Most of us have or have had at one time "House Plants". Some we actually bought, some were gifts, some were inherited and some even rescued. Or my favorite - you walk into your office one morning and there is this large, green, thing lurking on your desk and no one in the office will admit to putting it there.
Guess what? It is yours by default. You have no idea what it is - let alone - how to care for it.
No one in the office could identify it and a search through my Garden books that evening wasn’t much help either. What to do? Then an idea pops into my head! The San Juan County Fair starts in a few days, so I called the people running the plant judging and told them my idea.
"I am adopted. My new owner doesn't know my name or how to care for me. If you know what I am please call my owner and let her know".
By the end of the first day I had an answer. A lady visiting from Florida called me to tell me my plant was a Strelitzia, common name Bird of Paradise. I lived in California years ago and this plant looked nothing like what I knew as Bird of Paradise.
That one was about three feet tall with very stiff leaves that looked like they would fold but didn’t and had the striking flowers combining blue, orange and white. This plant was already much taller and had broad soft leaves.
I asked her about the difference and she said the one I was familiar with from California is called STRELITZIA reginae. But, my plant is STRELITZIA nicolai or Giant Bird of Paradise.
I thanked her for the information and we had a laugh about the situation. Years later I finally saw this plant outside LAX Airport. Yes, it was twenty feet tall and tree like with broad, soft leaves and clusters of plain white flowers. It looked more like a banana tree.
This all happened a few years before the computer age. Now you can find just about any thing on Google. Be aware, not all sources on this site are valid. When looking for valid plant information the best sources are from a university (edu.), a county extension (ext) or government research agencies. Those you can count on.
If the source is "Aunt Hatties Plant Hints", beware! Wikipedia is good for general descriptions and the "pictures of..." can be a good place to start if you have an idea of what the plant looks like.
I use University of British Columbia Botanical Garden forum or UBC Plant forum for short. I like this one because it’s free and the members are from all over the world.
Some are new to gardening and just asking questions but others are trained specialists in various fields. And, of course, the whole forum is monitored closely by the University. It is a great learning experience just reading through the questions and answers.
Your best local resource is your San Juan County Extension office at 378–4414 and ask for Kristina Bayas your Master Gardener Coordinator.