How to start

Identifying Plants

Next time you’re at a state or national forest, you can start learning to identify any number of plant species using these questions from Newcomb’s Method.

Step 1

What’s the flower type? Is it regular (radially symmetrical)? Irregular (only symmetrical when divided one way), or are the flower parts indistinguishable?

Step 2

What’s the plant/branching type? Does it have leaves? Are they arranged at the base of the plant, or do they occur along the stem?

Step 3

What’s the leaf type? Are the leaves smooth edged, toothed, lobed (split into sections), or divided (separated into leaflets off the same stem?)

Step 4

Write down your observations, then when you get home, try looking up Newcomb’s Method online to finish the identification process.

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Exploration Ideas

  • Press leaves and flowers

    Make sure the leaves or flowers are free from insects or fungi. Place in the middle of a heavy book (you may want to pile a few books on top) and leave in a dry place for a week to two weeks. Before you take any leaves or flowers from a national forest, check with a ranger to make sure it’s permitted. Be mindful of any allergic reactions you might cause by bringing home plants.

  • Discover your state flower

    Look up what your state flower is online, then see if you can find it in your area. Encourage your child to write about it in their nature journal — or, better yet, create a poem about it.

What to Bring

  • Plenty of water, even for short hikes — a gallon per person per day is a good guide
  • Snacks such as fruit or trail mix and empty bags to collect any garbage
  • Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Lightweight rain jacket


Safety Tips

  • Before you get on the trail make sure you have the local Forest Service Ranger District’s or Supervisor’s Office phone number with you. If someone gets hurt this should be the first number you call.
  • Always let someone know where you're going and what time you expect to be back.
  • Avoid going if a thunderstorm is in the forecast. Seek shelter in a car or house if you’re caught in a thunderstorm. If you're caught outside, the safest place to be is crouching in a cluster of trees — not in a clearing, out on water, or next to a lone tree.
  • Be mindful of the sun. Use sunscreen, seek shade, and drink plenty of water — even in the winter.
  • Animals have their own natural food supply so please don’t feed them.
  • Fruits and mushrooms can look tasty, but some are poisonous. To be safe, do not eat anything you find growing in the forest.
  • Railroad tracks are for trains only. Keep to the side and stay off the tracks.
  • Set a turnaround time when heading out that gives you plenty of time to get back before it gets dark. Expect to spend at least the same amount of time hiking back as you did hiking out.
  • Bring a small flashlight or another source of light with you if you'll be out close to sunset.