Botany Field Observations

Sarah R. Hall, College of the Atlantic

Calla Schmidt, University of San Francisco

John Paul, University of San Francisco

Becca Walker, Mt. San Antonio College


Plants form the link between the abiotic features of landscape (rock, soils, water, etc.) and the
biotic world. California has a very rich and complex flora, making species identification
sometimes very difficult. This activity provides students with an opportunity to students to begin learning how to identify plants in the field. In addition, students will learn that even if they don't know the identity of a morphospecies (its specific epithet), they will still be able to record how many individuals of each morphospecies type are present in a location, making it possible to measure
both density and diversity.

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Learning Goals

Content/Concept Goals:

Students will...

  • Begin learning how to identify plants in the field.
  • Differentiate the major lineages of plants (e.g., ferns, gymnosperms, monocots, eudicots, etc.),
    which can be sufficient when describing community composition.
  • Consistently identify morphologically similar individuals into groups called 'morphospecies', which are often good approximations for true genetic species.

Higher Order Thinking Skills Goals:

Other Skills Goals for this Activity:

Context for Use


This activity was completed during the 2-week summer E-STEM Field Course with ~20 undergraduate students interested in environmental science.

Prerequisite Skills and Concepts:

How the Activity is Situated in the Course:

This activity is repeated at various locations throughout the course. View the E-STEM field course timeline for more information about how it is situated in the course.

Description and Teaching Materials

Student Handout:

Botany Field Observations Student Handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Jun26 20)


Over the span of the course, students are responsible for recording ten 'Botany Field Observations' in their field notebooks.

Observations Sites:

  • Yosemite
  • McGee Creek (visited twice)
  • Panum Crater
  • Walker Lake
  • Mono North (visited twice)
  • Poleta
  • Bristlecone


  • Field notebook
  • Writing utensil
  • Camera


Assess the botanical observations with the rubric used for the Ecology Badge.

References and Resources

Online Resources for Plant Identification:

Jepson eFlora: The Jepson Herbarium collection from the University of California, Berkeley.
CalFlora: A directory of California plants, including descriptions, photos, and maps.
CalFlora – What Grow's Here?: An interactive map that lists plants in a given California region.
CalPhotos: A collection of 701,673 photos of plants, animals, fossils, people, and landscapes from around the world.