The Course

Identiplant is intended for beginners who have some knowledge of plants and are ready to advance from identification by matching pictures and remembering names to a systematic approach, using scientific names, written descriptions and keys.  This results in the confidence and accuracy that is essential in identification and leads to further progress, either independently or through field meetings and courses or recording groups.

By the end of the course you will have:

  • improved your observational skills
  • developed the critical faculty necessary for accurate identification
  • become familiar with botanical terminology
  • learnt the key diagnostic features of our commonest plant families
  • become confident in using Floras and botanical keys

Course Structure And Organisation

There are 15 units, all except unit 15 followed by a question sheet which you answer and email to your tutor. See sample units and question sheet.

  1. Classification and Names
  2. Terminology
  3. Keys
  4. The Cabbage Family – Brassicaceae
  5. The Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae
  6. The Lily Family – Liliaceae
  7. The Campion Family – Caryophyllaceae
  8. The Carrot Family – Apiaceae
  9. The Pea Family – Fabaceae
  10. The Rose Family – Rosaceae
  11. The Deadnettle Family – Lamiaceae
  12. The Figwort Family – Scrophulariaceae
  13. Some Small Families and how to prepare voucher specimens
  14. The Daisy Family – Asteraceae
  15. The Orchid Family – Orchidaceae

The first three units provide a foundation of basic theory then the most important families are covered, not in taxonomic sequence but in the order of their peak flowering times. The questions (with the exception of a few mainly in units 1-3) require you to find and examine wild plants. The species asked for are all quite common throughout Britain and Ireland, many of them grow in urban settings, around gardens or on roadsides and there is always some choice.  Identiplant might not introduce you to any new species but you will study them in a new way.

The course units will be emailed to you by your tutor in groups, probably units 1-3, 4-7, 8-11 and 12-15, the actual dates varying according to your geographical location. There is no time limit on the return of answer sheets apart from the general deadline of 30th September but each question sheet carries a 'not before' date, these being at fortnightly intervals. The object is to discourage students from rushing to submit, with answers taken from the book and before they have seen fruits.

This is essentially a practical course and there are two to three named species to find for every unit. This means that you will have a ‘wanted list’ throughout the summer. Finding named species, even very common ones, is a challenge and can be frustrating but is also an enjoyable hunt that sharpens your observation. The task is then to pick out the diagnostic features that lead to the plant’s family and thence to the individual species. This is the basis of fast but accurate field identification and the use of keys.

Students who complete all answer sheets are awarded a Certificate of Completion. The course is not accredited but is accepted as continuing professional development (CPD). The most important outcomes will be recognition by other botanists and the knowledge and confidence to progress, either independently or with a group, to higher levels.

Your Tutor

You will have a personal tutor who is an experienced botanist familiar with your own geographical area. Your tutor corrects your answers and gives advice for improvement but numerical marks or grades are not given, the unit is simply recorded as ‘Complete’ or ‘Incomplete’. You learn from your tutor’s comments and you never have to repeat a question unless you made a serious mistake – for example that your tutor thinks that you found the wrong species. Communication with your tutor is by email and they will answer questions relating to the course and might give advice about where to look for a plant species if you are having difficulty.

The Organisation

The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) administrates Identiplant and provides quality assurance for the course through its Skills and Training Committee, assisted by the Identiplant Management Team (IMT).

Our tutors are all dedicated to the training of new botanists and are happy to share their enthusiasm and expertise with their individual students. The IMT is composed of experienced Identiplant Tutors.

View the Identiplant poster from the 2022 British and Irish Botanical Conference, held in November 2022 at the Natural History Museum, London.

The course was originally written and directed by Brenda Harold, who has a PhD in plant cytogenetics, is a Chartered Biologist and a retired university lecturer.  She is a long standing BSBI Referee and has tutored numerous adult courses for the Field Studies Council, Workers Educational Association, Wildlife Trust, Open University and other organisations. She has also volunteered as a Wildlife Site Surveyor for Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust and it was their need to train beginners that inspired this course.