Climate Fall Foliage

A single leaf has changed color on a red maple.

Would you like to identity plants?

Maybe you want to be more knowledgeable in the garden or just drive your spouse nuts by pointing at random trees spouting out names. At some point you won’t know a specimen and find yourself stopping to observe the stems, buds and foliage. You step back to look at the form, break a leaf to see how it smells. And then, sometimes, from somewhere deep and buried, a name floats to the surface and not just any name. It’s a Latin name.

It’s so satisfying.

It’s impressive to blurt out a word that no one understands. Metasequoia glyptostroboides sounds important, but it really just means redwood. There’s a very good app named PictureThis. You just aim it at foliage and it will identify the plant. It’s not perfect, though, so you have no idea if it’s correct.

Once you start identifying plants, trees cease to be trees. They become maples and oaks. Then, as you learn more, they become red maples and water oaks. After that, they become October glory red maples or red sunset red maples. You’ll drive your friends mad with your expertise.

You’re on your way to becoming a horticulturist.

Where can you get this knowledge? The Trident Technical College horticulture program offers plant identification classes in fall and spring semesters that only meet once a week in the afternoon or evening. Learn over 300 trees, shrubs, palms and ornamental grasses and their culture, uses and identification.

Already know your plants? Here’s another challenge. The South Carolina Green Industry Association (SCGIA) offers a certified Nursery Professional credential that requires a broad understanding of horticulture and the ability to pass an identification exam. For TTC horticulture students, the certification adds to their list of accomplishments. It sets an industry standard. Some nurseries have offered incentives to employees who become certified.

The certification requires participants to pass two tests. The first part is a written exam. This is not for the faint-hearted or newly minted gardener. It covers a broad range of horticultural topics. A total of 140 questions address turf, marketing, soil, design, propagation, pesticides, irrigation and various other subjects. Most horticulturists have a broad enough range of experience to do fairly well on it. However, newcomers or those who just want to brush up on their knowledge can do so with a study manual.

The second part is plant identification. Most participants feel this is the most challenging of the two. It features between 120 and 140 specimens growing in containers. A word bank of botanical names must be matched to the correct sample. No common names are used.

In the past, TTC horticulture students have taken the identification exam at the SCGIA conference in late January. This was extremely challenging since most deciduous plants have no foliage at that time. Participants had to identify them based of bark, buds, form and stems.

An identification exam will be offered at 9:30 a.m. June 28 at Hyam’s Nursery on James Island. Certain groups of plants, such as junipers, are challenging no matter when you look at them. But deciduous specimens will have foliage this time of the year. That’s a huge advantage.

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If you want a crash course on identification, the SCGIA offers study guides that can be purchased on their website that has photos to help with plant characteristics.

If you only pass one exam, you do not have to retake it. For example, if you successfully complete the identification exam but not the written, you will not have to hyperventilate through another identification exam.

If you’re ready for the SCGIA challenge at Hyam’s Nursery, email tony.bertauski@tridenttech.edu for a registration form. The cost for students and SCGIA members is $25. It’s $50 for nonmembers.

Study materials can be acquired at www.greensc.org/certifications. Cost for members is $78, nonmembers is $100, plus tax and shipping.

For all other information regarding SCGIA, go to www.greensc.org.

If you’re up for the challenge, I’ll see you there.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at tony.bertauski@tridenttech.edu.