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Registration open April 10

Education Program - Workshops and Professional Training

Introduction to Plant Identification

April 18-20, 2017 (Tuesday - Thursday)
Frazier Park Library, Frazier Park, CA & field sites on Tejon Ranch, Kern County, CA

Photo by Nick Jensen

Instructors: Nick Jensen & Sandy Namoff, Graduate Student Researchers, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Download the print-friendly flyer for this workshop (pdf)

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, 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 ID will benefit from learning the diagnostic characteristics of the most important plant families in California. Those with some prior experience will be able to refresh their skills and increase proficiency with more difficult groups such as Poaceae (grass family) and Asteraceae (sunflower family).

Description: This is a 3-day introductory workshop, including 2 days of classroom presentations/exercises and 1 full day in the field on Tejon Ranch. We will begin with basic plant morphology, focusing on structures necessary for plant ID. Participants will learn the specialized terminology necessary to identify plants in 15 common California plant families. These families contain more than 5000 taxa, which account for more than 70% of the plant diversity in California. 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. Emphasis will be placed on common groups of plants in Southern California; however, information learned in this class will be readily applicable throughout California and the world. Common native families, genera, and species will be covered, including species in riparian, oak woodland, chaparral, and grassland habitats. Materials on basic plant morphology will be provided in advance.

To earn a certificate of completion, participants will need to pass a quiz (score of 70% or higher) at the end of the workshop, which will focus on identifying common plant structures, sight ID of plants to families covered in detail in the class, and effective use of taxonomic keys for plant ID.

About Tejon Ranch: At 270,000 acres, Tejon Ranch is California's largest contiguous piece of private land situated primarily in the Tehachapi Mountains of Kern County. There is nowhere else in California where vastly different ecoregions including the Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert, San Joaquin Valley, and Transverse Ranges converge. Highlights of our day in the field will likely include majestic riparian habitats dominated by ancient valley oaks, spectacular displays of wildflowers, and a visit to high elevation montane habitats, home to one of the world's only locations of Tehachapi buckwheat (Eriogonum callistum). Prior to 2008, when 90% of Tejon Ranch was placed under conservation agreements, scientific research and workshops such as this were not possible. This is a tremendous opportunity to see what's behind the gates of Tejon Ranch while honing plant identification skills. Our day on Tejon Ranch is made possible through the collaboration and logistical support of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. A portion of all workshop registration fees will be donated to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy to bolster their scientific and conservation efforts.

Participants will learn:

  • Basic plant morphology terminology
  • How to recognize 15 families of vascular plants, encompassing 70% 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 using the 2nd edition of The Jepson Manual
  • Additional resources available to help identify plants

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

Photo by Nick Jensen


Registration is now open! Last day to register is April 10, 2017.

Registration fees are discounted for CNPS members. If you are not a CNPS member, visit to join now and save!

Please note: class size is limited to 20 participants.

  Date CNPS Members Non-members
Introduction to Plant Identification (3-day course) April 18-20, 2017 $395 $415

Cancellation Policy: The last day to cancel your registration and receive any refund is Monday, April 3, 2017. Refunds may be subject to processing fees. Please send cancellation requests by e-mail to Becky Reilly, . Click here for more details on the cancellation policy for CNPS workshops.

Photo by Nick Jensen


Day 1 - Tuesday, April 18
Introduction to Plant Identification and "Easy" Plant Groups. Meet at Frazier Park Library. Classroom instruction all day.

8:00 am Introductions and orientation; coffee and snacks provided
8:30 am Basic plant morphology and taxonomy
9:30 am Brassicaceae, Onagraceae, Apiaceae, Fabaceae, Boraginaceae, Polygonaceae
Noon Lunch break (please bring your own lunch and water)
1:00 pm California plant diversity
1:30 pm Polemoniaceae, Rosaceae, Lamiaceae, Plantaginaceae, Orobanchaceae, Ericaceae, Caryophyllaceae
3:45 pm Plant keying practice/demonstration
5:00 pm Break for the day

Day 2 - Wednesday, April 19
Plant Identification and Keying on Tejon Ranch. Meet at Frazier Park Library. Brief classroom orientation; all-day field trip.

8:15 am Coffee and snacks provided
8:30 am Flora of Tejon Ranch; orientation to Tejon Ranch with Dr. Ellery Mayence of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy
9:00 am Travel to Tejon Ranch, Antelope Valley side (exact location TBA)
9:30 am Field exercises on Tejon Ranch - practice with sight ID and keying of selected plant families and genera
Noon Lunch in the field (please bring your own lunch and water)
1:00 pm Continued field exercises on Tejon Ranch
5:00 pm Return to Frazier Park; break for the day

Day 3 - Thursday, April 20
Advanced Plant Identification and Keying; Quiz. Meet at Frazier Park Library. Classroom instruction all day.

8:15 am Coffee and snacks provided
8:30 am Asteraceae, Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae
9:45 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
3:30 pm Quiz; course evaluations
4:30 pm Workshop concludes


Materials: Please bring...

  • Hand lens, clipboard, metric ruler
  • Field notebook, pencils, scotch tape, and bags for collecting plant material
  • The Jepson Manual, 2nd Edition (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Packable lunches and plenty of water and snacks for all three days
  • Sturdy shoes or boots, hat, and field clothing appropriate for the weather and conditions

CNPS will provide handouts, dissecting microscopes, technical references, and online resources. We will send some advance materials on plant structure terminology. Transportation on Tejon Ranch will be provided by the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.

Physical Requirements: Participants should be physically able to hike up to a mile at a time on narrow and uneven paths and off trail with minimal elevation change, and remain outside for up to 8 hours at a time. This workshop will be held rain or shine. We will spend approximately 33% of the time in the field, likely at elevations between 4,000-6,000 feet.

Photo by Nick Jensen

About the Instructors

Nick Jensen is currently a Ph.D candidate 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 California's rare plants, and evolutionary relationships in Streptanthus (jewelflowers). Nick has a B.S. in Environmental Horticulture from U.C. 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 and RSABG. He has also worked as a botanist for the US Forest Service, Chicago Botanic Garden, and the private consulting industry.

Sandy Namoff is also a graduate student at RSABG, investigating evolutionary processes that have shaped the California 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 California Floristic Province and its plant communities. As an adjunct professor, Sandy has taught Field Botany at California State University Fullerton and has been an instructor for numerous plant related courses and workshops at RSABG and the Claremont Colleges.


If you have questions about this or any other CNPS workshops, please contact Becky Reilly, CNPS Events Coordinator, at 916-447-2677 x207 or .

View the complete schedule of CNPS Plant Science Workshops


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