In this workshop you will learn to identify plants in 15 common families, which account for over 5,000 taxa – more than 70% of the plant diversity in CA! Together we’ll cover plant parts/terms in the classroom and get hands-on field experience in the Santa Monica Mountains. Read on for details.

Intro to Plant Identification

June 4-6, 2019
Santa Monica Mountains & Oxnard, CA
Taught by Sandy Namoff & Nick Jensen
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CNPS Members $395 / Non-Members $415
Capacity: 20 participants
Last Day to Register: May 20, 2019



Target Audience: This workshop will be taught at a beginner level and is open to anyone interested in learning about or improving their knowledge of plant terminology and the characteristics of common plant families, and becoming competent at plant keying using the Jepson Manual and online resources. Those just entering the world of plant identification will benefit from learning the diagnostic characteristics of the most important plant families in CA. Those with prior plant identification experience will be able to refresh their skills and increase their proficiency with more difficult groups such as the Poaceae (grasses) and Asteraceae (sunflowers). Emphasis will be placed on common groups of plants in Southern CA; however, information learned in this class will be readily applicable throughout CA and the world.

Full Description: This is a 3-day introductory workshop. We will begin by teaching basic plant morphology with a focus on the structures necessary for plant ID. Participants will learn the specialized terminology necessary to identify plants in 15 common CA plant families. These families contain more than 5000 taxa, which account for more than 70% of the plant diversity in CA. Learning the characteristics of these plant families will reduce the amount of time required to key many plants to genus and species. We will utilize live material and taxonomic keys to better understand morphology in each family. Scientific names, along with common names, will be used throughout the workshop. The class will include 2 days of classroom presentations and exercises and one full day in the field in the Santa Monica Mountains. Common native families, genera, and species will be covered, including species in conifer forest, oak woodland, montane chaparral, and meadows.

To earn a certificate of completion, participants must pass an optional quiz at the end of the workshop focusing on identifying common plant structures, sight ID of families covered, and effective use of taxonomic keys for plant ID.

Participants will learn:

  • Basic plant morphology terminology
  • How to recognize 15 families of vascular plants encompassing 70% of the plant diversity in CA
  • How to identify some common tree, shrub, and herbaceous species by sight
  • Tips for remembering the differences between similar plant families and species
  • How to use dichotomous keys for plant identification including The Jepson Manual, 2nd Edition
  • Additional resources available to help identify plants

The following plant families will be covered: Apiaceae (parsley), Asteraceae (sunflower), Brassicaceae (mustard), Caryophyllaceae (pink), Cyperaceae (sedge), Ericaceae (heather), Fabaceae (pea), Lamiaceae (mint), Onagraceae (evening primrose), Orobanchaceae (broomrape), Poaceae (grass), Plantaginaceae (plantain), Polemoniaceae (phlox), Polygonaceae (buckwheat), Rosaceae (rose).

Schedule & Locale

Tuesday, June 4: Intro to Plant ID & "Easy" Plant Groups

Meet at the CSUCI Boating Center. Indoor lab/lecture all day.

8:00 am
Meet and greet; welcome and orientation

8:30 am
Classroom introduction to plant morphology and taxonomy

9:30 am
Brassicaceae, Onagraceae, Apiaceae, Fabaceae, Boraginaceae, Polygonaceae

Lunch break (please bring your own lunch and water)

1:00 pm
CA plant diversity lecture

1:30 pm
Polemoniaceae, Rosaceae, Lamiaceae, Plantaginaceae, Orobanchaceae, Ericaceae, Caryophyllaceae

3:45 pm
Plant keying practice / demonstration

5:00 pm
Break for the day

Wednesday, June 5: Plant ID & Keying in the Field

Meet at designated location, carpool to field site. All day in the field practicing sight ID/keying selected plant families/genera.

8:00 am
Meet at designated location, carpool to field site in the Santa Monica Mountains TBD

Lunch in the field (please bring your own lunch and water)

1:00 pm
Continued field study

5:00 pm
Return to cars & break for the day

Thursday, June 6: Advanced Plant ID & Keying

Meet at the CSUCI Boating Center. Indoor lab/lecture all day.

8:00 am
Asteraceae, Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae

9:45 am
Plant identification and keying practice

Lunch break (please bring your own lunch and water)

1:00 pm
Continued plant identification and keying practice

3:30 pm
Quiz (70% score or better for certificate of completion), course evaluations

5:00 pm
Workshop concludes

Schedule subject to change.

Venue: Classroom portions of this workshop will be held at the CSU Channel Islands Boating Center, located at 3880 Bluefin Circle, Oxnard, CA 93036, in classroom 2. Field exercises will take place nearby in the Santa Monica Mountains. Additional details will be provided to registered participants about a week before the workshop.

About the Santa Monica Mountains: The Santa Monica Mountains provide habitat for an exceptional amount of biodiversity in close proximity to the Los Angeles metropolitan area. We will visit a variety of habitats during our time in the field including oak woodland, riparian forest, and chaparral. We will search out a number of rare Dudleya (liveforever) spp. and locally endemic Navarretia ojaiensis (Ojai navarretia). The Santa Monica Mountains are an excellent place for beginners to learn common families and genera, and for more advanced students of the CA flora to hone their skills.

Materials & Requirements

Please bring...

  • Hand lens, metric ruler
  • Clipboard, field notebook, pencils, scotch tape, bags for collecting plant material
  • Sturdy shoes/boots, hat, weather-appropriate field clothing (e.g. protection from rain, sun, heat/cold, insects, etc.)
  • The Jepson Manual, 2nd Edition (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Packable lunch for Wednesday, plenty of water and snacks for all 3 days

Materials Provided: CNPS will provide handouts, dissecting microscopes, technical references, and online resources. We will send some advance materials on plant structure terminology.

Physical Requirements: Participants should be physically able to walk up to a mile at a time on narrow and uneven paths, along roads, and trails, and remain outside for up a total of 8 hours. The workshop will be held rain or shine. We will likely spend most of our time between sea level and 2,000 feet in elevation. We will spend approx. 33% of the time in the field.

About the Instructors

Sandy Namoff

Sandy Namoff, PhD, completed her graduate research in botany at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG)/Claremont Graduate University investigating evolutionary processes that have shaped the CA bindweeds, Calystegia. She is also interested in conservation genetics and is evaluating the population dynamics of Calystegia stebbinsii, a rare edaphic endemic of the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Sandy obtained her B.S. in Biology from Florida International University and was a research assistant for the Palm Biology Program at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Since moving to CA in 2010 she has become interested in the CA Floristic Province and its plant communities. As an instructor, Sandy has taught at CA State University Fullerton, the W.M. Keck Science Department at the Claremont Colleges, and Chaffey College. She has also been an instructor for numerous plant related courses and workshops at RSABG and Theodore Payne Foundation. Sandy is currently the DNA Program Manager for Alkemist Labs in Garden Grove.

Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen completed his PhD in botany at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG)/Claremont Graduate University. His research interests include biogeography, rare plant conservation, and biodiversity. His research projects include the flora of Tejon Ranch, threats to CA’s rare plants, and evolutionary relationships in Streptanthus (jewelflowers). Nick has a B.S. in Environmental Horticulture from UC Davis and previously served as the Rare Plant Program Director for CNPS. He is currently a member of the CNPS Rare Plant Program Committee, served as Southern California Botanists president in 2015-2016, and is a fellow of the Switzer Foundation. Over the past decade Nick has led dozens of field trips, and has taught numerous workshops on plant taxonomy and basic botany for organizations including CNPS, Theodore Payne Foundation, Friends of the Jepson Herbarium, and RSABG. He has also worked as a botanist for the US Forest Service, Chicago Botanic Garden, and the private consulting industry. Nick is currently the CNPS Southern CA Conservation Analyst.


Before registering, please review our full workshop cancellation policy and participant expectations. The last day to cancel your registration for this workshop and receive any refund (less the cancellation fee) is Monday, May 6, 2019. For other ways to register, please see our full registration & payment policy.

Did you know CNPS members get discounts on workshops? If you’re not a current member, you can join or renew now before completing the registration form below to qualify for special members-only rates!