All other flowering non-woody plants

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Daisies, goldenrods, and other Aster family plants

Plants in the family Asteraceae

Key Characteristics What we think of as the "daisy" flower actually is a composite head containing one or two kinds of flowers: ray flowers (with flat, often strap-shaped corollas) and disk flowers (tubular flowers with 5 tooth-like lobes at the summit). Important characteristics of the flower head include color, shape (flat-topped or rounded), the leaf-like bracts that enclose the base of the head, and shape of the seed-like fruit (cypsela). If you don't have flowers, note whether the plant has milky sap or an odor. Also see if the stem is rounded or has edges. Note how leaves are arranged, if they're simple or compound, and if they have hairs or spines.

Exceptions The Aster family includes daisies and sunflowers, but also species with less showy flowers like thoroughwort, joe-pye weed, wild lettuce, and goldenrod. It's easiest to see the flower characteristics with a hand lens or microscope.

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Other herbaceous, flowering plants with alternate leaves

Key Characteristics This very diverse group is generally not woody, grass-like, or aquatic, and does not have composite flower heads. These plants have alternate leaves that join the stem at different levels, not opposite each other or in whorls; be sure to look at the arrangement of leaves in the lower half of the flowering stem.

Exceptions Leaf arrangement can vary from the bottom to top of the stem, or in young vs. older plants, so try to look at several plants. Some crowded leaves may look opposite or whorled, but look closely to see whether there is actually space between them on the stem. Some species have narrow leaves where it's hard to see the veins, so look for other features such as petal number, presence of leaf teeth, etc.

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Other herbaceous, flowering plants with opposite, whorled or no leaves

Key Characteristics These species are herbaceous plants with only all basal, opposite, or whorled leaves; they are not aquatic, grass-like, and do not have composite flower heads. Some species are parasitic or lack green leaves.

Exceptions Leaf arrangement can vary from the bottom to top of the stem, or in young vs. older plants, so try to look at several plants. Some crowded leaves may look opposite or whorled, but look closely to see whether there is actually space between them on the stem. Some species have narrow leaves where it's hard to see the veins, so look for other features such as petal number, presence of leaf teeth, etc. Some species (such as teasel or pincushions) have flower heads that look like those of the aster family, but look closely: the flowers usually have four tooth-like lobes (a rare condition in the aster family) and the fruit is partially enclosed in a tubular bract.

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