Collecting plant samples for identification

Plants are important indicators of the health and condition of your pasture. Recognising key plant species and understanding their role in your pastures is a vital step in monitoring pasture health. A good knowledge of pasture species also helps you to quickly notice potential weeds. It is always good practice to get new or strange plants identified to reduce the risk of weeds becoming established on your property. Plant identification books can help identify most species, but there are also a number experts who can help with identification. Where to get help with plant identification varies between Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Queensland:

  • your local council weeds officer can help identify most declared weeds
  • take a sample to your nearest Department of Agriculture and Fisheries office
  • send a sample to the Queensland Herbarium.

Northern Territory:

  • some stations have historical plant collections
  • speak to your local Weed Management Branch of the Department of Land Resource Management
  • contact your local Department of Primary Industry and Resources office
  • for harder to identify species, contact the NT Herbarium
  • visit FloraNT.

Western Australia:

  • contact your local Department of  Primary Industries and Regional Development office or Department of Parks and Wildlife (within the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions) office
  • Download the MyPestGuide app and send through clear photos of the weed plant for identification
  • Western Australian Herbarium.

It is important to collect, preserve and present the plant samples correctly as this will affect how easily, quickly and accurately it can be identified. The following points are a guide to plant collection:

  • Collect as much of the plant as possible including roots, flowers and seed pods.
  • Make a note of the plant’s growth habit, height, size and any particular characteristics. Was it sticky or prickly to touch, erect or prostrate.
  • Make a note of the growing conditions including soil type, slope and aspect, and whether the plant occurs in native or sown pasture or in cleared country or uncleared bush.
  • Putting the plant in a plastic bag will help to keep the sample fresh, but it will also promote mould. If it will be more than a couple of hours before you can get the plant identified, put the sample in the fridge to reduce the chance of mould growth.
  • If it is more than two days before you can get the plant identified, the plant sample will need to be dried. Spread out the sample and put it between sheets of newspaper, then place a weight such as some large text books on top. The paper will need to be changed every second day until the plant has dried and there is no risk of mould forming.
  • A digital photo can help with quick identification of some plants. When taking photos of plants take one of the plant where it is growing. Then spread the plant out on a sheet of white paper in a well-lit but not sunny area and take photos of the leaves, the seed heads, the stems, and the flowers. These can then be emailed for identification.

Plant identification publications should be available at your local council office, your nearest government office (natural resources, environment or agriculture/primary industry), and your regional natural resource management group.

Useful web links

Useful publications

  • Plant Identification in the Arid Zone
  • Plants of Central Queensland: their identification and uses
  • Pasture Plants of North-West Queensland
  • Plants of the Kimberley Region of Western Australia
  • A Field Guide to Plants of the Barkly Region
  • Weed Planning Guides – download from the Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management

Damien O’Sullivan, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.