Just for the record, I HATE botanical keys. You know the sort - those dichotomous keys where you spend more time in the glossary than you do looking at the specimen. "Is this acute or attenuate? What the hell does 'glandular' actually LOOK like? Are these considered lobes or is this simply a wavy leaf edge? Phyllaries? What in the world is a phyllary?" Heaven forbid your specimen isn't in the growth stage that the key is looking for! The very first step in the most recent key I was using called for an examination of ribs on the seeds - but I've been waiting all summer for my plants to simply bloom, let alone for seed to set. They are still weeks away from having ripe seeds!
Thankfully, there's the internet and friends and sheer doggedness.
I've actually been able to solve three identification mysteries recently, two of them at least partially through the use of dichotomous keys. The first mystery I solved was what the slightly blurry, tall plant was on the right hand side in the foreground of the photo below....
horseweed (Conyza canadensis). The mystery plant kept growing taller and taller and taller, not heading out until sometime in September. When it finally bloomed, I was vindicated. Definitely goldenrod.
Just to the left of that first mystery plant was another mystery plant....
As the plant grew taller over the summer, I started planning to relocate it to the lower terrace along with the goldenrod. However, several sources mentioned that saltbush makes a very pretty small tree, so I've changed my mind and decided to limb it up and use it to anchor the southern end of the bed that has grown up around these two mystery plants.
The third mystery plant has been nagging at me for identification almost since the day we moved into the house. I noticed a rather pretty looking plant out near the lakeside deck a year ago in June and marked it so that it wouldn't get mown.
USDA Plant Profiles database and the Atlas of Florida Plants, it is found in
5 or 6 counties in the panhandle of Florida and a little bit, somewhere in Alabama. In other words, this is a fairly localized plant - which really excites me! I am so glad that I protected it from mowing, particularly since it's turned out to be so attractive.