Seed Identification and How to Identify Seeds

Seed Identification can be both a science and an art. Some seed scientists use "seed keys" to identify seeds, others visualization, and most use both depending upon what experience they have in the field and what they are trying to identify.

Unfortunately, only the most common agricultural and weed seeds have been described, drawn, or photographed. This makes identifying less common seeds harder.

Seed Identification: the Basics

No matter how you are going to identify seeds, there are some important characteristics that you have to view to come to the identity of any seed species.

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Texture
  • Color

When it comes to size, you need to look at overall size of the seed and then the size of each of the seed's individual parts.

The same is true of shape and texture. What is the overall shape? What is the shape of each of the individual parts. Does the seed have an overall texture and what is it? Do any of the individual parts have a texture of their own?

Color can be variable depending upon where the seed was grown and its age.

Seed Identification: Using Seed Keys

Like many botanical keys used to identify plants, seed keys are called "dichotomous" keys. This means that the user is given two statements and chooses the one that most pertains to the seed they are looking at. This then leads the user to two more statements. Through narrowing down the choices, the user eventually comes to the identity of the species they are looking for.

Because seed keys use botanical terms, you need to become familiar with the terms used to describe shapes and textures. Luckily, all seed keys have a glossary with the terms used in the key. Before using a key, be sure to obtain a grasp of the terminology that you will be using.

Seed Identification: Using Seed Drawings, Photographs, and Descriptors

Many people use seed drawings, called "plates", to come to the identity of a seed they are looking at. Photographs of seeds may also be used for this. Good visualization skills are needed for this comparison type of seed identification. Once the identity of a seed is found, you can use written descriptions of the seed, called "descriptors", to confirm your identification.

This is a much quicker method of identification but experience and familiarity with seed families, seed characteristics, and a "feel" for seeds is needed. Familiarity with the various botanical terms surrounding seed identification is also very useful.

Seed Identification: Using Seed Herbariums

A seed herbarium is a standardized collection of seeds with a known identity. These may be arranged phylogenically from less complex plant families to more complex or simply alphabetically by family, then by genus, and finally by species.

Seed herbariums are used for final identification. They are for visual comparison and will contain a number of seeds from each species so that you can see the range of variation within that species. This offsets the one problem with drawings and photographs as they usually have one or two seeds from each species and these are the most perfect examples of that species.

SeedImages Virtual Seed Herbarium

Our SeedImages database of seed photographs and descriptors was brought together by the Seed Technology Educational Programs at Colorado State University to aid those wishing to have available an online, virtual seed herbarium to aid in the seed identification process.

One of the big selling points for subscribing to the SeedImages database is that it is not just photos of seeds. This database contains descriptions of the seeds and seed descriptors to aid you in your seed identification. It is also a searchable database with our own database search mechanism that can be searched through many different terms and term combinations. This allows you to identify seeds simply by the search mechanism.

For those thinking about subscribing to our database, we have a list of all the species found within it currently at: SeedImages Species Database List . We are in the process of adding many more seeds to expand our database.

If you would like to subscribe to this virtual seed herbarium, go to: Subscribe to Database.