Plant Identification Resources

VSP, as a comprehensive inventory and monitoring protocol, captures all plant species within a fixed area / plot  from common and less common native species, non -native and weedy plants, invasive plants to speceis at  risk (SAR). 
Proper plant identification is an integral part of inevntory and monitoring. There are several different resources available to help with proper plant identification.

General Tips and Guidelines - Click for PDF version
More plant ID resources

Do not assume identification. Even if you think you are sure, it is easy to misidentify many seemingly similar species (e.g. Green vs. White Ash). These mistakes become apparent once data analysis begins and species are cross referenced with others found in the same plot. Take time to do plant identification right the first time.

  • Look for plant key features vs. overall appearance.
  • Take note of habitat the species appear in (e.g. wetland vs. upland).
  • If ID is unknown: collect a sample (fruiting heads/flowers and roots if possible) and take a photo. Label both sample and photo with plot ID, sample name and date.
  • Press (herbarioum) plants after field work to maintain good quality samples for longer amount of time.
  • If you encounter a species at risk inside or outside the plot, make a note of it take a GPS coordinate, and report to the NHIC.
Download the Information Pamphlet (PDF):
Vegetation Sampling Protocol Pamphlet

Click below to visit:
Lake Simcoe Watershed Natural Vegetation Cover Monitoring Program Webpage

VSP iNaturalist Project (Click Here)

You can seek assistance and advice on plant identification by joining the VSP iNaturalist Project. First, you need to sign up for an iNaturalist account by going to  Then click on “Follow” at the top right of the above URL.  The project page is now stored in your "Projects" folder on your iNaturalist account.  You will be added as users by the admin, and then you can post plant photos on the VSP iNaturalist Project page. Only VSP crew members have their photos visible.

Members post photos of unknown and/or known plants:
  • Overall growth form
  • Close-up of fine features
  • Flower or flowering head if present
  • Any additional features which might be helpful to assist in identification (e.g. fuzzy stem, presence of cilia, texture of leaf, etc.
  • Site conditions / habitat description (e.g. cedar swamp)
  • Other mandatory information – Project Area, Plot ID , Specimen ID, Date, Location, Species = Lowest taxonomic level known (even if “Flora”)

Make sure that description contains information on Project Area (e.g.  City Name), Plot ID (e.g. 1108), Unknown sp. # (e.g. 1108-Carex1 or 1108-Plant1), and habitat (e.g. Cedar swamp).

Trusted Online Resources:

Go Botany - New England Wild Flower Society (Click Here)
  • Online dichotomous key for plant ID
  • Use full key to select general growth form (e.g. grass-like plants > sedges).
  • Use the questions/prompts on the left hand side to narrow down potential matches.
  • Once options are narrowed down, click on the matching species to view photos and additional information.
  • If you find a potential match, use other resources to confirm identity.
  • If you cannot find a match, clear all the filters that you set for the questions and return to viewing all species in this subgroup.

Ontario Wildflowers (Click Here)
  • Online plant photo and description database for Southern Ontario
  • You can search by general growth form (e.g. trees, shrubs, woody vines, etc.), family, specific species, leaf type, flower colour, etc.

Ontario Ferns (Click Here)
  • You can search the species list (by common name), and look up ferns by family, fern groups, leaf divisions, etc.

Minnesota Wildflowers (Click Here)
  • You can search by general growth form (e.g. wildflower, tree, shrub, vine), primary flower color, flower shape, leaf type, etc.

Michigan Flora Online (Click Here)
  • Plant Images and distributions in Michigan and the Great Lakes region