Plant Identification

3 of flowers, left is an orange yellow orchid, middle is a purple spiky flower and the right is a light green flower with a bug on it
Left: Butterfly orchid from Everglades, Middle: Fairy Slippers from Glacier, Right: Yellow-faced bee on Ka‘ū Silversword at Hawai'i Volcanoes

Left: NPS/Zenner, Middle: NPS/J.Frank, Right: NPS/Janice Wei

Each national park has its own flowers, trees, grasses, and shrubs that make it a uniquely special place to visit. Being able to identify these plants can make the visitation experience even more fulfilling. If you know you’re walking in a field of beargrass or in a forest of aspen trees,you’ll likely appreciate the complexity of ecosystems a little more.

Ready to try your hand at identifying some plants on your next hike? First, go to the park’s website to find a plant list or guide with photos of plants you may see during your visit. Once you’re at the park, stop by the park’s visitor center for any brochures or field guides tailored to that area. You can also ask about any potential ranger-led programs about plants in that area.

If you tend toward the digital, you could check out an app called iNaturalist. It allows you to take a photo of a plant or animal, share it on the app, and then other users can help you identify it.
3 photos in a row. Left: extreme close up of a creamy orange many petaled flower Middle:frosted covered tree needles Right: Close up of raindrops on a green leafed plant
Left: Prickly Pear Cactus, Middle: Rime ice on tree, Right: Raindrops on plant leaves. All from Yellowstone National Park

Left: NPS/Neal Herbert, Middle: NPS J.Frank, Right: NPS/Neal Herbert

Each park has a different array of plant life, but all parks have the same rule that helps protect the plant life: Stay on designated trails.
This rule helps prevent specific damage to national parks:
  • Trampling fragile ecosystems
    • Alpine tundra in Rocky Mountain National Park
    • Wetlands in the Southeast
    • Cedar glades in central eastern U.S
  • Spreading seeds of invasive species
Learning to identify plants can open up a whole new world to you. Practice at home, and then take that new skill on the trail. It’s a fun way to appreciate any park’s natural beauty.