Plant Identification

How to Polish  the Gift of Seeing

Spring in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Photo: Scott Bean

Getting Started . . . See, Touch, Smell!

Brad Guhr observes Liatris; photo: Matthew Richter
Brad Guhr observes Liatris. Photo: Matthew Richter

Spending time in person looking at plants with other enthusiasts is the best way to learn to identify native plants!

  1. Grab a knowledgeable friend and a field guide (See  listings for guides and KNPS’ Learning and Teaching Plant Identification below.)
  2. Find those living plants – urban, rural, large landscape or small – whose names you want to know. 
  3. Observe flower color and structure.
  4. Find a flower most similar in your guide, and consult with your friend too.
  5. Look at leaves and stems next; then height and season and site and location in state.
  6. When you are confident you’ve discovered the plant’s identity, pat yourself on the back! 
  7. Add it to your field journal if you keep one.
  8. Keep looking! It won’t take long to have a growing list of native plants you have learned know!

Join the KNPS Online Communities

See what is blooming now in Kansas! View posts to see native plants that have been identified.

Volunteers host and moderate the KNPS Plant Identification Facebook Group. Request membership to the KNPS Facebook Group to post your native plant photos.  

KNPS hosts an Instagram page (KSNPS) that features photos of identified native plants at the peak of bloom.

You will also discover interesting plant information.

Visit the KNPS Facebook Page!

Here you will find up-to-date special events, announcements, articles and posts shared by like-minded Kansas nature groups.   

Purple Poppy Mallow, Barber County.

A Common Sense Guide from KNPS Members

Learning and Teaching Plant Identification

Not a field guide! Not a botany text book! Resources for Learning and Teaching Plant ID is a collection of common-sense steps that experienced KNPS members have discovered through trial-and-error practices, both in learning to identify Kansas’ native plants, and in teaching plant ID to others. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, the hints presented will save time and provide straightforward steps to help you identify a native plant, rare or common, for the first time.

Download your copy here:     Resources for Learning and Teaching Plant Identification
Rick among the Compass Plant; photo Matthew Richter
Rick Warshur, among the Compass Plant; photo Matthew Richter

I did learn another language in science . . . one of careful observation, an intimate vocabulary that names each little part. To name and describe you must first see, and science polishes the gift of seeing.

Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass

Resources for Prairie Plant Identificaton

  • Field Guide to the Common Grasses of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska • Barnard (author) • 2014 
  • Field Guide to the Common Weeds of Kansas • Barkley (author) • 1983 •
  • Guide to Kansas Mushrooms • Bruce Horn; Richard Kay; Dean Abel (author) • 1993 • (Updated edition in process – 2021)
  • Kansas Grasses • Clenton Owensby (author) • 2004 •
  • Kansas Prairie Wildflowers • Clenton Owensby (author) • 2004 •
  • Kansas Wildflowers and Weeds • Michael Haddock; Craig Freeman; Janet E. Bare (author) • 2015 •
  • Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines in Kansas • Haddock and Freeman (authors) • 2019 •
  • Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas: A Field Guide • Michael Haddock (author) • 2005 •
  • Wildflowers of Southeast Kansas and Bordering Counties of Surrounding States• Stephen L. Timme (author) • 2009
  • Elemental Prairie: Sixty Tallgrass Plants • Madson (author) • 2005 •
  • Field Guide to Oklahoma Plants • Tyrl; Bidwell; Masters (author) • 2002 •
  • Field Guide to the North American Prairie • Jones & Cushman (author) • 2004 •
  • Flora of the Great Plains • The Great Plains Flora Association (author) • 1986 •
  • Illustrated Guide to Iowa Prairie Plants • Christianson; Miller; Muller (author) • 1999 •
  • Key to Missouri Trees in Winter • Cliburn (author) • 1997 •
  • Missouri Wildflowers: a Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Missouri • Edgar Denison (author) • 2008 •
  • North American Wildland Plants: A Field Guide • Stubbendieck; Hatch; Landholt (author) • 2003 •
  • Ozark Wildflowers: A Field Guide • Kurz (author) • 1999 •
  • Roadside Wildflowers of the Southern Great Plains • Craig C. Freeman & Eileen K. Schofield (author) • 1991 •
  • Prairie Wildflower: A Guide to Flowering Plants from the Midwest to the Great Plains • Kurz (author) • 2019 •
  • Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri • Kurz (author) • 2009 •
  • Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers 2 : A Field Guide to Common Wildflowers and Plants of the Prairie Midwest • Ladd & Oberle (author) • 2005 •
  • Trees of Missouri • Kurz (author) • 2003 •
  • Weeds of the Great Plains • James Stubbendieck, Mitchell J. Coffin, L.M. Landholt (author) • 2003 •
  • Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands • Runkel & Roosa (author) • 1999 •
  • Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: the Upper Midwest• Sylvan T. Runkel & Dean M. Roosa (author) • 2009 •
  • Wildflowers of the Western Plains: A Field Guide • Zoe Merriman Kirkpatrick(author) • 2008 •2009
  • Poisonous Plants of the Central United States • Stephens (author) • 1982 •
  • Toxic Plants of North America • George E. Burrows and Ronald J. Tyrl (author) • 2013 •
  • Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest: An Illustrated Guide to Their Identification and Control • Czarapata (author) • 2005 •
  • Invasive Plants: a Guide to Identification, Impacts, and Control of Common North American species • Sylvan Ramsey Kaufman and Wallace Kaufman (author) • 2007 •
  • Botany for Gardeners • Brian Capon (author) • 2010 •
  • Botany in a Day • Elpel (author) • 2004 •
  • Field Guide to the Grasses, Sedges and Rushes of the United States • Knobel (author) • 1981 •
  • Guide to Enjoying Wildflowers • Stokes (author) • 1986 •
  • How to Identify Grasses & Grasslike Plants • Harrington (author) • 1977 •
  • Mushrooming without Fear: The Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Safe and Delicious Mushrooms • Alexander Schwab (author) • 2007 •
  • Mushrooms Demystified • David Arora (author) • 1986 •
  • Plant Identification Terminology: An Illustrated Glossary • James G. Harris, Melinda Woolf Harris (author) • 2001 •