In this workshop you will learn basic plant morphology with a focus on the structures necessary for plant identification. Participants will learn the specialized terminology necessary to identify plants in the most common California plant families. This workshop will include classroom exercises and time in the field. Read on for more details.

Introduction to Plant Identification

August 8-10, 2023
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Taught by Sandy Namoff, Nick Jensen, and Brendan Wilce

CNPS Members $550 / Non-Members $600
With onsite lodging: CNPS Members $645.10 / Non-Members $695.10

Capacity: 22 participants
Last Day to Register: July 25, 2023



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 California. 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 California; however, information learned in this class will be readily applicable beyond California.

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 characteristics of the 15 most common California plant families. These families contain more than 5000 taxa, which account for more than 60% of the plant diversity in California. Learning the characteristics of these plant families will reduce the amount of time required to key down to the species level. 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. This workshop will include classroom exercises and time in the field, we will spend about 35% of the workshop in the field. Common native families, genera, and species will be covered, including species in conifer forest, oak woodland, montane chaparral, and meadows.

At the end of the workshop students can test their newly acquired knowledge by participating in an optional plant families identification game. A certificate of completion will be provided after the course.

Participants will learn:

  • Basic plant morphology terminology
  • How to recognize 15 families of vascular plants encompassing 60% of the plant diversity in California
  • 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 (orobanch), Poaceae (grass), Plantaginaceae (plantain), Polemoniaceae (phlox), Polygonaceae (buckwheat), Rosaceae (rose).

Schedule & Locale

Tuesday, August 8

Meet at the Page Center at the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory (SNARL). Indoor lab/lecture all day.

8:30 am Meet and greet; welcome and orientation

9:00 am Classroom introduction to plant morphology and taxonomy

10:00 am Brassicaceae, Onagraceae, Apiaceae, Fabaceae, Boraginaceae, Polygonaceae

Noon 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, August 9

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

8:30 am Meet at designated location, carpool to field site

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

1:00 pm Continued field study

5:00 pm Break for the day

Thursday, August 10

Meet at the Page Center at the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory (SNARL). Indoor lab/lecture most of the day, with some field time.

8:30 am Asteraceae, Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae

10:00 am Plant identification and keying practice

Noon Lunch break (please bring your own lunch and water)

1:00 pm Continued plant identification and keying practice, or a plant walk at SNARL

3:30 pm Reflection activities, course evaluations

5:00 pm Workshop concludes

Schedule subject to change.

Venue: Classroom portions of this workshop will be held at the Page Center at the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory (SNARL), located at 1016 Mt Morrison Rd #9566, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546. Field exercises will take place nearby at sites still to be determined. Additional details will be provided to registered participants about a week before the workshop.

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, plenty of water and snacks for all 3 days

If staying in onsite lodging, please bring:

  • Bedding (sleeping bag or blankets, and a pillow)  
  • Towels  
  • Food  

Materials Provided: CNPS will provide handouts, dissecting microscopes, dissecting tools, 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 to 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.

Onsite Lodging

Optional onsite lodging is available at the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory (SNARL) for $47.55/night. It costs $95.10 for the two nights, August 8 and 9.

Onsite lodging consists of a bunk bed in a shared dormitory, with a shared bathroom. Basic kitchen utensils and cooking appliances are provided in a shared kitchen. Please bring your own food, bedding, and towels; they are not provided. For more detailed information and photos of the onsite lodging options, click here. You will be staying in the Sage Dormitory; rooms will be assigned randomly at check-in.    

The nearest offsite accommodations are available in the nearby town of Mammoth Lakes, which is about a 15-minute drive from the reserve.   

About the Instructors

Sandy Namoff

Sandy Namoff completed her graduate dissertation research at California Botanic Garden (CalBG), formally Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, investigating evolutionary processes that have shaped the CA bindweeds, Calystegia. Originally from southern Florida, Sandy obtained her BS 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 Claremont Colleges, and Chaffey College. She has also been an instructor for numerous plant related courses and workshops at CNPS, CalBG, and the Theodore Payne Foundation. She works as a consulting botanist and recently wrote a California wildflower field guide for the California Native Plant Society.  

Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen currently serves as the Conservation Program Director for the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). In this position he oversees the conservation work of staff and volunteer advocates statewide. Nick’s work involves state and federal legislative advocacy, project level work including presiding over litigation, participation in coalitions of environmental organizations, media relations, and supervising a team of talented conservation professionals. Nick earned his BS degree in Environmental Horticulture at UC Davis, and completed his Ph.D. in botany at CalBG /Claremont Graduate University. As a graduate student Nick produced the first Flora of Tejon Ranch, documenting plant diversity on California’s largest contiguous piece of private land. He also studied evolutionary patterns in perennial Streptanthus (jewelflowers). From 2006-2010, he was employed by CNPS, first as a Vegetation Program Assistant, and later as the Rare Plant Program Director. Nick has also worked as a botanist for the U.S. Forest Service, Chicago Botanic Garden, and the private consulting industry. He has taught botany classes to professionals and interested members of the public for CNPS, CalBG, the Jepson Herbarium, and Theodore Payne Foundation. Nick is a fellow of the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. In his free time, he enjoys cooking, hiking, gardening, and photographing wildflowers, activities that are often not mutually exclusive. 

Brendan Wilce

Brendan Wilce joined CNPS in spring 2022 as the Natalie Hopkins Conservation Intern and is now the Conservation Program Coordinator. He has a background in horticulture with a BS from UC Davis in Environmental Horticulture and Urban Forestry with an emphasis in Greenhouse and Nursery Production, including extensive coursework in restoration ecology. He has enjoyed over 15 years in the nursery industry working as an assistant manager and grower in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Brendan’s knowledge and love of plants and nature, and his desire to protect the places he loves led him to working with the CNPS’s conservation team. His current projects include maintaining a database of the best available science related to wildfire and fire recovery and is assisting in the development of other tools to help CNPS members engage in conservation advocacy. Brendan’s daily tasks include the review of proposed projects and developments and identifies research to support concerns and objections to these projects. Brendan spends much of his time outside of work hiking with his wife Krysten and cattle dogs Maximus and Penny, as well as cooking, gardening, and maintaining a collection of unique and uncommon plant species, including many California native species. 

Scholarships Available

CNPS is committed to reducing barriers and broadening participation in our workshops. We are offering financial support opportunities for students, early professionals, or anyone who may not otherwise be able to attend. This scholarship will cover the cost of one CNPS plant science workshop. In some instances, CNPS will also provide monetary assistance for travel and accommodations. 

The scholarship form is due six weeks before the workshop date that you would like to attend. You will be notified within one month of the workshop date about the financial aid determination. Please click here to fill out the form to be considered as a potential recipient of a workshop scholarship.


Registration for the Introduction to Plant Identification Workshop is full. Please fill out this form to be added to the waitlist.

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 Tuesday, July 25, 2023. 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!