What's THAT plant? -- the Park Herbarium

April 07, 2015 Posted by: Heidi Anderson, Botanist with Jessi Gerdes, Librarian

 An often-asked question our park botanist (and our interpretive rangers) gets is, “Can you tell me what this plant is?” Bringing in a picture may not suffice since many plants appear to be very similar, especially on a small screen. There are several characteristics you should note in order to find out the answer to your question. 

 PSA: Do NOT bring the flower itself in to be identified; it is illegal to gather plants in the park.


Plant identification books available in the Park Library

1.      Look at the roots (do not dig them up, just make notes if they’re visible)

a.       Does it appear clumpy or spreading?

b.      Does it look like it might have a small root system like an annual?

c.       Look for stolons, also called runners, such as in strawberries or silver cinquefoil on the plant.

2.      Observe the leaves

a.       Are they simple or compound?

                                                              i.      Lobes or no?

b.      Do the leaves have hair?

3.      Look at the stems.

a.       Are the leaves opposite each other? Or do they alternate?

b.      Do they overlap?

c.       Do the leaves go up the full stem or are they only at the base?

4.      Study the flowers themselves

a.       The petals are symmetrical. But is their symmetry radial (essentially circular, like cutting up identical pie pieces) or bilateral (if you folded it in half, the two sides would match up)?


Hopefully, with all of this information, your plant can be identified.

Other posts in this series:

Housing the Plants of Yellowstone


Mosses are AWE-some


Charismatic Carnivores of Yellowstone

1 Comments Comments icon

  1. April 17, 2015 at 10:25

    Thank you for this link. I plan to be out in the park Sat 4/18 with a tablet and naturalist like friends. I hope to discover newly blooming color.

Leave this field empty
Required information

Post A Comment

Last updated: November 30, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



Contact Us