There’s a running joke between me and my good friend, Gabe. When we’re hiking in nature, Gabe will ask: “Katie, what is it?” And, I respond: “I don’t know, Gabe, but I’ll look it up!” Well, sometimes I do know…but our playful game relates to everyone’s ability to explore and learn about nature. And, it’s gotten easier with smart phone apps! Now you don’t even have to carry books (believe me, I’ve carried a lot of weight in botany books on my hikes over the years).
Learning and photographing wildflowers (actually all kinds of plants from tiny fungi to huge trees!) is another ecofriendly hobby like birdwatching. It can be as time-consuming as you wish. Maybe you simply want to notice and enjoy them and not put a name tag on them! As a professional Botanist, I am expected to know 1,000’s of plant species. You, on the other hand, don’t have to name them…you can simply revel in the variety of colors, shapes, and sizes of flowers, trees, shrubs, lichens, mosses, and fungi that occur in every habitat, along every trail, in every possible place!
Identifying wildflowers and other plants can be a daunting task due to the sheer number of species and the often tiny plant parts used to separate species. So, simplify it first by just making observations. Where is the plant growing (e.g., along a stream, in a forest, in a meadow, in a rock outcrop)? Notice the leaves. Are they opposite from each other or alternate up the stem? Are they round, heart-shaped, linear? Do the leaves have smooth or toothed edges? What color is the flower? How many petals does it have? What are the different parts of the flower? These are some of the clues that help you learn to identify flowers.
If you have a smart phone, check out the array of wildflower apps available on High Country Apps. This cool company pledges to give a portion of their proceeds from their app sales to support organizations that work for conservation, such as the Montana Native Plant Society, Yosemite Conservation, Oregon Flora Project, University of Washington Herbarium, Yellowstone Park Foundation, Glacier National Park Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy.
Even if you never put a name on flowers, I guarantee that opening your eyes to their presence and diversity will enhance your daily enjoyment of life! I often reflect on how lucky I am to be a Botanist because I am never bored and can entertain myself anywhere, even in a vacant city lot! And so can you! Just step outside and starting looking. Happy Botanizing!
Photo Credits: Katie Grenier