible stem?
    • Does the leaf have hairs?
    • What color is the leaf on the front and back?
    • Look at the shape of the stem and its color.
    • Look at the root system to see if it is fibrous, tap rooted, or does it have bulbs or tubers.
  5. Image titled Identify a Houseplant Step 5
    Search your reference books for a match.
    • Look for a plant that seems to look like your plant.
    • Read the description of the plant and compare it to your observations.
    • Compare the description of each part; don’t stop with just the flower or leaf if you have other parts to compare.
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    Record the name, including the Latin name, when you have a match and label your plant.


  • To identify flower sex parts, look for male parts (stamens) and female parts (pistils). A flower can have both parts or just one. Stamens are often wand-like and hold pollen (dust-like particles that contain genetic material). There is usually more than one stamen. The pistil (female part) is generally in the center of a flower and is single although it can have several lobes.
  • Some flowers that look big are actually collections of many small flowers. The sunflower is an example. You need to look inside each tiny flower for the sex parts.
  • It’s a good idea to look at more than one leaf, flower or fruit if you can to make sure you have a good representation.


  • If a pet or person has eaten a houseplant and you are worried about poisoning, bring the plant or parts of it with you to an emergency clinic. They will know whom to contact for identification.
  • Never eat or taste plants you cannot positively identify.

Things You’ll Need

  • Houseplant reference books
  • Camera
  • Hand lens or magnifying glass

Sources and Citations

  • Editors, Sunset Magazine, Sunset National Garden Book , Menlo Park, CA, Sunset Books, 1997
  • Ortho books, Houseplants Indoors/Outdoors, San Francisco, CA, Chevron, 1974,
  • Hessayon, Dr.D.G., The Houseplant Expert, London, England, Expert Books, 1994,
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Article Info

Categories: Indoor and Patio Plants | Botany