A helpful directory of online plant databases, primarily in the United States and Canada, for information on plant names, growing zones, research, and images to help ID plants.
Also see Seed Company Listings for the United States and Canada to find a seller near you.
How to Find Accurate Plant and Garden Information
One of the most comical (and sometimes frustrating) communication problems in the online gardening world starts with the use of common plant names instead of the scientific ones. We all do it—since they are much easier to remember and say—but the mayhem happens when we’re using the same word but not referring to the same plant species. Zoink!
Not that this is going to solve that problem (I’m an Empress, not a magician), but it is helpful to toss in the scientific name early in the conversation to ensure we are speaking the same language and talking about the same thing.
The other problem plaguing the garden world is websites who make up gardening advice to try and gain viral traffic. We all crave easy answers but sometimes there just aren’t any. Bottom line, gardening is not magic: and there are far too many garden myths circulating out there. The harm comes when new gardeners get bad advice, struggle, and give up.
Some of these databases (listed below) are helpful for identifying specific species and cultivars. There are also resources for identifying weeds and learning about invasive species. Every growing zone faces struggles and it is important to know which plants to avoid and encourage in your area.
I have listed some main databases I rely on for Canada and the United States. If you are looking for something specific to your region (there are hundreds more online), university extension offices (link below) are a great place to start. If they do not have the information you need, they can often direct you to someone who can.
This said, there are not perfect sources for factual information—in gardening or anything. We’re in the early days of science and understanding how our world works. Do you homework, be skeptical, question everything!—learn from your experience, and happy gardening.
- All Plants | National Gardening Association Plants Database (US)
Search by characterisitcs, genus, and images
- All Plants | USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (US)
Includes common & scientific names, photos, growing zones
- Invasive Species | invasivespeciesinfo.gov (US)
Includes land and aquatic plants
- Native Plants | North American Native Plant Society Database (North America)
Search by type, habitat, light, soil conditions
- Trees | What tree is it? | (Based in Ohio, US)
Search by leaf, fruit, name
- Wildflowers | Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Texas, US)
Scroll to bottom of page for search box
- Insects, Spiders, & More | BugGuide.net
- Invasive Species | invadingspecies.com (Ontario, Canada)
Includes terrestial and aquatic plants, fish, forest pests, invertebrates, and pathogens
- Native Plants | Evergreen.ca (Canada)
Browse by region, name, characteristics, and plant type or species
- Weeds | weedinfo.ca (Canada)
Search by broadleaf, grassy, and perennial weeds
- Ontario CropIPM | broadleaf, grass, and perennial weed gallery
- Identify Seeds | Canada food inspection database with images
- BC Invasive Species | Includes plants, animals, fish, insects, and fungi
- All Plants | UK – Royal Horticultural Society (UK)
Search by sun, soil, characteristics, plant type, or season
World Plants Database
- All Plants | canadaplants. ca (Canada and world) – link no longer active
Woody, bulbs, annuals, perennials, tropicals, wildflowers, and weeds
Plants by Species / Type
- Master List of Online Plant Databases – all plant types | Friends of the Garden
Includes listings of online plant databases for specific states, regions, and plant species.
Here are some popular ones:
- Clematis | Identify your clematis – good for figuring out which clematis you have
Also see National Gardening Association Clematis Database
- Ornamental Grasses
- Tomatoes | Cornell Database
- Wildflowers – Regional Listings
Plant ID Phone Apps
IOS and Android
The idea is great: use your phone to photograph a plant you want to identify and ask the app to ID it or narrow down the options (if it’s unsure).
I can’t say I’ve ever found a plant identification app that was accurate. Out of every 10 queries, perhaps 5 might be correct.
Also, a lot of these apps seemed to have moved to a paid model where there is a fee to either buy the app or request help.
After my last round of testing, I liked this one (somewhat):
Garden Answers | http://www.gardenanswers.com/
If you’ve found one you think is excellent, I’d love to know.
Plant Research & Evaluations
- Search | Google Scholar for research papers
- Search | Chicago Botanic Garden plant research and evaluations
- Search | University Extension research papers | Check that research is peer-reviewed.
- Reference | How to properly write plant names | PDF file
- The Global Seed Vault in Norway | Learn how it protects seed species from around the world
If you have a resource to contribute, let me know in the comments.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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