Plant Guides

Whether you're just starting out or you're an experienced field observer, a good guidebook or key to plant identification is essential. Here are several recommended sources, organized by plant group:

  • Comprehensive guides
  • Wildflowers/forbs
  • Grasses, sedges, and rushes
  • Ferns and fern allies, mosses
  • Trees, shrubs and woody vines
  • Wetland plants

To recommend other references, use the contact form at right.

Comprehensive guides

Minnesota Wildflowers. Created by Minnesota Master Naturalist Katy Chayka, this website is a mostly non-technical guide to Minnesota flora. It covers a growing number of wildflowers (forbs), trees, shrubs, grasses, sedges, rushes, ferns and fern allies, such as horsetails and club mosses. Donations are requested to fund the work of updating and maintaining the site.

Minnesota Flora: An Illustrated Guide to the Vascular Plants of Minnesota, by Steve W. Chadde. 2013. This guide to more than 1,900 species of vascular plants in Minnesota includes ferns and fern relatives (horsetails, club mosses, and Selaginella species), conifers, and flowering plants.

Michigan Flora. University of Michigan Herbarium, Ann Arbor. This technical resource allows users to browse by family or genus, use family keys, and search for species, genera, or families of vascular plants. The site includes both seed-producers (conifers and other gymnosperms, flowering plants) and non-seed-producers (ferns, horsetails, club mosses).

Online Virtual Flora of Wisconsin. The herbaria of UW-Madison and UW-Steven's Point collaborated to provide information on more than 2,600 species of vascular plants in Wisconsin. The ranges of many plants in the collection extend into neighboring states.


Northland Wildflowers: The Comprehensive Guide to the Minnesota Region, Revised edition, by John B. Moyle and Evelyn W. Moyle. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 2001. This non-technical guidebook is organized by flower color. The 1977 edition is organized by plant family. Both include color photographs and descriptions of about 300 species.

Wildflowers of Minnesota, by Stan Tekiela. Adventure Publications, Cambridge, Minnesota. 1999. This non-technical pocket guide is organized by flower color. It includes color photographs and descriptions of about 200 species.

Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, by Lawrence Newcomb. Little, Brown Company, Boston. 1989. Newcomb's guide uses a non-technical key to identify almost 1,400 species of wildflowers, shrubs and vines. The book's geographic range is the northeastern U.S. and southeast Canada. It covers the eastern two-thirds of Minnesota. Some prairie species are not included.

Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers: A Field Guide to Common Wildflowers and Plants of the Prairie Midwest, by Doug Ladd. Falcon Publishing, Inc. in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy, Helena, MT. 1995. Ladd's book includes descriptions and color photographs of more than 300 common plants of the tallgrass prairie biome, a region that stretches from northeast Oklahoma to Manitoba, Canada, and east to Ohio. This non-technical guide organizes species by flower color.

Grasses, sedges and rushes

Field Guide to Wisconsin Grasses, by Emmet J. Judziewicz, Robert W. Freckmann, Lynn G. Clark, and Merel R. Black. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison. 2014. This guide includes a technical key to genera and, within each genus, a key to species. The book includes grasses of prairies, wetlands, forests and anthropogenic habitats, both native and non-native.

Sedges and Rushes of Minnesota, by Welby R. Smith. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 2018. A Google books review describes this as "The first comprehensive, fully illustrated guide to Minnesota's nearly 250 species of sedges and rushes."

Manual of Grasses for North America. Mary E. Barkworth, Laurel K. Anderton, Kathleen M. Capels, Sandy Long, and Michael B. Piep (eds.). 2007. Utah State University Press, Ogden, UT 84322. 640 p., 900 illustrations and maps. According to reviews, this book updates Hitchcock and Chase's Manual of Grasses of the United States. It includes about 900 native species and 400 non-native species north of Mexico.

Ferns and fern allies, mosses

Ferns of Minnesota, by Rolla Tryon. Second edition, revised. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 1980.

Ferns and Fern Allies of Wisconsin, aka Pteridophytes of Wisconsin: Key. Herbarium of the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. Accessed online October 1, 2020. 

Illustrated Moss Flora of Minnesota, by Joannes (Jan) A. Janssens. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, This technical guide is intended for those who want to identify Minnesota mosses in the lab using microscopes.

Noteworthy Mosses and Liverworts of Minnesota, Parts I and II, by Joannes (Jan) Jenssens, Minnesota DNR, Minneapolis. 2014. PDF downloads available at Part I, Illustrated Field Keys, focuses on field characteristics of around 100 common mosses and bryophytes. Part II, Species Fact Sheets, provides information about each of the species in Part I. The same link also provides access to two more guides: Field Guide to Mosses and Liverworts of Minnesota's Calcareous Fens and Illustrated Glossary to the Field Guides of the Mosses and Liverworts of Minnesota, both by Joannes Jenssens.

Trees, shrubs and woody vines

Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, by Welby R. Smith. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. 2008. This non-technical guide includes descriptions, range maps, photographs, and illustrations of more than 200 species of native and naturalized woody plants.

Trees of Minnesota: Field Guide, by Stan Tekiela. Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge, Minnesota. 2001. This pocket guide to trees is organized by characteristics of leaves. It features about 100 species of native, naturalized and horticultural species.

Wetland plants

Wetland Plants of Minnesota, by Steve. W. Chadde. Second edition (revised). A Bogman Guide. 2012. Chadde's book is a technical guide to more than 800 vascular plants of wetlands. It includes keys to major groups of plants as well as keys to species. Range maps and black and white photographs or illustrations (or both) are provided for each species.


What is a rhizome?

Mayapple ( Podophyllum peltatum ) spreads by rhizomes. The two whitish nubs at the node in the middle are the beginning of shoots. Clusters ...