Wildflower Wednesday: Seven tips on wildflower identification

A detail view of purple-pink Astragalus lentiginosus, or blue locoweed.

A good example of observing carefully: The leaves grow in opposed pairs. The flower stalk begins its blossoming from the bottom up.
Beakpod milkvetch or blue locoweed in its second florescence of the year.

Now that wildflower blooming season is winding down, I thought I would share some techniques I’ve learned to make wildflower identification easier.

  • Use your smartphone as a camera. No matter how light you travel, you can always squeeze your phone in your pocket or hip pack. I’ve been surprised by how consistently my iphone takes better flower snaps than my new point-and-shoot digital camera. Photos will help you recall details when you get back to the house.
  • Measure. There’s a reason why fossil buffs always have a pencil in the photo of their finds. A rough guide to the size of your find helps in identification. Is it hip high? Smaller than your hand?
  • Count. How many petals? Do the leaves come single or paired?
  • Observe. What month is it blooming? Do the flowers open in the morning or evening? Is the plant growing in the sun or shade, by the road or in the forest?
  • Touch. Too often we neglect our other senses. Are the leaves fuzzy? Sticky?
  • Smell. Does the flower smell? What about the leaves? Sometimes you need to pinch or brush the leaves to release the scent—or stink!
  • Don’t taste! Too many wild plants are toxic, or have toxic look-alikes. Better safe than sorry.

Wildflower Wednesday will be taking a slight break this winter. The near-weekly posts will return in the spring. In the meantime, I hope to write more occasional pieces on Wednesdays to share what I learn about wildflower botany and identification. Please join me, won’t you?

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