Learning to identify the names of forage plants requires some effort and time but can be a very useful tool to making the proper decisions for successful livestock systems, veterinary diets, conservation, and ecology. Grass and other plants obviously grow all around us but we can better utlize them if we know what they are. Though they may be very common and look somewhat the same, the common plants we see every day are not the same and do not provide the same nutrition to foraging wildlife or domesticated animals. A closer look at what exists will help us all determine what should be used and what should be avoided. Your refrigerator contains a host of different foods but you are selective about what you will feed a two-year old child. Grapes might be nutritious but may cause choking, while a dinner of mayonnaise would not be wise either. Some people may feel that animals naturally select what they need, but that assumes what they need is available and what is detrimental will not be chosen. That case is not entirely true and especially not helpful if the goal is top performance, rapid weight gain, or maximum milk production. Knowing the identification and specific attributes of the various forage plants is the start to a healthy animal diet. Better diets directly lead to improved performance and indirectly to better human health.

Understanding what will grow best in an area also benefits conservation and ecological efforts. SlowPlants used to reduce erosion must be selected carefully for drainage attributes and longevity. Plants chosen for highway drainage ditches must be chosen to enhance and beautify but not require intense management by highway crews. Habitat restoration projects must be aware of what plant combinations will interact successfully. None of these decisions can be made without proper identification of grasses, legumes, forbs, and shrubs. Forage producers always have new plants appearing in pastures brought there by winds or birds. Deciding whether they are detrimental or advantageous cannot be done without identification. Nor can decisions about removal or restoration.

Farmers, ranchers, and forage producers learn plant identification through experience, usually beginning with general appearance. Text books usually begin with small details building to a whole plant. This lesson will try to bring the best of both features together. Although learning to identify the common plants that grow around us may seem overwhelming to some, this lesson will present the material sequentially and provide sufficient practice to enable interested learners to be on a first-name basis with the environment.