Seedling Identification Guide for Columbia Basin Shrub-Steppe and Grassland Restoration Projects

Category: Guidelines

Published: March 1, 2012

Pages: 113

Author(s): Tveten, R. K. and Asher, M. 2011, Seedling Identification Guide for Columbia Basin Upland Restoration Sites


The purpose of this guide is to help people identify native plants and potentially harmful weeds on shrub steppe and grassland restoration sites in the Columbia Basin. This guide is a companion document to the Shrub-Steppe and Grassland Restoration Manual for the Columbia River Basin ( within which the species are discussed. As native plants and weeds often germinate together on restoration sites the primary focus of this guide is on early seedling identification so weeds can be controlled before they become firmly established. This is not intended to be an encyclopedic guide and only contains the following plants,

  • native species that are commonly used on restoration sites (Common names bolded in the species list),
  • important native species that have been known to colonize restoration sites, and
  • introduced weeds that commonly occur on restoration sites with a focus on species that can threaten the success of projects.

This guide consists of a species list and corresponding pages of photographs associated with each listed species. Photographs of seedlings are provided to help one identify seedling as early as possible. Grass seed photographs are included because seeds sometimes remain attached to seedling root systems and can sometimes be used help one identify young grasses. To the degree that helpful photographs of mature plants are available, such photographs are included as well. Notes and arrows pointing out distinguishing characteristics are provided when they can be helpful with species identification.

We acknowledge that this guide should be regularly upgraded. Species should be added as more native species become commercially available and as new weed problems are identified. Likewise, existing photographs should be replaced as better photographs become available. Guide users are encouraged to contribute photographs by sending them to

Helpful hints for identifying seedlings.

Inventory mature plants on and near the site before starting a restoration project. Most seedlings on a restoration site will be the progeny of plants that previously dominated the site. Identify mature plants and collect seed samples to aid in seedling identification later in the project. It is much easier to identify seedlings from a short a list of suspect species than starting with a botanical key containing all species in a region. Also, nearby mature plants can be used to confirm seedling taxonomy by comparing plant attributes like color, hair, etc.

Seed a sample tray with native plants. Plant a little bit of the restoration seed mix in weed-free soil at the office (outside) at the same time the restoration site is seeded. Observing native species as they germinate will help you to become familiar with germination times and appearance of planted seedlings. Also, by keeping track of the amount of seed tested this way, the germinability can be roughly calculated. Periodically pull a few grass seedlings up as they grow to associate seedlings with seeds and learn how long the seeds remain identifiable.

Consider drill planting patterns. If a site is planted with a drill, most desirable plants will only be growing in rows, whereas undesirable species will tend to be everywhere.

When you can’t identify grass seedlings in the field, carefully pull up a few seedlings and see if the seed is still attached. If the seed is still attached, the seed can be compared to seeds in the grass seed photographs provided in this guide, to seeds in the planting mix or to mature weed seed samples collected prior to the project.

Suggested citation

Tveten, R. K. and Asher, M. 2012, Seedling Identification Guide for Columbia Basin Upland Restoration Sites