hydrurga's picture

Differentiating speedwells and other species

One of the greatest problems I'm finding with identifying flowers is in differentiating between similar species. I appreciate that in some cases this may even be impossible (without a microscope or DNA analysis) but does anyone know if there are any online sources which give indicators as to how to distinguish between similar common species in the UK.

The particular family of wildflowers that encouraged me to ask this question are the speedwells which I have had difficulty differentiating and thus identifying.



Amadan's picture

Online botany

I've found this a generally dodgy area, so will be interested to see other comments. There are generally lots of "hits" when you search for plant identification, but many are general, and quite a few just plain wrong in some instances.
You might be better biting the bullet and buying Stace's Flora.

rossherard's picture

Plant ID

My feeling is that someone who wonders if they need a microscope to distinguish speedwells is not really ready for Stace. The BSBI's www.botanicalkeys.co.uk is very good. Keys in books such as Collins Flower Guide by David Streeter, or perhaps Francis Rose's Wildflower Key are also very helpful. Or might I suggest Faith Anstey's 'Flowers in the Field' which is not a fieldguide, but gives an all-round introduction to the business of identifying wild flowers.

Ros Sherard

hydrurga's picture


Many thanks to those who've replied. I might bite that bullet yet but, in the meantime, I've found this online cut-down version of Stace ("Interactive Flora of NW Europe) useful:


bobthebirder's picture

online keys

The iSpot team at the Open University are currently working on developing keys that can be used in the field using a mobile device such as a tablet or smart-phone. It's early days yet but new keys are being developed all the time. Perhaps you would like to help by reviewing the ones already released. See http://www.ispot.org.uk/webkeys/

Bob Ford

Rachy Ramone's picture

I make my own cribs:

which are short notes containing just the essential differences on each species.

I use Poland (Vegetative Keys) and Rose (Wild Flower Key) and would strongly recommend buying those two, if you don't have them. Rose, in particular, is very easy to get into, as it is fantastically illustrated.

I then pick a group that is troubling me, and go through these two books, working out which characteristics are what you might call diagnostic. I then make a little spreadsheet of them. I then take it outside and try it, then come back and make any changes, usually with the help of the internet: but do be aware that much of the internet is just plain incorrect.

This might explain it a bit better:


Rachy Ramone

How to take close-ups with cheap phone and hand-lens:
Field Guides for Budding Botanists:

lavateraguy's picture

The BSBI Plant Crib 3 is online ...

... at http://www.bsbi.org.uk/identification.html

but this is pitched at a harder level then just differentiating speedwells.

hydrurga's picture


Many thanks for the additional info! The BSBI Plant Crib looks very useful, as do the iSpot online keys. I have Rose, which I find invaluable, but will also look into getting Poland.

I'm looking forward to the phone or camera app being developed that will analyse photos of a plant and give me probabilities that it is of a particular species, and give me the reasons for those ids. In 20 years time such an app may well be here...

JoC's picture


This book is really different from other floras. The information on the vegetative parts of plants is very detailed. I recently confirmed an id of a Campanula on the basis of the ciliated margin of the petiole - not mentioned in any other book I've seen. I use it in addition to a floras mentioned above.
A Photo App in 20 years, maybe - in the meantime there is iSpot!


hydrurga's picture

Re: Poland

I've had the book a few days now but not really put it into practice yet. However I've already looked through its notes on some of the tree species I'm trying to identify, and am impressed by the detailed information it contains. The next few days and weeks will determine whether I can make use of that information though as the tree leaves start emerging!