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

June 4-6, 2024
Big Bear, CA
Taught by Sandy Namoff, Nick Jensen, and Brendan Wilce

CNPS Members $600 / Non-Members $650
Capacity: 22 participants
Registration is Full



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 hands-on classroom activities and time in the field, we will spend about 35% of the workshop in the field. During the field trip we will review common native families, genera, and species in conifer forest, montane chaparral, and meadow habitats. We will also visit unique ‘pebble plain habitat at Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve.

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, June 4

Day 1 – Introduction to Plant Identification & “Easy” Plant Groups
Meet at the Big Bear Discovery Center, located at 40971 North Shore Drive/Hwy 38, Fawnskin, CA 92333. Indoor lab/lecture all day.

8:30 am
Welcome and introductions

9:00 am
Classroom introduction to plant morphology and taxonomy

10:15 am

10:30 am
Brassicaceae, Onagraceae, Apiaceae, Fabaceae, Boraginaceae

12:00 pm
Lunch break (please bring your own lunch and water)

1:00 pm
Polemoniaceae, Rosaceae, Ericaceae (& keying)

2:30 pm

2:45 pm
Polygonaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Lamiaceae

3:45 pm
Plant keying practice / demonstration

5:00 pm
Break for the day

Wednesday, June 5

Day 2 – Plant Identification & Keying in the field 
Meet at Big Bear Discovery Center and carpool to nearby field location. All day in the field practicing sight ID/keying selected plant families/genera.

8:30 am
Meet at Big Bear Discovery Center, carpool to field site

12:00 pm
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, June 6

Day 3 – Advanced Plant Identification & Keying 
Meet at the Big Bear Discovery Center. Indoor lab/lecture all day. 

8:30 am
Coffee and snacks

9:00 am
Plantaginaceae, Orobanchaceae, Phrymaceae, Asteraceae

10:15 am

10:30 am
Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae

11:15 am
Plant identification and keying practice

12:00 pm
Lunch break (please bring your own lunch and water)

1:00 pm
Continued plant identification and keying practice

3:00 pm

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 Big Bear Discovery Center, located at 40971 North Shore Drive/Hwy 38, Fawnskin, CA 92333. Field exercises will take place nearby at sites to be determined. Additional details will be provided to registered participants about a week before the workshop. Participants are responsible for finding their own overnight lodging.

Materials & Requirements

Please bring...

  • Hand lens, metric ruler
  • Dissecting tools (forceps, dissecting needles) – we will also provide some to share
  • 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)
  • Laptop computer or electronic device for online resources (optional)
  • Packable lunch, plenty of water and snacks for all 3 days

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 above 6,000 feet in elevation. We will spend approx. 33% of the time in the field.

About the Instructors

Sandy Namoff

Sandy Namoff completed her graduate dissertation research at California Botanic Garden (CalBG) 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.


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

Before registering, please review the workshop waiver and photo release,
plus 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, May 21, 2024. For other ways to register, please see our 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!