Studying a herbarium specimen > Kew Science > Projects > Plant identification: tropical and temperate tools

Plant identification: tropical and temperate tools

Producing courses, handbooks and informal training in plant identification.

Project details

Project Department: 
Funded By: 
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Objectives and outputs


This project will produce a selection of tools to allow a range of people to undertake plant identification. Teaching plant identification is best undertaken by outlining some basic information (spot or key characters) for an appropriate taxonomic rank (usually families in a coarser regional or global approach). This will include running courses with short illustrated lectures, extensive hands-on practical sessions, and published guides outlining key features of plant families, and fully illustrated with photographs showing key characters used for identification. In addition, the courses will provide an introduction to plant taxonomy and nomenclature, including the role of molecular methods and anatomical studies in systematics, and will introduce key international legislation (for example the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)) to place the training in context in the science-policy interface. The tools have initially focused on the tropics, but complementary training and handbooks on temperate groups will be undertaken in the future.

Kew's role

Kew's botanists include regional experts (‘generalists’) who have an excellent knowledge of the families of particular regions, especially the tropics, and taxonomically focused botanists (for example focused on grasses, palms, legumes, Myrtaceae etc.), and together they deliver and write the courses (lectures, practicals etc.) as well as the published family accounts. The generalists run weekly identification sessions, which are attended by staff and collaborators including students at various stages of their studies.


  • Develop a range of resources to teach plant identification.
  • Run a range of courses useful for a wide range of stakeholders, including botanists and non-botanists, such as ecologists, zoologist etc.
  • Publish easy to use and accessible guides to plant families.


  • Tropical Plant Identification Course run annually.
  • Tropical Plant Identification Handbook published (now in 2nd edition).
  • Run NERC-funded Applied Plant Taxonomy & Identification Course.
  • Publish Temperate Plant Identification Handbook (2018).
  • Organise ad hoc training courses at Kew and abroad, e.g. weekly family identification sessions, instruction for Kew Diploma students.


Utteridge, T.M.A. & Bramley, G.L.C., eds. (2015). The Kew Tropical Plant Families Identification Handbook, 2nd Edition. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. [100 plant families] Available from Kew's online shop

Utteridge, T.M.A. & Bramley, G.L.C., eds. (2014). The Kew Tropical Plant Families Identification Handbook. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. [83 plant families] eBook available from Kew's online shop