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Plant Identification

Plant Identification Services

Herbarium and taxonomy staff at the Royal Botanical Gardens offer professional plant identification services to its members and clients. Our plant identification service includes determination of plant name, provincial and regional status, and if needed, geographic distribution. Accepted taxonomic names are provided; synonyms may be provided upon request. Our expertise is in native and naturalized plants of the region, though identification, to some level, of tropical plants and cultivated garden varieties is available.

  • For members of RBG1, our partners2, academic researchers3, and non-for-profit agencies, we offer our services free of charge. Letters of in-kind support for specific identification requests can be prepared following the fee schedule listed below (given sufficient notice).
  • all other groups and agencies, or for time-sensitive requests, services can be acquired for $60 CAD per hour. Fees are determined on an hourly basis, with a 1-hour minimum charge of $60. After the first hour, the fee will be applied in 20-minute intervals. A free quote can be provided once specimens are dropped off or mailed.

1 For RBG members, a maximum of 5 specimen identifications will be issued free of charge per annum.
2 RBGs partners include agencies, institutions, or individuals for which a formal agreement is in place, such as a Memorandum of Understanding, Letter of Support, or Letter of Agreement.
3 Academic researchers include staff, faculty or students associated with a recognized University or College.

Specimens can be dropped off at RBG Centre Monday to Friday during business hours (680 Plains Road West, Burlington, ON) or they can be sent by mail (mailing address below). Upon arrival at RBGs Herbarium, dried specimens will be frozen for seven days before they are examined to minimize the introduction of pests to RBGs Herbarium facility.

The level of identification may vary depending on the quality of the specimen and the collection information. The time involved in identifying an unknown specimen depends on the complexity of the taxonomic group and on the quality of the specimen. Based on these factors and also the number of specimens submitted, the estimated costs for identification services will be provided to the client. Specimen identification will be carried out only once the client approves the estimated costs and authorizes work.

Once plant specimens have been identified, the client will be contacted. The specimens, a list of determinations, and an invoice, if applicable, will be returned. Payment will be due within 30 days of receipt of the invoice.

Identification results and collection information, particularly for listed species or rare occurrences, may be provided to authorized staff at the Natural Heritage Information Centre, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, or other regulatory agencies for use in distribution analyses, atlases or regulatory purposes. The source of the information will remain confidential, where possible.

If a specimen cannot be positively identified by RBG, clients will be contacted. If a single specimen takes longer than one hour to identify positively, the client will be notified and other options for identification will be reviewed.

RBG reserves the right to refuse requests for plant identification, at its discretion.

For more information, contact the Herbarium Curator, 905-527-1158 ext. 238.

Plant Specimen Guidelines

Identifications are provided for fresh and/or dry plant specimens, and also for photographs, where possible. Specimens should be of as high quality as possible and include stems with leaves attached, basal leaves (if any), flowers, fruits, bulbs, rhizomes, tubers, etc. To facilitate identification of unknown plants, it is important that information associated with each specimen be as complete as possible. Digital photographs may be submitted to compliment pressed or fresh specimens. RBG may photo-document specimens submitted for identification.

Plant Specimen Donations

If the client wishes to donate specimens to the RBG Herbarium (HAM), a discount may be offered on identification service fees. Specimen value will be assessed on an individual basis. Please notify the herbarium curator if you wish to have your specimens considered for donation.

Use of Plant Identification Resources

Individuals can use RBGs Herbarium facilities to identify plants they have collected, and we are happy to assist pointing to the correct family or genus, demonstrating how to use the microscopes and collections, and providing appropriate identification keys. Note that training on how to use botanical keys is not a service currently offered. Fresh plant material can be examined in our identification lab. Dried material needs to be frozen for one week, before it can enter our main collection and plant identification area. Please email the herbarium curator to make arrangements for freezing specimens and to book an appointment to visit our facilities.

Instructions for Sending Fresh or Pressed Specimens

  • Fresh specimens should be prepared by blotting excess water from the plant, placing in a plastic bag, and delivering/shipping immediately. Fresh specimens must be received within a day of collection from the field.
  • In the absence of a plant press, specimens can be prepared by pressing and drying between sheets of newspaper weighted down with a board or heavy box for a few days in a dry place. Check specimens daily and change newspaper regularly if paper is damp.
  • Ensure that flowers are visible and that leaves are pressed flat, showing the variation of the plant.
  • Keep the dried specimens in sheets of folded newspaper and place them between two pieces of cardboard. Each specimen should be given a unique letter or number identifier, labeled with necessary collection information, and carefully packed in a box or large protective envelope to prevent breaking or crushing of the plant prior to delivery.
  • Additional protective packaging materials such as bubble wrap could be used to ensure plants are adequately protected.
  • For each individual specimen, include information on where the plant was collected, including detailed habitat or garden information, county, nearest town, and the date collected. Record information that may have been lost during drying such as the fresh flower colour and aroma. Record the growth habit of the plant (tree, shrub, vine, herbaceous plant) and any other pertinent details.
  • Include the Plant Identification Form and the following contact information with the package: name, address, telephone number, and email address.
  • Please indicate if an official letter should be provided with determinations.
  • Please indicate if you wish to have specimens reviewed for donation to RBGs Herbarium (HAM). Otherwise, please indicate if you wish to have the specimens returned to you.
  • Mail the specimen to: Herbarium, Royal Botanical Gardens, P.O. Box 399, Hamilton, ON, L8N 3H8, Attention: Herbarium Curator.