Botanic Garden and Attenborough Arboretum

Introduction to Plant identification,

Classes take place in both the laboratory and the field, and involve hands-on experience with living plants. Microscopes are provided for lab sessions, but emphasis is on field identification. Discussion is encouraged throughout in order to help consolidate understanding of key concepts and terminology. As well as whole-class teaching, you will receive individual instruction and help.

The course begins with an overview of plants and the evolutionary relationships of the major groups. After this, the focus is on common species which are used to teach how to use the different types of identification key and to illustrate the diagnostic features of selected families, chosen to account for more than 85% of our native flora. The topic material is set in an evolutionary and ecological context, in order to help you develop an understanding of species relationships and habitat preferences.

The range of material covered and the sites we visit on our field excursions provide you with all-important personal experience and practice.

There are no pre-requisites, come as you are!

Intended learning outcomes. By the end of all the classes, students should be able to:

  • be familiar with the 40 plant families which together account for c. 85% of the native species in our flora
  • identify important genera by sight and by the use of keys
  • identify at least 300 species by sight or key
  • prepare botanical specimens and make botanical records
  • know many of the plant species typical of a given habitat. 

Student work load. 9 x 5-hour classes. No compulsory homework but additional private study would make a huge difference in helping you develop and retain your ID skills.

Assessment scheme: an optional lab and field-based exam held at the end of the course, successful completion of which results in the award of a ‘University of Leicester Plant Identification License’.


You will need:

  • a hand lens for plant identification; x10 is fine for most purposes, and is an essential part of a botanist's kit, although a x20 lens can be handy sometimes, and some lenses now comes with a built-in light which is useful. You can buy good quality lenses starting at around £5, via Amazon or Summerfield Books
  • at least one field guide to the British flora. Collins Flower Guide is well illustrated, has identification keys and is the most comprehensive of the books available. You may also find The Vegetative key to the British flora, 2nd ed. by J.Poland & E.Clement useful
  • clothing, footwear & refreshment suitable for outdoor study. 


The laboratory classes are based at the University of Leicester Botanic Gardens, and the field excursions are to a range of sites in the midlands.


The 9 classes run on Wednesdays, with a morning (10.00am-12.00pm) and afternoon (1.00pm-4.00pm) session. The preliminary dates for 2025 are:

  • Class 1 - Wednesday 26 March 2025
  • Class 2 - Wednesday 2 April 2025
  • Class 3 - Wednesday 9 April 2025
  • Class 4 - Wednesday 30 April 2025
  • Class 5 - Wednesday 7 May 2025
  • Class 6 - Wednesday 21 May 2025
  • Class 7 - Wednesday 28 May 2025
  • Class 8 - Wednesday 11 June 2025
  • Class 9 - Wednesday 25 June 2025

How much does it cost?

£65 per class.

Participants will gain the greatest skill and understanding in linking species with genera and families by attending the entire course.  However, classes can be taken in any number and any combination. 

Discounts are available to anyone who books the whole course (£500), or to University of Leicester alumni, members of the Friends of the Garden, and members of LRWT for individual classes (£60 per class).

Contact: Dr Richard Gornall and Dr Stuart Desjardins

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