You are expected to key out the plants you collect.  There is no substitute or shortcut to doing this properly. This is what scientists do.
    DO NOT get your ID's from picutre books or field guides or websites--their nomenclature is often incorrect or out of date, and they are incomplete.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 species identification. If you try, you will probably have a lot of misidentifications.  
    Websites 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 plants. Knowing 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

Before You Begin-- 1. Look at your plant. If you are sure you recognize the family, you can skip the family key. Becoming familiar with the more common families will save a lot of time.  2. Jotting down a floral formula helps keying no matter where you start.

Using the right key

Part Two--Checking Your Identification

3. In Using the Student Herbarium--DO NOT turn the sheets in a folder over like the pages of a book. Pick each sheet up by the edges and set it aside, face up. on a hard surface. Put the sheets 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. This way, nothing is damaged or misplaced.

Part Three--Recording Your Identification
Carefully write 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 description.  I.e.,  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
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Last updated  August 4, 2009 by Monique Reed