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The key is to flowering plant genera that are wild and casual in New Zealand. New Zealand is the New Zealand Botanical Region and includes offshore and outlying islands -- the Kermadec Islands, the Chatham Islands, and New Zealand's southern outlying islands.

Which plants are included in the key?

The key is to flowering plant genera that are wild and casual in New Zealand. New Zealand is the New Zealand Botanical Region and includes offshore and outlying islands -- the Kermadec Islands, the Chatham Islands, and New Zealand's southern outlying islands.

Wild genera are those which are native and naturalised. Native genera are those that were present before human arrival but also those have arrived recently but not by human agency (new colonisers or vagrants). Naturalised genera, called 'fully naturalised' in the key, have self-sustaining populations in the wild. Casual genera are those that are known only from cultivated areas such as gardens, where they are producing young plants from seed or by suckering, or are known from single wild sites, often from sites with dumped garden refuse, or abandoned gardens. In reality, the line between the casual and fully naturalised state is not a sharply defined one. The key does not include genera that present in New Zealand only in cultivation and not known to be reproducing themselves.

The key includes all genera wild or casual in Nga Tipu o Aotearoa (Allan Herbarium, 2000), and in almost all cases agrees with that database on the biostatus (native, fully naturalised, or casual), but in a few cases, we have scored what Nga Tipu o Aoteoroa regards as casual as fully naturalised because of interpretation of data associated with recently collected specimens.

What family classification does the key use?

Family classification follows Mabberley's Plant Book, 3rd edition (2008). Mabberley follows fairly closely the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) classification (Stevens 2001 onwards), and so incorporates the changes that have been made to family classification as a result of DNA evidence.

The families are listed alphabetically, and the genera within each family are also arranged alphabetically. Note that the families are not scored for the key, they are used simply to group the genera.

The first feature in the key is dicots/monocots. The monocots are phylogenetically nested within the dicots, and so the two groups are not equivalent. Nevertheless, most people with some knowledge of flowering plants have a sense of this traditional division and so it is used here. You need not use this feature.

The Flora of New Zealand volume IV (Webb et al. 1988) used Dahlgren's 1983 classification of the dicots. Mabberley's 2008 classification of the dicots differs from Flora of New Zealand volume 4 mainly in these respects:

  • Most genera that were in Scrophulariaceae (e.g., Hebe, Digitalis, and Ourisia) are now in Plantaginaceae, and Hebe is now part of Veronica.
  • Glossostigma, Mazus, Erythranthe and Thyridia (previously Mimulus) that were in Scrophulariaceae are now in Phrymaceae.
  • Scrophulariaceae is still recognised as a family, and now includes Buddleja and Myoporum (both previously in their own families).
  • Euphrasia and Parentucellia are now in Orobanchaceae rather than Scrophulariaceae.
  • Lobeliaceae genera (Pratia, Lobelia, etc) are now in Campanulaceae.
  • Epacridaceae (e.g., Cyathodes, Dracophyllum, Leucopogon, Pentachondra) are now in Ericaceae.
  • Myrsinaceae (Ardisia, Elingamita, and Myrsine) are in Primulaceae.
  • Flacourtiaceae genera (Azara, Dovyalis, Idesia) are in Salicaceae.
  • Acer (sycamore) and Aesculus (horse chestnut) are now in Sapindaceae.
  • Fumariaceae are now included in Papaveraceae.

In the monocotyledons, The Flora of New Zealand volumes II and III (Moore & Edgar 1970, Healy & Edgar 1980) used the family classification of Hutchinson (1959). Mabberley's classification differs mainly in these respects:

  • The Asparagaceae is now a large family that contains genera previously in several other families, e.g. Agave, Fucraea and Yucca (were Agavaceae), Hyacinthus etc (were Hyacinthaceae), Cordyline (was in Asteliaceae).
  • Phormium and Dianella were in Phormiaceae and are now in Hemerocallidaceae.
  • Xeronema is now in its own family, Xeronemataceae.
  • Lepilaena and Zannachellia (Zannichelliaceae) are now in Potamogetonaceae.

Who is the key designed for?

The key has been kept as simple as possible so it can be used by both the experienced and inexperienced. We have attempted to keep it non-technical and, on the whole have tried to score genera as a non-expert would (flora features like the presence of a perianth are an exception). The key uses mainly non-flower and fruit characters, so that it can be used to identify sterile plants, as these are the hardest to identify for expert and non-expert alike. In some cases, the key will not allow you to reduce the list to a single genus, but will take you to a group of related and very similar genera. Once you have a list of half a dozen genera, the images should allow you to identify a genus in most cases.

How should you use the key?

  • Look for the features listed in capitals, they are the simplest and often the most effective features.
  • Answer the plant form question (herb, tree etc.).
  • Then answer questions about the form of the leaves, whether they are simple or compound, and whether the margins are entire, lobed, or toothed.
  • If you have flowers, attempt to answer questions such as stamen and petal number as these will take you quickly to an answer.
  • If your plant lacks flowers or fruit, choose the subset of characters 'vegetative only'.
  • If you already know that your plant belongs to a large common family (like the daisy family), look at the bottom of the list of features where you can choose from the largest 10 families.
  • Use the 'Best' tool to find which question will discriminate best amongst the remaining genera. You may not be able to answer the feature that is highlighted. If so press the 'Next Best' button (as often as you want) and look for something you can answer.
  • If at some point answering 'Best' questions seems to get you no closer to a single genus and you have half a dozen genera or less, shuffle through the images for a match to your specimen. The green arrows above the images allow you to do this without returning to the key itself.

If you think the genera remaining don't include the plant you have, be prepared to un-tick some of your answers, and try answering different questions. Note what difference this makes to the list of remaining genera, and look for a consensus. There are several sources of possible error in using this key. The dataset for this key is huge (about 64,000 pieces of information) and taken from a variety of sources. Some of this information is incorrect: random sampling of leaf lengths and widths indicates about 5% of specimens lie outside the ranges provided here. Secondly, you may have mis-scored or mis-interpreted a feature. Check explanations accompanying the features. For leaf length and width, you can enter a range (e.g. for a specimen with a leaf 25 mm long, try entering '20-30 mm' for leaf length).

If you are unsure whether your plant is known in the wild, but you would still like to use the key to place the plant in a family or genus, use questions like stamen number and ovary position which are more constant for families and genera. and be cautious with features like leaf length and width.

Be cautious in using island distribution for non-native plants, as these are likely to occur beyond their known range, especially casuals. Island distribution should be reliable for native genera.

Be cautious in using habitat characters. Genera have been scored for the habitats they have been recorded in, but particularly for naturalised and casual plants, they are likely to turn up in new habitats.

If you have difficulties getting the key to work, or would like further help on how to operate the key, use the Help button on this key's front page.


Depending on how you score some features, other features will appear or disappear from the features list. The main dependencies are listed here to help you understand how the key is behaving.

Features/characters that appear:

Your choice Feature that will appear in the list
plant carnivorous trapping mechanism
daisy family / flowers grouped in a capitulum florets of daisy capitulum ligulate or tubular
fruit fleshy colour of fleshy fruit

The main features/characters that disappear:

Your choice Feature(s) that will disappear from the list
dicot pattern of alternating leaves in monocots
dicot leaf ligule present or absent
herb, cushion, or flax, rush or sedge-like plants deciduous or evergreen
tree succulent or not
epiphyte deciduous or evergreen
cushion succulent or not; deciduous or evergreen; stems hollow or pity
not woody deciduous or evergreen
stems and leaves glabrous types of hairs
leaves reduced leaf length and width
stipule absent form of stipule
leaves opposite pattern of alternating leaves in monocots
leaves simple pinnate or palmate; degree of division; number of leaflets
leaves compound leaves folding or flat
flowers not forming a capitulum capitula solitary or grouped
flowers forming a capitulum flowers solitary or grouped
corolla not different from calyx petals per flower; petals fused or free; flower symmetry
daisy flowers solitary or grouped
daisy number of stamens
daisy number of perianth segments

Sources of information used to compile this key

Island distributions follow these sources:

Kermadec Islands: Sykes 1977, Sykes & West 1996.
Three Kings Islands: Oliver1948
North, South, Stewart, Chatham Islands: Parsons et al. 1995
Auckland Islands: Johnson & Campbell 1975
Antipodes Islands: Godley 1989
Campbell Island: Meurk & Given (unpublished)

Common names for naturalised plants follow Healy & Edgar (1977), Webb et al. (1987), and where naturalised genera post-date these, from Ogle (2002) and Ngā Tipu o Aotearoa (Allan Herbarium 2000).. In addition some English common names have been found on the web, particularly Wikipedia. Common names for native plants were not provided in Allan (1961). As there are many dialectical Māori names for New Zealand plants, they have been used sparingly.

Scoring of the key was done from many sources. The Flora of New Zealand series, particularly volumes 3 and 4 were the starting point for scoring. Cheeseman's 1925 flora was also useful. For many of the casual genera, the Flora of China (efloras 2008) was the main source of information. Dawson & Lucas (2011) was useful for scoring native tree genera. Leaf lengths and widths were checked in the Allan Herbarium, particularly where ranges were not available from the Flora of New Zealand series.


We especially thank Phil Garnock-Jones for making available his image library, which formed a foundation for the image set at the outset of the project, when the task of accumulating the huge number of images needed seemed daunting. We also thank others who contributed images: Jonathan Boow, Rowan Buxton, Markus Davis, Peter Heenan, Rowan Hilsden, Greg Jordan, Robert Lamberts, Chris Morse, Geoff Rogers, Alice Shanks, Jon Sullivan, and Manfred Tippelskirch. The many contributors to Wikimedia commons are thanked for making their images available. 200 images taken from Wikimedia commons are at present in the key. Images of Kurt Stüber, Kim and Forest Starr, Stan Shebs, Kenpei, and H. Zell have been particularly useful to fill gaps in our image set.

Jon Sullivan (Lincoln University) and Chrissen Gemmill (Waikato University) took the time to provide much useful feedback on the draft key in its earliest release.

We thank Aaron Wilton (Landcare Research) for providing a list of genera currently recognised as wild or casual in New Zealand from Landcare Research's plant names database, which made it possible to match the key accurately to the Ngā Tipu o Aotearoa website (Allan Herbarium 2000). We thank Colin Meurk also for an unpublished list of plants of Campbell Island.

The Australian key to flowering plant families (Adams & Thiele, 2001), Watson and Dallwitz's Families of flowering plants (Watson & Dallwitz 1992 onwards) and Neotropikey (Milliken et al. 2011) were useful as models for coding characters, and for scoring features uniform across a family. The online efloras China, North America, and Pakistan (efloras 2008, ) were most useful for scoring genera.

We also acknowledge the financial assistance of the Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (TFBIS) Programme for funding this key. The TFBIS Programme is funded by the Government to help to achieve the goals of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, and is administered by the Department of Conservation.


Adams LG, Thiele KR 2001. Families of flowering plants of Australia: an interactive identification guide. Canberra, CSIRO.

Allan HH 1961. Flora of New Zealand. Volume I. Indigenous Tracheophyta. Wellington, Government Printer.

Allan Herbarium 2000. Ngā Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plant Names Database. Landcare Research, New Zealand. Available (Accessed 2009-11).

Cheeseman TF 1925. Manual of the New Zealand flora. Wellington, Government Printer.

Dawson J, Lucas R 2011. New Zealand's native trees. Nelson, Craig Potton Publishing.

Dahlgren, RMT 1983. General aspects of angiosperm evolution and macrosystematics. Nordic Journal of Botany 3: 119-149.

eFloras 2008. Published on the Internet [accessed 2009-2011] Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.

Godley EJ 1989. The flora of Antipodes Island. New Zealand Journal of Botany 27: 531-563.

Healy AJ, Edgar E 1980. Flora of New Zealand. Volume III. Adventive Cyperaceous, petalous and spathaceous Monocotyledons. Wellington, Govt Printer.

Hutchinson J 1959. The families of flowering plants II. 2nd edition. London, Clarendon Press.

Johnson PN, Campbell DJ 1975. Vascular plants of the Auckland Islands. New Zealand Journal of Botany 13: 665-720.

Mabberley, DJ 2008. Mabberley's Plant Book. 3rd edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Meurk CD, Given DR (unpublished). The vascular flora and vegetation mapping units of Campbell Island.

Milliken, W, Klitgård, B, Baracat A (eds) 2011. Neotropikey - interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics. (accessed 2010-11).

Moore L, Edgar, E 1970. Flora of New Zealand. Volume II. Indigenous Tracheophyta, Monocotyledones except Gramineae. Wellington, Government Printer.

Ogle CC 2002. Adventive dicotyledons, conifers, ferns, and fern allies in New Zealand, additional to those in Flora of New Zealand Vol. 4 (Webb et al. 1988). New Zealand Botanical Society Newsletter 70: 8–16.

Oliver WRB 1948. The flora of the Three Kings Islands. Records of the Auckland Institute 3: 211-238.

Parsons MJ, Douglass P, Macmillan BH 1995. Current names for wild plants in New Zealand. Lincoln, Manaaki Whenua Press.

Stevens PF 2001 onwards. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 9, June 2008.

Sykes, WR 1977. Kermadec Islands flora. An annotated checklist. DSIR Bulletin 219 .

Sykes, WR, West, CJ 1996. New records and other information on the vascular flora of the Kermadec Islands. New Zealand Journal of Botany 34: 447-462.

Watson L, Dallwitz MJ 1992 onwards. The families of flowering plants: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. Version: 20th May 2010.

Webb CJ, Sykes WR, Garnock-Jones PJ 1988. Flora of New Zealand volume IV. Naturalised pteridophytes, gymnosperms, dicotyledons. Christchurch, DSIR.