There are many different things you could be asked to describe in part two of the IELTS speaking test. In the past, I have given you advice about describing people, places, memories, photos, experiences, awards, and so on. Some of these things would be very difficult for you… but others may be quite easy. It depends upon your personality and lifestyle. Today, however, we are going to talk about how to describe a plant or describe a flower for IELTS speaking part two.

In this lesson, I will take you through some different stages. We will first look into the possible cue cards for flowers and plants, before then talking about how to make notes, exploring some vocabulary, and then finally I will give you my own sample answer to this question. Our lesson will be arranged like this:

  1. Look at the cue card
  2. Analyse the cue card
  3. Explore possible language
  4. Talk about making notes
  5. Sample answer

Ok, let’s begin.

Describing a Plant or Flower for IELTS Speaking

To begin with, let’s think generally about this topic and what it might entail. We should start by saying that there is a difference between a plant and a flower.

The difference between plant and flower could be simply defined as this:

A flower is a reproductive part of a plant.

In other words, a flower is just a part of a plant. You can then view the plant as the whole thing but the flower is just the pretty, colourful part that we usually notice. You can see the difference between a plant and a flower in this picture:

plant vs flower 1 - Describe a Plant or Flower [IELTS Speaking]

To be honest, though, in IELTS you do not need to be a botanist (someone who studies plants) to answer this question. From a basic standpoint, there is no real difference between a cue card that says, “Describe a plant” and another that says, “Describe a flower.”

The Cue Card

As I just discussed, you may be asked to describe a plant or describe a flower but there is not really a significant difference between these. I would recommend that you just prepare an answer and go with that. For example, most people would call a pansy or rose a flower, but they are also plants. Then again, a bush is a plant but we would not call it a flower. A cactus is a plant but it has flowers on it.

Here is a possible cue card based on this topic:

Describe a plant grown in your country.

You should say:

– what the plant is

– where it is grown

– why you like or dislike it

and explain why this is an important plant.

Here is a similar one that refers to flowers rather than plants:

Describe your favourite flower.

You should say:

– what it is

– where it is grown

– if it is common in your country

and explain why it is your favourite flower.

Of course, there are various ways that this could be presented to you on the cue card, so you must read carefully and take note. However, I will point out here that most variations of the these cue cards involve the following:

Describe a PlantDescribe a Flower
Usefulness – ie qualities that make this a helpful or important plantSuperficial – this is a matter of whether you like it or not and whether it is beautiful

Alternative IELTS Speaking Cue Cards for Plants/Flowers

describe a plant for ielts 1 300x165 - Describe a Plant or Flower [IELTS Speaking]
Just some of the possible version of this question.

Before we look into these cue cards, let’s first think about some alternate possibilities. I always tell people that it’s pointless to memorise answers for IELTS or to predict the cue cards that will appear. Instead, you should think about the type of cue card that may appear and the topics that are most common. By doing this, you will be better prepared.

Here are some possible IELTS speaking cue cards about plants and flowers:

  • Describe a plant, flower or tree that you like.
    • Note that this will probably just pick one of those but may include all three.
  • Describe a plant, flower or tree that is famous or important in your country.
    • This is the same as the example above except with “famous” or “important” added to make it more specific.
  • Describe a common plant in your country.
  • Describe a tall plant you have seen.

As you can see, it is essential that you read carefully and pick an answer that fits the question. Do not just say “I like roses” because if roses are not common in your country then you will struggle to speak for more than a minute without making it clear that you did not do what was required.

IELTS Vocabulary about Plants and Flowers

As I have mentioned already, you do not need to know lots about plants and flowers in order to answer this question fully. Obviously, knowing some vocabulary related to the topic would be helpful, but you should be able to answer even if you only have a limited knowledge.

To be honest, most native speakers don’t know how to talk about plants! I would not be able to say very much on this topic and that is one of the problems with IELTS. However, it is possible to talk for a minute and give a reasonable answer without knowing botanical vocabulary.

I explained above that a “botanist” is a scientist who studies plants. What do you think “botanical vocabulary” means?

That’s right – it means “words related to plants.”

“Botany” is the study of plants and so a “botanist” is a plant scientist. Similarly, a “botanical garden” is a place where they grow many kinds of plants for science. I visited an amazing one in Singapore for my birthday last year. It was really cool. Here are some pictures I took:

There are so many different types of plants in the world that it can be hard to know how to describe them even in a basic way. However, I found this video recently and I think it would be useful for you. Most of this vocabulary is non-essential, but if you are planning on preparing for this topic you should make some notes and pick a few words to revise.

The information is mostly summarised in this image. (You can click on it to view a larger version.)

Those are different types of plants, but you may also want to learn about the different parts of a plant. I am going to insert a quiz here for you to use. You should try to guess the answers and then you can check at the bottom of this page. (You can also use a dictionary to figure it out.)

Vocabulary Quiz – Plants & Flowers

Join the word on the left with the definition on the right.

Roota) a delicate coloured part of a flower
Stemb) a flat green part of a plant, growing from a stem
Petal​c) a small sharp, pointed part on the stem of some plants
Leafd) the main long, thin part of a plant above the ground from which the leaves or flowers grow
Thorne) the part of a plant that grows under the ground and takes in water and minerals that it sends to the rest of the plant

These are only a few of the parts of a plant. You really don’t need to be an expert to answer this question, but knowing a few features of a plant might help you.

Anyway, here is a more detailed picture:

Is there any other way that this can be helpful? Well, knowing the meaning of “root” can be helpful because we use this often in English to talk about the origins of things or people’s families. If I talk about “my roots,” it means where I come from – the place, the people, the stories, etc. Likewise, we talk about “the root of a problem,” which means where that problem comes from and why it exists.

Making Notes

If you have read my previous guides to IELTS speaking part 2, you will know that I recommend writing a few notes, but I always tell you the same things:

  • don’t write too much
  • only write important words
  • no full sentences

Basically, you have one minute to prepare your answer and part of that time will be spent reading the cue card and thinking, so do not try to write down whole sentences or else you will run out of time. Instead, you can write down brief notes that will help you to remember important words or ideas. If I was going to talk about a rose, I would perhaps mention some of that vocabulary from above:

  • long stem
  • red or pink petals
  • sharp thorns

This is useful because you can write it fast and it can remind you about good vocabulary later. This can help steady your nerves so that you can talk more easily on the subject of a plant’s appearance. For difficult topics, this is really important.

Sample Answer – Describe your Favourite Flower

Ok, let’s look at a sample answer now. This is obviously specific to me because I am from Scotland and this question mentions “your country.” Here is the cue card again in case you have forgotten:

Describe your favourite flower.

You should say:

– what it is

– where it is grown

– if it is common in your country

and explain why it is your favourite flower.

My Answer

DSCN8804 1 300x225 - Describe a Plant or Flower [IELTS Speaking]
A Scottish thistle at Edinburgh Castle

Well, to be honest I have never really thought about having a favourite flower before so this is a pretty difficult question for me. However, when I think of flowers that may come from my country, there is one that really stands out to me, and that is the thistle.

Most people would probably disagree with the thistle being a flower and I doubt that many people would say it is their favourite because it is more like a weed than a flower. No one grows this at home and no one gives it to other people as a gift. They have a bad reputation but they are actually really quite beautiful.

A thistle is a long-stemmed plant that grows in cool climates like Scotland. They are a hardy plant that can deal with poor-quality soil and difficult conditions such as high winds. It grows across the country but I doubt that anyone really chooses to grow it. Instead, they just appear by the side of roads and paths. The flower is a bright purple colour – although sometimes it appears more pinkish – and this stands out against the green background.

I like that it is so bright and beautiful, yet also strong and tough. If you pick it up, it will also cut your hand because they are covered in small spikes.

Notes on my Sample Answer

This answer would likely score band 9 (depending on the speaker’s pronunciation) because it uses perfect grammar, good vocabulary, and basically it answers the question in a complete way. Notice that I began with a disclaimer of sorts. I said that this is not an ideal topic for me, so I would just do my best. It is ok to speak like this and be honest with the examiner. He or she will understand that some IELTS cue cards are just really difficult.

Throughout the description, I was careful to talk about what the plant looked like because this is an essential feature of language. If I can put a picture into the listener’s head, he or she will immediately understand me better. For an examiner, that means a better impression of my English!

Look closely at this passage:

A thistle is a long-stemmed plant that grows in cool climates like Scotland. They are a hardy plant that can deal with poor-quality soil and difficult conditions such as high winds. It grows across the country but I doubt that anyone really chooses to grow it. Instead, they just appear by the side of roads and paths. The flower is a bright purple colour – although sometimes it appears more pinkish – and this stands out against the green background.

It is highly descriptive and yet I have used no particularly difficult language. I adapted the word “stem” from above and made it “long-stemmed,” which is a good way to describe tall plants. I mentioned the climate in which it grows and also the soil conditions. These sound advanced but are actually quite basic.

Others IELTS Speaking Questions About Plants/Flowers

Do not overlook the others parts of the IELTS speaking test. Even though I have focused purely on part 2 today, you may also be asked about flowers or plants in the first section of the test. This will be really basic and so you don’t need much vocabulary for it, but maybe this article has helped you. Here are a few example questions that you may be asked, alongside some sample answers:

Q: Do you like plants?

A: Yes, I suppose I like plants. I used to have a small garden outside my old house but no I have no plants and I actually haven’t had any for about four years.

Q: Why do some people like growing plants?

A: I think that people naturally like to be involved in creative or productive pursuits, and plants are something that you can watch grow. They are easier and involve less responsibility than having a baby or a pet, but the result is sort of similar. You get to see your hard work pay off as they get bigger.

Q: Do you think that flowers are a good present?

A: Yes, they can be but it depends on the person. I buy my mother flowers on her birthday but my dad would not appreciate that.

Q: What are the occasions when people give or receive flowers?

A: People tend to give flowers on birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day, but there are other occasions too, such as anniversaries and even religious festivals. It depends on the person and the culture.

Conclusion

If you were given this cue card, you may feel a sudden sense of panic. It is difficult to think of flowers and plants even in our native tongue, but to do it in another language is really challenging. However, I think that with the advice above, you should be able to describe your favourite flower well enough to impress an IELTS examiner. This is a great topic to practice with a speaking partner and then do some additional reading to boost your overall knowledge and vocabulary. Good luck!

Answers to the Vocabulary Quiz

Root – e

Stem – d

Petal – a

Leaf – b

Thorn – c