Our class has recently switched gears from bird watching to wildflower studying and identification. I must admit that I am excited about the change due to a plant’s immovability compared to that of birds. I did realize that identification is a little more difficult since to my eyes the plants all look alike, but I guess that is the whole point of this experience. Thus, in order to help myself, and you of course, I will not only tell you about my experience but attempt to create a guide.
The best way to identify a flower is to know the location that you are in and the flowers that grow within that region. Since I live in Lubbock, it would be smart for me to acquire a field guide or list of local flowers. This is crucial due to the fact that the climatic characteristics of a place greatly affect what kind of vegetation can be found within it. So lets imagine that you find a flower, here is my guide to identifying:
1. Concentrate on the flower first.
a. Look at the size of the flower. Is it small? Large?
b. Look at the number of petals and the pattern in which they grow. Is there a specific number? Is there multiple? Do they grow in a specific pattern? Are the petals bound to each other, or separate?
c. How do the flowers originate in relation to others? Is there only one flower per plant? Multiple? Is the flower a combination of two, an outer ray flower and an inner disk flower as in daisies.
d. Is the flower symmetrical? Irregular in patterns?
e. Where do the petals of the flowers originate?
2. Now look at the leaves and stems.
a. What is the pattern of the leaves?
b. In what numbers do they grow?
c. Are there any spines? Hairs? Substances?
d. What is the shape of the stem?
3. Now look at other characteristics?
a. Does the flower have a specific smell?
b. Is there an irregularity in the plant?
c. When does in bloom?
After answering these questions, you can go ahead grab a field guide or flower list in order to pair up your answers with the descriptions of the different families of flowers that are available in the area. Here is an example of the one in my field guide:
• Cactaceae (cactus family): Succulent stems (pads or barrels) with spines; flowers having numerous petals and stamens.
• Compositae (Daisy, sunflower, or aster family): Small flowers grouped together in compact heads usually displaying outer “ray” and inner “disk” flowers with the entire head often appearing to be the “flower.”
• Cruciferae (mustard family): Flowers typically small, having only four petals, arranged in pairs across from each other; fruit having various shapes but always with two chambers and arranged scattered down the flowering stalk below the flowers. Flowering in early spring.
• Geraniaceae (geranium family): Regular (radially symmetrical) flowers with five non-fused petals, fruit with an elongated, beak like projection with the seed around its base (thus “stork’s-bill common name).
• Labiatae (mint family): Plants with square (quadrangular) stems, opposite leaves, and highly irregular (bilaterally symmetrical) flowers; crushed leaves often have a minty smell.
• Leguminosae (bean or legume family): Plants with compound leaves and fruit (legumes) that are pea pod shaped. Flowers of one subgroup are highly irregular (bilaterally symmetrical) as in sweet peas; another subgroup has mimosa-like flowers with inconspicuous petals and many stamens, forming spherical clusters.
• Malvaceae (mallow family): Regular flowers with five petals and numerous stamens fused by the filaments into a “stamen tree.”
• Onagranceae (evening primrose family): Regular flowers with four sepals, four petals, and, usually eight stamens. The petals arise from a tube that comes off the top of the inferior ovary; fruit four chambered.
• Scrophularianceae (snapdragon family): Broadly irregular flowers with five fused petals (two upper and three lower) and an open throat with four stamens together on the upper surface of the flower throat, which is often hairy or “bearded,” leaves commonly opposite.
• Solanaceae (potato or nightshade family): Regular flowers with five fused petals whose lobes flair at right angles from the floral tube; fruit tomato like with two chambers.
• Verbenaceae (vervain family): Closely related to the Labiatae; square stems and opposite leaves, but with only slightly irregular flowers clustered together in a tight inflorescence (each flower looks similar to a gingerbread man in outline).
Source: Zoe Merriman Kirkpatrick’s Wildflowers of the Western Plains: A Field Guide
Of course these are not the only families of plants that exist, but the most common in the area of Lubbock.
So, now that we have the basic knowledge of flower identification, lets practice with a few flowers that I got do identify in class!
Look at the flowers first and notice that they are not small and not clustered. There are five fused petals that are separated by the dividing lines that arise from the center of the flower. The flower is symmetrical and its sexual organs originate from the middle. There is no presence of other flowers within it or near it. Through this description we can clearly narrow down the list to snapdragon and potato families. At this point you would grab your field guide to the corresponding sections and look for similar pictures and descriptions.
Page 208 of my field guide clearly shows a picture of this flower: Purple Ground Cherry. It turns out it belongs to the Potato/Nightshade family. Fun!
Here are a few more photographs that I took or got from the internet. I decided to leave it to you to identify, in the case that you are unable to go out and do so. Leave me your answers on the comments section if you wish to check for accuracy. Good luck!