How to Identify Your Plant Without Feeling Like a Fraud

Here’s a type of social anxiety we’ve all lived through: You’re in a lovely conversation with someone who clearly knows and remembers you fondly—but you can’t remember their name, and it’s been way too long for you to ask now.

Did you just break out in goosebumps, or is that just me?

While I can’t offer you a strategy on how to avoid that in real life (my go-to move is introducing the Unnamed Friend to someone else I know, and hoping they both exchange first names and save me from myself), there’s a very common version of this when it comes to your Plant Pals.

I’ve had plants sitting in my home for years that I didn’t know how to properly identify. Maybe I lost the little plastic tag that came with them from the store. Maybe it was a gift from a friend, or a rescue I inherited. But the vibes are the same: Suddenly, you’re roommates but you don’t even know their name!


There are around 382,000 plant species currently identified on the planet. Even the most seasoned Plant Person is still learning, and that’s what makes this such a fun and beautiful community to be part of. But the more you know about your plant, the better you can meet their needs. So that’s why it’s worth your time to do a bit of root-sleuthing and learn the story of all your Plant Pals!

If you’ve got an internet connection and 10 minutes of free time, you can crack this case. So let’s get started!


Get up close and personal

Before we open our search engine of choice, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the unique features of your houseplant. Every detail you notice will help narrow down the possibilities of the species you’re dealing with! Just follow these three steps:

  1. Observe your plant’s overall appearance: Take a close look at the houseplant's overall size and shape. Is it a small bushy plant, a trailing vine, a tall and upright plant, or something else?
  2. Now focus on its leaves: Now that we have an overall description, we can get specific with the leaves. Look closely at the leaves of your houseplant, and note their:
    1.  Shape: Are they round, oval, long, or another unique shape?
    2. Color: What shade of green are they or do they have other colors like pink or purple? Do they have spots or stripes or another pattern?
    3. Texture: Are they smooth, thick or thin, rough or fuzzy?
    4. Arrangement on the stem: Are they arranged opposite each other or alternately along the stem? 
  3. Finally, list any truly unique features: All Plant Pals are special (that’s a fact), but some plants have features that are truly unique to their species. Look for distinctive features such as multi-color (variegated) leaves, colorful flowers, or unusual growth patterns (like spots and stripes). These are the final details to help you name your nameless houseplant!

Great job! Take your notes, grab your phone, and let’s take this search online.


Bring your photo evidence online

First things first: take some photos of your houseplant, and keep the following tips in mind:

  • Take your pictures in natural light
  • Get a clear photo of your entire houseplant
  • Follow that up with multiple shots of leaves, flowers, and any other identifying features

These photos will be your reference materials when you’re browsing the following websites and apps! As we’ve talked about before, researching anything about plants online can be a nightmare. So here are some resources that I’ve consistently found helpful and useful when identifying my own mystery Plant Pals:

Google Image Search [Free!]

Upload your best plant photos from your phone, and use Google Lens to find any image matches. If you see a plant doppelganger in your search results, click through to the image source and find out the name of your Plant Pal!

PictureThis [Free w/Paid Options, iOS + Android]

It’s hard to go wrong with a tool made specifically for the job, though. PictureThis takes photos you upload and checks them against its database of plant species, and then offers you a bunch of other resources and organizational tools. But this all comes at a price: Many of its features are locked behind a paywall. Still, it’s worth checking out the free version (for Android as well!) and going from there!

Plantum (formerly NatureID) [Free w/Trial + Subscription, iOS + Android]

Not content to help you identify just your plants, Plantum also identifies rocks, mushrooms, and insects. It then offers everything from plantcare support, to watering guidelines, to a scheduling tool. Recent changes to the app have really cut down on what it offers free users; you get between one to four photos before you have to formally sign up for a free trial or an ongoing membership. But if you want to catalog everything in your garden, give it a shot on iOS or Android!

Planta [Free w/Trial + Subscription, iOS + Android]

With millions of dedicated fans and fantastic support and transparency from its developers, Planta is easy to recommend. It doesn’t just offer Plant Identification, but everything from plant health troubleshooting to watering reminders, collection organizers, and a light meter. But these features are all tied to their monthly subscription fee. But the free trial still gives you a great taste of what the app is like, so give it a spin on iOS or Android and let me know if it lives up to the hype!


Take your time and be kind!

Remember, houseplant identification can sometimes be challenging, especially for beginners. Be patient and persistent in your research, and don't hesitate to seek help from experienced houseplant enthusiasts or professionals…like me!

If you’re still stumped, please don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know what’s up. I’ll do my best to help you crack the case. And I plan to update this list over time so I’m only sharing recommendations that match my own plant-sleuthing standards!

Enjoy the process of discovering and learning about your houseplant!

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You Can Grow Happy Houseplants!

Say goodbye to Plant Shame and unlock the confidence to grow happy and healthy houseplants with our cute and clever guide.

This free guide is perfect for you if:

  • You've ever uttered the words, "I'm terrible at plants. I've even killed a succulent/cactus."
  • You gave up hope on ever having a Green Thumb.
  • You love the idea of plants, but hate the reality of killing them..
  • Your plants fail to thrive under your care, and you don’t know why..
  • You’re tired of Googling for plant care tips only to end up even more confused than before.

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