Identifying native plants
It takes time and experience to learn the botanical names of plants and identify plants you see when out and about. Here are some tips to identify a native plant in NSW:
- consider whether it is likely to be an Australian native plant or not, depending on where you see it
- consider where you see the plant and the conditions it is growing in and whether it is likely to be local to the area, planted from elsewhere in Australia or a cultivar or hybrid: national park, roadside, public garden, private garden, disturbed land
- look for identifying features such as distinctive leaves, flowers, fruit, oil glands or aroma
- ask someone likely to know, such as the owner or manager of the land, or your local nursery
- join your local APS group and attend meetings and activities to get to know the plants which grow in your area in the bush and gardens
- provide good quality photos of the whole plant and distinctive features to assist in identification
- try some of the printed or online resources below
- find a resource specific to the area (such as the Sydney region) or the group of plants (such as eucalypts, banksias or orchids)
- remember, the more specific the resource is to an area, and the more information you have about the plant and its location, the easier it is to identify.
- Don’t eat a plant you think or have been told is a ‘bush food’ unless you are very certain of the identification and know how to prepare the particular part of the plant for safe eating.
Online and digital resources for ID
There are many online or digital resources on native plants in particular regions or groups of plants. Some are interactive. Some are free and some can be purchased. Here are some examples.
Plantnet on native plants in NSW, from the Royal Botanic Garden
Free app: Plants of South Eastern NSW by Betty Wood with 2,700 species. Here.
App on acacias: WATTLE – Acacias of Australia covers over 1,200 species in Acacia and three related genera. More here.
App on eucalypts: EUCLID: an interactive Lucid key from CSIRO for identifying Eucalyptus species. More here.
Commercial app on rainforest plants: Rainforest Plants of Australia (Rockhampton to Victoria) with more than 1,100 species. More here.
District Group resources for local ID
District Groups develop materials and resources to assist in identifying local native plants, along with providing great stories on activities, visits and talks:
South-Eastern – information, newsletters and article archives
Sutherland Group – Coastal Plants of the Royal National Park identification CD
Books for ID
There are many books on native plants in particular regions or groups of plants. Here are some favourites.
Les Robinson (2003) Field Guide to the Native Plants of Sydney, Third Edition, Kangaroo Press.
Alan Fairley and Philip Moore (2010) Native Plants of the Sydney Region, Third Edition, Kangaroo Press.
For rarer plants, try
Alan Fairley (2004) Seldom Seen: Rare Plants of Greater Sydney.
Stephen Bell et al. (2019) Flora of the Hunter Region. Read more here.
Specific groups of plants and locations
Some resources are very specific to particular groups of plants or locations, or both. For instance, APS Sutherland Group member Margaret Bradhurst has written a book on local orchids.
Margaret Bradhurst (2016) Native Orchids of Southern Sydney. Available here.
Lynda McPherson (2019) Native Terrestrial Orchids of the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens. Read more here:
David Watson (2019) Mistletoes of Southern Australia. Read more here.
Understanding the origins of botanical names, many of which refer to features of a plant, can also help with identification.
Perrin, Don (2018) Dictionary of Botanical Names. Read more here.
Workshops and courses
Some local councils run workshops and courses to identify local native plants. Some APS District Groups also run workshops for members. Keep on eye on your local media.