Shrubs are woody plants with multiple stems. The flowers are often the most eye-catching part of a shrub but other characteristics are also important in shrub identification. Other characteristics of the plant will help to identify its species and variety or cultivar. According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, proper plant identification starts with good observation skills. Look at the shrub's leaves, shape, size, flower details and blooming season to determine the identity.
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Most plants have two different names, the scientific name and the common name. The scientific name, also called the Latin or botanical name, combines a genus name with a species name. The common name is what most people call a plant. The flowering shrub commonly known as mock orange has a scientific name of Philadelphus lewisii. A shrub may be known by different common names throughout the world, but its scientific name will stay the same. For correct shrub identification, use the scientific name.
The leaves of a flowering shrub are important clues in identification. Evergreen shrubs will have leaves year-round but deciduous shrubs lose their leaves in fall and winter. Examine a leaf's colour, size, shape and texture. Some leaves have jagged edges while others are smooth. Leaves can be leathery or thin and papery.
Flowers appear on shrubs during specific times of the year. Some shrubs have flowers just once each year while others bloom more than once. Look at the flower's colour, size and shape. Count the number of petals each flower has. Each detail you notice will lead to an accurate identification.
Shrubs range in size from low-growing to almost tree size and are often listed in field guides by order of size. Measure the height and width of the shrub you want to identify. Remember that young shrubs may not be full grown yet.
The details you gather about the shrub will help you make the proper identification. Look in plant encyclopedias, ask at your local garden centre or call the county extension office. If you can, take a clipping of the shrub with you to compare to pictures.
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- The Ohio State University Extension: Extension Fact Sheets: Deciduous Shrubs for Ohio
- North Carolina 4-H Horticulture Judging and Identification Contest: Plant Identification Strategies
- Univ. of Florida Extension: Plant Management in Florida Waters: Scientific and Common Names
- King County Washington: Native Plant Guide: Mock Orange