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Weed ID

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The first step in any pest management program is to identify the pest. Weed management decisions are predicated on an understanding of the weed, its life cycle and mode(s) of reproduction and spread. Below are several weed identification guides recommended for North Carolina.

Weed Identification Guides recommended for NC

Weeds of the Northeast (and Mid-Atlantic States), 2nd editionThe 2nd edition of this a full color guide to weed identification is now available. This update includes over 500 weed species and now covers the mid-Atlantic States (including North Carolina), the Northeastern US, upper Mid-Western states and Southeastern Canada. This manual contains images and descriptions of multiple growth stages, contrasting information about similar and related species, and a key to weed identification. Authors: J. Neal, R. Uva, J. DiTomaso, and A. DiTommaso.

Weeds of Southern Turfgrass — contains descriptions and photos of most common weeds of turfgrass and landscape plantings in the region. As the title implies, many weeds of other cropping systems will are in this manual. As of 2022, this book is not longer in print.

Weeds of the South — a full color book published by the Southern Weed Science Society.

Weeds of Container Nurseries in the United States by Drs. Joe Neal and Jeff Derr,  is published by the NC Nursery and Landscape Association and includes information about the identification, biology and control of each species. The publication is currently out of print but a pdf version is available. The linked version also includes an updated herbicide efficacy chart (2019 revision). Additionally,  an on-line multi-character key for the identification of common weeds of container nurseries is available at NCSU.

On-Line Weed Identification

Several on-line resources contain compilations of weed photos. Those sites can be quite useful if you already know the name of the weed (or suspect you know the name).

The NCSU Plants Toolbox has a multi-character key for plant identification. It includes many common weed species.

The Virginia Tech Weed Identification on-line key is one resource that can help you identify an unknown weed. This is a multi-character key that allows you to select traits or characteristics of your specimen then narrows the list of possible species. Every such key has its own particular “quirks” so its best to practice with a few weeds you know before trying to identify an unknown species.

Mobile apps. There are several mobile apps that are very useful in plant identification. These image-based identification tools have improved dramatically in the past few years. I have used iNaturalist with good success. I’ve also tried PictureThis and found it to be very good. Michigan State Extension Weed Scientist, Erin Hill, has compared several plant ID apps for accuracy and ease of use. Results are available here:

Still need help identifying the weed?

If you are in North Carolina, take your specimen to your local Cooperative Extension office. You may also send digital images, but we need clear, in focus photos of the weed, Be sure to include multiple photos of the plant, leaves, stems and flowers. Check to be sure they are in good focus. Sometimes we need a physical sample for identification. Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for assistance on where to send those samples.

Written By

Joe Neal, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDr. Joe NealProfessor of Weed Science and Extension Specialist Call Dr. Joe Email Dr. Joe Horticultural Science
NC State Extension, NC State University
Page Last Updated: 1 year ago
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