Identifying Plants in Carkeek Park

Loren McElvain, Forest Steward

When jogging on the trails in Carkeek Park, I saw a sign asking for volunteers. Shortly after that I joined STARS (Streams, Trails, and Reforestation Stewards). First I worked on the trails projects, but then took the Carkeek Master Forester class and started concentrating on forest reforestation. 

One of my primary interests was learning to identify the plants in the park. It soon became obvious to me that although I had spent years identifying alpine flowers, I had only a cursory knowledge of the trees and shrubs in the park.

Plant identification can be a satisfying skill. When learning to identify native trees and shrubs and invasive species in Carkeek Park, a good place to start is with leaf characteristics. The possible ID for a specimen can be limited to plants which have the same characteristics. The following pictures illustrate some of the characteristics which are helpful.

First consider leaf placement on a stem 

The place where a leaf attaches to the stem is called a node. If one leaf is attached to a node, the placement is alternate. If two leaves are attached to each node, the placement is opposite.

Alternate leaf placement
Picture One: illustrates Alternate leaf placement
Opposite leaf placement
Picture Two: illustrates Opposite leaf placement

Another characteristic is the pattern of the veins

Pinnate, also called penni-nerved, leaves have one main mid vein with lateral veins branching out. Palmate leaves have multiple (usually 5 or more)  veins branching out from the base of the leaf.

Pinnate veination
Picture Three: illustrates Pinnate veination
Palmate veination
Picture Four: illustrates Palmate veination

A third characteristic is the edge (margin) of the leaf

Leaves with an Entire margin have a continuous smooth edge.

Leaves with a Serrate margin have teeth like a saw blade.

Leaves which are Lobed have large indentions in the margin.

Entire margin
Picture Five: illustrates an Entire margin
Serrated margin
Picture Six: illustrates a Serrate margin
Lobed margins
Picture Seven: illustrates a Lobed margin

By recognizing the characteristics of leaves, a person can selectively eliminate species until only a few are left.  Then identification becomes much easier. 

These pictures and descriptions are intended just to illustrate an approach to plant identification.  Much more detail and information are necessary to become skilled at identifying plants.