Arizona Plant Identification Resources - September 12, 2018
Jeff Schalau, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

With the onslaught of plant growth produced by plentiful monsoon rains, our offices have received many inquiries regarding plant identification. These client questions are generally in one of two categories: wildflowers or weeds. Plants people love and plants people hate. This week’s column includes some of my favorite plant identification resources that include pictures and/or drawings of the plants they describe. These are books are available for purchase or checkout at public libraries and a couple of them are online resources.

Plants of Arizona by Anne Orth Epple, John F. Wiens, and Lewis Epple (2012, 466 pages) is an excellent overview of Arizona’s native plants, contains color plates, general descriptions, and locations for each plant mentioned. This is the second edition (the first edition was released in 1997) and has the most common trees, shrubs, cacti, and some herbaceous plants. A great book for native plant hobbyists. It is available in paperback and Kindle formats.

A Field Guide to Southwestern and Texas Wildflowers by Theodore F. Niehaus (Peterson Field Guide Series, 1998, 463 pages) contains 1,505 plant species and is the best wildflower guide available for our area. Like other Peterson Guides, it has some color plates, but has excellent line drawings that display distinguishing botanical characteristics. If you enjoy native wildflowers, this book belongs in your collection. It is available in hard cover and paperback formats.

Native Plants for High Elevation Western Gardens by Janice Busco and Nancy Morin (2003, 356 pages) features descriptions and photos of 150 plants suitable for planting in north central Arizona. The book was developed in partnership with The Arboretum at Flagstaff, focuses on perennial grasses and forbs (broadleaf plants/herbs), and contains excellent information on cultivation of each. It is available in paperback format.

Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants: A Gardener's Guide by Mary and Gary Irish (2000, 312 pages) is an excellent book for gardeners interested in these plants. Each is listed by botanical name, synonyms, common names, descriptions of the size, leaves, blooms, distribution, propagation, cultural requirements, similar or related species, and uses. It is available in hard cover and paperback formats.

Weeds of the West by Tom Whitson (Ed.) et. al. (2010, 630 pages) is the definitive guide for identification of weeds. It includes over 900 color photos of about 300 weed species showing each in various stages of growth for positive identification. While this book is out of print, copies are available in libraries and through used book vendors.

Yavapai County Native & Naturalized Plants is an online native plant database which has descriptions and photos of 827 plant species (6 agaves/yuccas, 13 cacti, 507 forbs, 65 grasses, 65 shrubs, 51 trees, and 3 vines). Each plant description includes multiple photos and botanical features that differentiate that plant from other lookalikes. The geographical area of emphasis is the Central Highlands of Arizona and, in particular, Yavapai County. The database was created and maintained by a team of Yavapai County Master Gardeners led by Sue Smith and with contributions by local and regional experts including Sedona resident and esteemed colleague Max Licher. The site can be accesses at:

USDA PLANTS is an online plant database developed and maintained by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The PLANTS Database provides standardized information about the vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens of the U.S. and its territories. It includes names, plant symbols, checklists, distributional data, species abstracts, characteristics, images, crop information, automated tools, onward Web links, and references. As you may imagine, this is a huge database which is very comprehensive. The site can be accesses at:

Many residents and visitors are often interested in native plant and wildflower identification and knowledge. The above listed resources are not all inclusive and do not include academic tomes that rely on botanical characteristics and dichotomous keys. The resources listed above are designed for use by amateur botanists and wildflower enthusiasts. There are many other native plant resources available, but these are excellent vehicles to grow your knowledge and inspire interest.

The plentiful monsoon rains have generated a wonderful array of foliage and flowers. Get outdoors and enjoy them. Visit the online edition to access and learn more about our diversity of native plants and how to identify them (see URL below).

Follow the Backyard Gardener on Twitter – use the link on the BYG website. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener help line in the Camp Verde office at 928-554-8992 or e-mail us at and be sure to include your name, address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or provide feedback at the Backyard Gardener web site:


Strawberry hedgehog (Echinocereus fasciculatus) is a native hedgehog cactus with showy pink flowers (photo by Max Licher).

Transpecos morning-glory (Ipomoea cristulata) is a native annual wildflower that is usually abundant following monsoon rains (photo by Sue Smith).

Native Plant Resources Not Included in the Above Text

Common Plants of the Verde Valley & Sedona
An identification guide to Verde Valley plants created and maintained by Doug Von Gausig (Clarkdale Mayor and natural history enthusiast).

Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and Plants
An identification guide to Sonoran Desert plants and Tucson wildflowers created and maintained by T. Beth Kinsey (the webmaster and photographer).

Arizona Native Plant Society (AZNPS)
The AZNPS promotes knowledge, appreciation, conservation, and restoration of Arizona native plants and their habitats. Local AZNPS Chapters provide lectures, conferences, and field trips for people interested in native plants. AZNPS Chapters are active in Prescott, Flagstaff, Yuma, Phoenix, Tucson, and Cochise County.

Follow the Backyard Gardener on: Twitter

Back to Backyard Gardener Home Page

Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: September 10, 2018
Content Questions/Comments:
Legal Disclamer