May 20, 2013

This or That?

Lara Miller,
Natural Resources Agent

Is it a turkey vulture or a black vulture? A slash pine or a longleaf pine? A saw palmetto or a cabbage palm? Identifying things in nature is not easy, but there are many ways you can learn and remember what is what. Each person remembers the name of certain species in different ways. For example, my trick to remembering a black vulture versus a turkey vulture is by the color variation of their wings when in flight. The black vulture has lighter colored feathers at the tip of its wings (Figure 1) and I remembered this by associating it with a “black-tip” shark. For the turkey vulture, the lighter color of the underside of their wings highlights a “T” shape which can easily be associated with a “t” for turkey vulture (Figure 2).

Okay, so now you’re a pro at telling the difference between a turkey vulture and a black vulture, right? What about all of the plants? Could you tell the difference between a young cabbage palm and a saw palmetto? One way cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), our state tree, can be distinguished from the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is by its leaf structure. The cabbage palm has a costa which is a long, narrow, triangular extension of the petiole or what some might refer to as the “stem” (Figure 1) whereas the saw palmettos lack a costa (Figure 2). There are many other ways to tell the two apart, but remembering some key distinguishing features is very helpful in identification.

With the wide diversity of plants and animals found in Florida, confident identification only comes with practice. The benefit of learning to identify plants versus animals is they don’t move! It is not to say plant identification is easy, but it’s not a bad place to start. The good news is we can help! James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, is hosting an Intro to Plant ID class at Brooker Creek Preserve on Saturday, June 1st from 10:30-noon. If you attend his class and want to take your skills to the next level, he is also offering a six-session summer course all focused on how to identify plants.

To stay up to date on upcoming environmental programs offered through UF/IFAS Extension Natural Resources you can sign up for the Brooker Creek Connection, follow the Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Education Center or UF/IFAS Natural Resources on facebook.

Online registration for these courses and more is available through Brooker Creek Preserve’s website, Simply click on the “CALENDAR” link and register. We look forward to seeing you!

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