Plant Families

The idea of Plant Families is that plants which have something in common can be grouped together.

Knowing which Family a plant belongs to can be useful - not just a way of showing off!

For a start, it can help identify a new plant. If your unknown plant has the characteristics of a particular Family, then you can narrow the search to find its identity.

It can give you an idea of what the plant looks like. Almost anything in the Asteraceae Family will look like a Daisy. Most members of the Campanulaceae Family have blue flowers in a bell or star shape. Many collections of seed from their natural habitat just give the Family name.

If you know which Plant Family a plant belongs to, it might help you to find the seeds. For instance, members of the Cabbage family (Brassicaceae) have a seedpod that has a thin papery membrane between the two halves (like Honesty), members of the Nettle Family (Lamiaceae) don't have a seed pod, they have four seeds on a pad at the bottom of the open calyx, and members of the old Leguminosae Family all have their seeds in legumes (pods like pea or bean pods).

Knowing the Plant Family can tell you where the seed pod will be - on the stalk side of the flower (called an Inferior Ovary - such as in Amaryllidaceae, Cannaceae) or in the middle of the flower itself (a Superior Ovary - as in Nyctaginaceae, which includes Mirabilis, Geraniaceae, Iridaceae).

It can often tell you what the seeds will be like - whether they're large or small, and whether there are a lot of them in a seedpod or only one. Members of the Campanulaceae have many small seeds in a capsule, seeds of the Asclepiadaceae are usually flat and oval with long silky hairs, members of the Solanaceae Family have either a berry or a capsule with many seeds.

Knowing the Plant Family can also give you a clue about how to germinate any new seeds you have from other plants in that Family. I know I've had success with many members of the Geranium Family by nicking them and sowing them indoors by the Norman Deno method. That's also worked for many members of the Lily family, but many members of the Iris Family need to be sown outside and take a long time to germinate.

Knowing which Family a plant belongs to can tell you what the seedling looks like. Seeds of all the Monocot families (such as Liliaceae, Iridaceae, other bulbs, grasses and palms) will come up with only one seed leaf. Dicots (most of the other larger plant families) have two seed leaves.

There's a brief introduction to some of the main Plant Families here:

There are several hundred Plant Families, and the botanists are separating them into more every week, but it's a start!


Other entries with information on this topic

Classification of Plants - a brief explanation of the way flowering plants are classified
The Classification of Flowering Plant Families - a list of Plant Families classified according to their Order and Superorder
Perennial or Annual? - some popular plants with their common and Latin names
Common Names and the Latin names of some popular garden plants
Common Names Index - the common names of plants mentioned in these pages, with their Latin name
Latin Names - the meanings of some common Latin botanical names

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