When learning to identify plants, native or exotic, it is easiest to learn the characteristics of the large group of FAMILY.  This page is about taxonomic Colorado families.  The families are all CAPS and alphabetical with the identifying characteristics. The book, “Colorado Flora EASTERN SLOPE” by William A. Weber and Ronald C. Wittmann is the reference book used on this web site.

This family is largely tropical, but Colorado has about 5 plants. They are important to recognize as Many are poisonous or have irritating compounds.Leaves usually alternate and pinnately compound. Prominent fleshy disk between stamens and ovary.

Formerly Cruciferae, flowers have 4 petals in the shape of a cross, 4 sepals, with a superior ovary (petals attached at the base of the ovary). These flowers are distinguished from the family Onagraceae, which also have 4 petals, by the inferior ovary. Leaves are alternate and have a peppery tasting juice; includes many vegetables such as kale, cabbage and broccoli.

Also known as the pea or legume family, Fabaceae plants have papilionaceous (butterfly-like) flowers. The legumes have a high food value, but the large amount of selenium can be poisonous to cattle.

The geraniums have developed a remarkable method of planting their seeds. The gynoecium (combined seed pod) splits into 5 one-seeded units, each attached to a split length of style that coils like a spring. Falling to the ground, the spring coils and uncoils with changes in atmospheric humidity. If the spring lies against a grass stem or other fixed object, it drills the sharp-pointed mericarp containing the seed into the earth. Potted geraniums belong to the African genus Pelargonium.

Also known as the mint family, Lamiaceae plants are easy to recognize by their square stems, opposite leaves and bilaterally symmetrical flowers.  Hold crushed leaves up to your nose for an aromatic treat.  Well known members of this family include: rosemary, lavender, sage, spearmint, peppermint, basil, thyme, oregano and savory. Citronella was once the only insect repellent.

Also known as the mallow family, Malvaceae are non-woody (herbaceous) plants with star shaped hairs, palmately lobed leaves. They have numerous stamens fused by their filaments. Fruit is often shaped like a cheese wheel. Flowers have 5 petals and are usually radially symmetrical (like a pinwheel).  Well known members of this family include: hibiscus, hollyhock, rose-of-Sharon, and cowboy’s delight.

The flowers of the figwort family are usually showy, 2-lipped, lips usually lobed, stamens 2, 4 (or 5 with one not bearing pollen). Members of this family include indian paintbush, penstemon, mullein and toadflax.