Plant Identification and Knowledge (Horticulture II)

Course CodeBHT102
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Learn to Identify Plants and Become an Expert

  • Learn about the system of plant identification - once you know the system - remembering names becomes easier.
  • Learn shortcuts to identifying plants, and how to pronounce plant names.
  • Discover a pattern to cultural requirements, pest susceptibility, propagation methods and other plant characteristics.
  • Expand the number of plants you can identify, and set yourself on track to keep expanding that ability after completing this course.

A good horticulturist or gardener needs to be able to identify hundreds of plants early in their career; and after 5 years in the industry, that number should be well over 1,000.  This course sets you on the path to achieving this level of plant knowledge; or better.

This is a course for anyone working in landscaping or gardening. It will extend your knowledge, improve your ability to find solutions to problems you confront, and improve your opportunities for advancing your career (or growing your business).

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. The Groups of Plants ‑ setting a framework for the whole subject.
    • Plant Names
    • Common Names
    • Scierntific Names
    • Hybrid, Variety, Cultivar
    • Botanical Keys
    • History of Organised Nomenclature
    • International Code, Ranks of Taxa
    • Principle of Priority
    • Choice, Construction and Spelling Names
    • Name Changes
    • Abbreviations
    • Colour Charts
    • Plant Breeders Rights
    • Review of Selected Families
    • Different ways of grouping or classifying plants
  2. Use of Plants
    • Plants in the Landscape
    • Choosing Plants
    • Pre purchase Considerations
    • Planting Techniques
    • Conservation Planting
    • Vandalism and Planting
    • Recycling spent wood
    • Soil restrictions on Plant Selection
  3. Australian Native Plants
    • Conditions needed by a particular species
    • General characteristics of Indigenous Plants
    • Selected Native Trees of Australia
    • Selected Native Trees of Great Britain
    • Selected European Native Trees
    • Selected American Native Trees
    • Selected Asian Natives
    • Selected North African Natives
    • Selected Middle East Natives
    • Street Trees - Review of a Survey/Report
    • Quick Reference Review of both Australian and UK Amenity Plant Genera
  4. Exotic Ornamental Plants
    • Rhododendrons
    • Azaleas
    • Roses
    • Conifers
    • Trees in the Landscape -Why plant trees, tree problems, Popular ornamental trees
    • Guide to Shrubs in the Landscape
    • Environmental Influences on Plant Selection
    • What Plant Where
    • Review of many Genera
  5. Indoor & Tropical Plants
    • Indoor Plants
    • Potting Indoor Plants
    • Ferns
    • Landscaping with Ferns
    • Recommended Ferns
  6. Bedding Plants
    • Bulbs
    • Chrysanthemums
    • Cut Flowers
  7. Vegetables
    • What Can be Grown
    • Crop Rotation
    • Varieties and Seed to grow
    • Mushrooms
  8. Fruits, Nuts & Berries
    • Apples
    • Apricots
    • Avocado
    • Banana Cherry
    • Citrus
    • Fig
    • Grape
    • Mango
    • Olive
    • Passionfruit
    • Paw Paw
    • Pear
    • Peach
    • Plum
    • Berry Fruit
    • Walnut
    • Chestnut
    • Almond
    • Macadamia
    • Other Fruits and Nuts
  9. Herbs
    • Easier to Grow Herbs
    • Quick Reference Herb Chart
    • Companion Planting and Insect Deterrants
    • Herbal Teas
    • Herb Cultivation
    • Harvesting Herbs
    • Making Pot Pourri
    • The Mints
    • Propagating Herbs
    • Landscaping with Herbs
    • Poisonous Plants
  10. Alternative Growing Techniques
    • Containers & Comparing types
    • Container Aesthetics
    • Preventing Moss and Algae
    • Potting Up Plants
    • Potting Mixes
    • Hydroponics
    • Bonsaiu
    • Greenhouse and Shadehouse Growing
    • Heating
    • Growing Epiphytes
    • Terrariums.
    • Water Gardens

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Identify plants from a wide range of taxonomic and cultural groups, using a range of different techniques.
  • Determine techniques for the growing of native shrubs and trees, including the selection, culture and use of different species.
  • Determine techniques for the growing of exotic ornamental shrubs and trees, including the selection, culture and use of different species.
  • Determine techniques for the growing of indoor plants, including selection, culture and use of different varieties.
  • Determine techniques for the growing of bedding plants, including selection, culture and use of different varieties.
  • Develop techniques for the growing of edible crop plants, including selection, culture and use of vegetables, fruit, berries and nuts.
  • Determine appropriate applications for a range of alternative growing methods.

Plant Collections

Part of this course involves doing plant reviews in each lesson; submitting those reviews, and getting feedback on them from an expert professional horticulturist. Along with other techniques (used in this course) this is a tried and proven method of learning plant names. It can be tedious, but if you are serious about horticulture; doing this and everything else in this course can give you a very real edge on the competition in today's horticulture industry.

How we do Plant Reviews:
With each of the 10 assignments (not the special assignment) submitted, you submit 12 plant specimens representing the following groups as outlined:

  • Natives 2 specimens per lesson
  • Exotic 2 specimens per lesson
  • Indoor plants 1 specimen per lesson
  • Flowers (annuals, bulbs or perennials) 2 specimens per lesson
  • Groundcover plants 1 specimen per lesson
  • Food plants or herbs 2 specimens per lesson
  • Plants of your choice 2 specimens per lesson

With each specimen you include the following information:

1. Find your plants. You might find these plants growing in your own garden, or you might visit a nursery to find them.

2. Send in an illustration of the plant (see below) attached to a Plant Identification Worksheet (see next page).

3. Fill in details of the plant’s name, including the family it belongs to, its genus, species and, if you can, a common name.

4. Fill in remaining information about the plants in the spaces provided:

  • Propagation...state how to propagate it.
  • high it can grow in your locality?
  • wide can it grow in your locality?
  • Uses...what uses does the plant have with respect to amenity landscaping, crop production, etc.?
  • it frost tender? Will it survive full sun or does it need shade? How does the wind affect it? Will it tolerate all types of soils? etc.
  • Culture...are there any special things the plant requires? How hard should it be pruned & how often? Does it need good drainage? How often should it be fertilised? etc.
  • Pest & Diseases...List any pests or diseases which are particularly significant for this plant.

Illustrating the Plant
This may be done any of the following ways:

a) Submit a photograph or drawing of parts of the plant.

b) Send a scan of a photograph or drawing. (Do not send large graphics files over the Internet. Consult your student manual for details.)

c) Refer to a web site page location where you have found the plant illustrated on the Internet. D) Submit a photograph of a pressed specimen. Note: Do not send pressed specimens across state or national boarders. To do so may be illegal and breach Quarantine law.

Getting to Know Birch Trees

Genus:  Betula        Family: Betulaceae      Common Name: Birch

Origin: Across the northern hemisphere, from many different habitats; around 60 species.

Appearance: Deciduous trees and shrubs, bark is generally a feature with white, grey or silvery tones; leaf margins toothed, flowers in male and female catkins are borne on the same tree, fruit develops in catkins then shatters and falls when ripe. Male catkins are longer and pendulous, female catkins are short and stubby.

Culture: Grows in exposed or protected positions, full sun preferred, moist or dry sites; these trees can be relatively short-lived. Trees have spreading surface roots so avoid planting too close to borders and fence lines. No pruning is necessary save to remove damaged limbs.

Propagation: Named cultivars are commonly grafted onto seedlings; seed needs stratification (period in cold) to induce germination and can be planted in early spring.

Health: Hardy, but wood can tend to rot if cut (best to avoid removing large limbs from established trees for fear of wood rot developing. Can be prone to various bracket fungi, may be killed by honey fungus, witches brooms may form, and rust may appear as red to yellow spots on leaves followed by defoliation. Pests can include aphids leaving honey dew in their wake, various caterpillars and sawfly larvae may eat leaves, and weevils may also eat leaves. 

Uses: Specimen tree, shade tree; timber sometimes used for veneers or furniture.


B. alba: This is not actually a correct species name, but the name is sometimes used for B. papyrifera, B. Verrucosa, or B. pendula.

B. albo-sinensis septentrionalis: To 30m tall, leaves around 6cm long, a dark green-yellow on the upper surface, paler underneath; has red flaking bark; from China.

B. alleghaniensis: See B. lutea.

B. caerulea-grandis: To 10m tall, silver bark, large leaves.

B. ermanii (Japanese Silver Birch): To 8m tall (occasionally up to 18m), 5m diameter, rich autumn foliage colour, pinkish-white bark with orangey patches, leaves to 10cm long and light green underneath.

B. glandulosa (Dwarf Birch): To 1.8m tall, shrub-like plant from Northern USA, Canada and Alaska; 2.5cm long leaves (paler under surface).

B. jacquemontii: Closely related to B. utilis (some authorities say this is actually a variety of B. utilis), has very white bark (B. utilis is not as white), leaves to 7cm long and with less veins than B. utilis. It can grow up to 18m tall.

B. x koehnei: A hybrid between B. pendula and B. papyrifera. It has pure white bark, toothed blue-green leaves, and drooping lower branches.

B. lenta (Black Birch, Cherry Birch or Mahogany Birch): To 18m tall, bark does not peel but is in thick almost black plates fixed to the trunk, twigs have a pleasant scent and are a commercial source of oil of wintergreen, leaves to 12cm long; occurs in moist forests from Mexico to Alaska.

B. lutea ((Yellow Birch; syn. B. alleghaniensis): Yellow stems, to 27m tall, from North Eastern America, bark peeling from mature wood in yellowish to silver grey flakes, leaves to 12cm long, occurs naturally in moist woodlands from Canada to Tennessee; a valuable timber tree.

B. mandschurica (syn. B. platyphylla): A spreading habit, to 16m tall, white bark, from North Eastern Asia and China.

B. maximowicziana: To 20m tall, upright habit with conical crown; young twigs are brownish to reddish, maturing to a yellow-orange colour, and eventually pale grey; peeling, pale grey bark on larger branches and trunk. Seed germination can sometimes be difficult. This can be improved by providing 2 months cold stratification (in a plastic bag with slightly moist moss, in the fridge), followed by shallow sowing in trays placed under lights.

B. medwediewii: Autumn foliage is light yellow-green, glossy brown twigs and green buds in winter, forms a dome shape to 5m tall; some varieties less than half that height. 

B. nigra (River Birch): 10 to 16 m tall and up to 7m diameter forming a pyramidal shape, young bark is pinkish to cream developing red brown peeling flakes as it matures, leaves soft green, diamond-shaped with very indented margin. Grows equally well beside or away from water. Seed matures in spring and can be sown immediately for good germination rates without any pre-treatment. Moist soil is very important and the species is well-suited to damp places.

B. papyrifera (Canoe Birch or Paper Birch): To 10 m (occasionally much taller), white bark, more upright than the silver birch, bark used for making canoes, from North America. Seed germination rates are sometimes questionable unless 1 month cold chilling (stratification) is provided before sowing.

B. pendula (syn. B. alba; Silver Birch): To 15 m tall, fine foliage, juvenile bark is darker but it matures to form a papery white trunk. Glossy green leaves to 6cm long with tapered point, serrated margins, autumn foliage is golden. Seed collected in autumn germinates rapidly if planted into containers of 50% perlite 50% peat and placed in a greenhouse at 18 degrees Celsius. Seedlings grow throughout the winter and can be planted into rows in the field (or potted) in spring, once they are sufficiently sturdy. This species is widespread, common throughout most of Europe and the British Isles. It grows mainly on light soils, self-seeds in heathland (particularly in cold climates), rarely growing on alkaline soils. Flowers occur late winter to early spring.

B. pendula ‘Darlecarlica’ (Sweedish Birch or Cut Leaf Birch): 8 to 15 m tall (depending on location), dainty finely cut leaves, an upright habit with extra pendulous branches. Less tolerant of dryness than the species and some other cultivars, often shows stress in late summer.

B. pendula ‘Fastigiata’: Column-shaped, ideal in smaller gardens.

B. pendula ‘Purpurea’: Purple leaves fading to purplish green in summer, purplish branches, 6m tall (occasionally taller), 4m diameter.

B. pendula ‘Tristis’: A tall upright growing cultivar, narrow/not spreading, pendulous branches, to 8m tall (occasionally taller).

B. pendula ‘Youngii’: A more compact and spreading variety, creating a mound-like shape, usually grown as a grafted “weeper”, rarely growing much taller than the height of the stem to which it is grafted (e.g. graft onto a 3m tall stem, and you get a 3.2m tall plant). Stems are rich brown, trunk eventually becomes grey.

B. platyphylla ‘Japonica’ (Japanese White Birch): To 8m tall (occasionally taller), similar to B. pendula, but larger leaves and white bark is distinctly different.

B. populifolia (Grey Birch): To 8m tall (occasionally larger), trunk is an ash grey-white colour, leaves are long, pointed and glossy green, this is a particularly hardy birch that will grow in dry or very wet soil.

B. pubescens (White Birch): To 12 m tall, 7m diameter; young trees can easily be confused with B. pendula however, bark is more reddish and terminal shoots are less pendulous than B. pendula. Leaves are coarser and wider than B. pendula. It does particularly well in very wet, even waterlogged soils.

B. utilis (Himalayan Birch): Bark ranges from mahogany to bright white, upright habit, various cultivars are grown some as low as 4m tall, others as tall as 12m.

Who Will Benefit From This Course?

If you work in horticulture but seem to fall a bit short when it comes to plant identification and general plant knowledge, you could be holding back your career progression. Employers are always on the look out for people who have these advanced skills - it sets you apart from the rest.

This course is great for:

  • Nursery workers
  • Nursery owners
  • Garden designers
  • Grounds managers
  • Gardeners
  • Parks and gardens employees
  • Those working in the flower cropping sector
  • Those who want to improve their skills for personal development


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