expected to key out the plants
collect. There is no substitute or shortcut to doing this
properly. This is what scientists do.
YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS!!!
NOT get your ID's from picutre
or field guides or websites--their nomenclature is often incorrect
or out of
date, and they are incomplete. (For each plant that gets its picture in
a book, dozens
of similar plants are left out.) While picture
guides may be useful for
getting a "ballpark" idea of family (occasionally
genus), they are NOT keys and are never to be used for
identification. If you try, you will probably have a lot of
are like picture books–nice, but not
complete and not always accurate. DO NOT get your identifications
from online image galleries and the like. The time you spend
poring over hundreds of images to find something that might not even be
your plant is time you could spend keying several plants correctly,
checking the identifications, and writing up the labels.
There are many books and tools available to help you identify
which ones to use and where to start will make the process much
easier. Read below to learn which books have acceptable names.
Part one--Finding a Name
Begin-- 1. Look at your plant.
are sure you
the family, you can skip the family key. Becoming familiar with the
common families will save a lot of time.
2. Jotting down a floral formula helps
matter where you start.
Using the right key
1. Dicots of the
Local Area--This includes Brazos, Burleson, Grimes,
Madison, Robertson, and Washington Cos. Use your Gray Lab Key to get to
family and genus. To get to species, use one of our
Black Keys unless directed otherwise. These families are in BOLD
in the key
family as a reminder. The Big Black Key is an expanded
of your key. Do not use keys not meant for our
region! For Example the Flora
of North Central Texas, while a fine book, is NOT meant
for our area and will not reliably key all plants found locally--even
if another course has told you it is all right to use for that purpose.
of the Local Area--Your gray key will key to genus.
You may use our "Black
Key" version to key to species if
have Alismataceae, Commelinaceae, Iridaceae, Liliaceae, Orchidaceae, or
Smilacaceae. (This book is actually a small red folder.)
For other families, you may use Illustrated
of East Texas, Volume I, but realize that family alignments may
not match what you learn in lab. (Don’t confuse this book
the Flora of North Central Texas!) If you get
your TA or Monique if there is some other
3. Texas Plants Not From the Local Area--Check
with your TA or Monique to see if your gray lab key can be used, and if
so, how far. Sometimes the local key works all the way; sometimes not. ASK.
keying in the Manual of the
Vascular Plants of Texas, which is
fine work but out of date--sometimes a name in it will need to be
4. Grasses--Same as 2 above,
or try Gould's
Grasses of Texas, a good book with drawings. Its nomenclature may
need updating. The Experiment Station
has several very useful
regional keys; ask Monique if one of them applies.
5. Woody Plants With Fruit but Without Flowers--Check
with Monique or your TA. Often the best book is E. Nixon's Trees,
and Woody Vines of East Texas, but not always. Some names may
updated, e.g., Bumelia= Sideroxylon, pecans.
6. Non-Texas Material--Check with
or Monique to find out which key to use. Sometimes the gray and black
work part way, but ASK. If you know you will be collecting out
state, tell Monique ahead of time, so she can round up a key for you so
it's handy when you need it. Names may need updating. We can tell
you now that there's no fantastic key for Mexico and that import
are a major hassle.
7. Aquatic and Wetland Plants--Try
source above, or try one of our two sets of wetland plant keys. One is
for southeastern states, one is for
southwestern states, and both of them are illustrated. Names may
to be updated from these books.
8. Special Cases--
Occasionally your instructor may recommend one
of the volumes of Flora
of North America or a monograph or other article that treats a
Part Two--Checking Your Identification
1. Look in
the Student Herbarium to
sheets that correspond with the species
you have keyed to. Subclasses are
in the order we study them. Families are arranged alphabetically within
subclass. To find out what subclass a family is in, consult the list
any cabinet door. Then find the proper subclass cabinet (some
take up two or more) and the proper family. Genera are alphabetical
the family. Each genus has its own folder, or perhaps two if it is
large. NOTE folders
are placed under the tag with the family name, not above.
are arranged alphabetically in each genus folder.
2. Compare Your Specimen to the Sheets--Is
it the same? Similar? Different? If you're sure it's the same--great!
If it's close, you will want to check your keying again or ask for
If it's very different--back to the key. Sometimes there are notes with
helpful hints pasted inside a genus folder or a note that says the
changed and directs you to another folder.
NOTE that many sheets have one or more annotation
labels or handwritten notes attached. These correct a misidentification
or make note of a change in nomenclature. The correct ID for a sheet is
the one that appears on the most recent of all the annotations on the
DO NOT EXPECT to ID a plant to species just by figuring out the
and then looking through the genus folder for a match! Many
are differentiated by characters that are not readily visible on an
sheet. Also, the student herbarium does not contain sheets of every
found locally. Remember: Key first,
3. In Using the Student
Herbarium--DO NOT turn the sheets in a folder over
like the pages of a
Pick each sheet up by the edges and set it aside, face up. on a hard
surface. Put the
back in alphabetical order in the genus folder when you are done, then
put the genus folder back in alphabetical order under the family tag.
way, nothing is damaged or misplaced.
Three--Recording Your Identification
down the name you have keyed to
and checked. Use
the spelling and authorities as given in
the key--occasional errors crop up on herbarium sheets. Don't forget the citation:
record the title or author of the key you used, and give the number of
the page where you keyed to species, found the authority, and read the
Don't give the page number for the family or genus--where did you
arrive at your particular specimen's identification?
If you think you
already "know" what your plant is before you key--First, what
are you learning? Second, you should still be using a key to check your identification and
nomenclature, rule out any other possibilities, and get the correct
authority. DO NOT just
put down some random citation for a name you get from another
source. That is falsification
of data--a terrible habit--and will lose you points. It may also
land you before the Honor Comission.
Return to the
Plant Collection Guidelines
Return to the Table
of Contents for the lab
Return to the
Biology 301 homepage
Last updated August
4, 2009 by Monique Reed