Read an Excerpt
A Guide to Familiar American Flowers
By Herbert S. Zim, Alexander C. Martin, Rudolf Freund
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2002 St. Martin's Press
All rights reserved.
WHERE TO LOOK Wildflowers grow almost everywhere. You'll find them in deserts, swamps, and fields, on mountains, roadsides, and city lots — in all parts of our country. From the window of an express train tearing through New York suburbs on a July morning, 27 kinds were seen in a half-hour. On a short country walk you can see twice as many. And if that walk takes you along a meadow, past a marsh, through woods, and by a beach, more kinds of plants will be seen than on any single type of land, no matter how picturesque.
Flowers are in bloom every month of the year in some part of this country. Only a few are found during the winter, when most plants are resting, but spring is barely under way before flowers are out. Some push up through snow. Many bloom before their leaves are out. A general rush of blooming comes later in the spring, followed by a slackening in early summer and a final splurge in late summer and early fall. This pattern varies from place to place. Mountain and desert wildflowers have shorter, more brilliant seasons. Field and wayside plants are more conspicuous in the fall. In this book the season of blooming is given for every plant.
WHAT TO SEE Flowers are far more intriguing than many people suspect. A flower is more than a splash of color and a design. Each part of a flower usually has a task to perform, and the whole flower has the essential job of reproducing the plant. So the detailed floral parts may prove fascinating once you get to know them. Flowers have but one goal — producing seed — but they do not all go about it the same way. Some spread their pollen by wind. Others attract and even trap insects to perform this essential function. The special floral structures developed in different plant groups have made flowers as varied and as distinctively beautiful as they are. Look closely. These structures are worth seeing.
Flowers have much in common despite differences in appearance. The essential parts of every flower are the pistils (female parts) and the stamens (male parts). The stamens produce pollen grains which, through fertilization, enable the ovules in the pistil to develop into seeds. Around these basic organs, flowers usually have a ring of showy petals, the attractive part of the flower we see first. The sepals are a ring of smaller, generally green bracts below the petals. The pattern of these parts varies. Sometimes the petals are fused into a tube; sometimes the sepals are colored. Variations in the number and arrangement of pistils and stamens, plus the color and shape of the petals and sepals, help us identify the different flowers.
FLOWERS AND WEEDS A flower is, of course, only one part of a plant. But we also use the word loosely to mean a flowering plant. Many flowering plants are important to us, providing materials for food, clothing, and shelter. Other kinds flourish where we don't want them, competing with cultivated plants. We call these "weeds." Most weeds are active, hardy flowering plants that thrive in poor soil and under adverse conditions. Some weeds have small, inconspicuous flowers and may produce many seeds. Weeds are worth knowing. Some are good to eat. Even if they are not very attractive, they are likely to be important plants.
WILDFLOWER CONSERVATION Wildflowers are one of our nation's irreplaceable assets. They have but limited economic value — no fortunes have been made in them. But attractive, showy flowers offer us a kind of enjoyment afforded by few other things in nature. As with other natural resources, we once thought flowers to be unlimited. Now we know better. In some areas, especially near large cities, wildflowers have been over-picked. Some kinds have completely disappeared from places where they once were common. Trailing Arbutus, Fringed Gentians, and a number of Lilies and Orchids are seldom seen nowadays. Wildflowers are the kind of resource we do not miss till they are gone. And then regret does no good.
Learn to enjoy flowers where they grow and learn to leave them for others to enjoy, too. Do not pick them in parks or other protected areas. If you do want to pick one for study, be sure that others are growing in the vicinity of the one you have spotted. If the places they grow are not disturbed, wildflowers will reseed the area, or will continue to spread by underground stems or bulbs. As long as you realize that the enjoyment of flowers is something to be shared with others, our wildflowers will be safe.
The best way to enjoy wildflowers is to observe them and study them right where they are growing. Beginners can learn more from an hour with live flowers than from a day with dead, dried ones.
When you look at a flowering plant, look for details of the flower, fruit, stem, and leaves. Use a magnifying glass. The more you look, the more you will see, and the more interesting flowers will become. See where the plant is growing and what other plants grow with it.
After you know some of the more common wildflowers, turn your attention to their relatives. Find different members of the Pea or of the Composite families and note how similar is the flower pattern within a plant group. Looking at wildflowers will always be enjoyable, but after a while you may want to do more.
PHOTOGRAPHING FLOWERS Most flowers can be easily photographed with a camera and a close-up lens attachment. The close-up lens makes it possible to come within a foot or two of the flower and still stay in focus. Practice first on large meadow or roadside flowers, like the Daisy, Sunflower, or Milkweed. After you have had some success, try smaller flowers and woodland plants that grow in the shade. For these a tripod and a flash attachment may be necessary. Color film makes it possible for the amateur to get striking pictures of flowers to enjoy all winter.
GROWING WILDFLOWERS Cultivated flowers have been developed from wild species that may also grow in gardens. A wildflower garden can be most attractive and, in addition, it will give you a chance to study flowers at your leisure.
Growing wildflowers does not require much technical skill. Every amateur who makes the effort can succeed. Find out, by observation and reading, the soil and light requirements of the flowers you wish to grow or transplant. If possible, take some soil with them when transplanting. Unless conditions are kept very much the same, the transplants may not thrive. Once a wildflower garden is started, one may even attempt plant breeding and perhaps produce new varieties by crossing or hybridizing, or simply by selecting and planting seeds of the best plants.
USEFUL WILD PLANTS Wild plants were of considerable importance to our forefathers, and many are still used medicinally and as foods. Do you know that Milkweed shoots, Groundnuts, Arrowheads, and Marsh Marigolds are nutritious and tasty? Medicinal plants include Foxgloves (Digitalis), Gentians, and Wintergreen. Other plants worth knowing can be used in teas and tonics. You may wish to find out more about edible, medicinal, and other useful plants — it's knowledge that may be of value in an emergency.
COLLECTING FLOWERS Everyone likes to collect, but too many people start flower collections and too few make collections they can use. Think twice before you start. It's easy to press a dozen or more flowers, but what will that teach you about plants that you couldn't find out by studying them alive? Postpone making a collection till you know the most common flowers in your vicinity and are ready to start a serious study of plants. Remember that if a collector fails to observe, his work is of little value. But if an observer takes notes, they will add immeasurably to the value of his collection.
If you plan to collect, read one of the more advanced books to get help. Locate the materials you need to make a plant press. Don't forget a notebook to keep a record of your specimens. Start with common weeds and practice till you can press flowers without spoiling them. Then go about your collecting systematically, keeping in mind that making a collection does not permit anyone to violate state laws protecting wildflowers.
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS If you collect, your collection will be a specialized one right from the start. If nothing else, it will be a regional collection — one of local plants. But other special collections are possible. You can collect plants of different habitats: swamp plants, mountain plants, or desert plants. By specializing in some plant community, you can see how plants fit into the life of a seashore or a prairie, or a woodlot. You can pay special attention to plant groups, such as Asters, Goldenrods, or Orchids. Perhaps you may become especially interested in spring flowers or fall flowers.
When you collect flowers, you can also collect fruits, seed pods, or seeds. Many small seeds are curious and attractive when viewed through a magnifying glass. They can be stored in glass vials or cellophane envelopes. What's more, you can attempt to raise these wildflowers from seed. It may be more difficult than growing Marigolds or Petunias, but the results are much more satisfying.
MORE INFORMATION There are about 20,000 kinds of flowering plants in North America. This guide can offer only a brief introduction to a few of them. Here are a few books and Web sites that you might want to look at as your interest grows:
Craighead, John J., Frank C. Craighead, Jr., and Ray J. Davis, Rocky Mountain Wildflowers (Peterson Field Guides), Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1963.
Cullina, William, The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2000.
Latimer, J. P., and Karen Stray Nolting, Wildflowers (Peterson Guides for Young Naturalists), Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2001.
Newcomb, Lawrence, and Gordon Morrison, Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, Little Brown, New York, 1989.
Niehaus, Theodore F., Pacific States Wildflowers (Peterson Field Guides), Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1976.
Niehaus, Theodore R, and Charles L. Ripper, Southwestern and Texas Wildflowers (Peterson Field Guides), Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1984.
Niering, William A., and Nancy C. Olmstead, North American Wildflowers: Eastern Region (Audubon Field Guides), Knopf, New York, 1997.
Peterson, Roger Tory, and Margaret McKenny, A Field Guide to Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-Central North America (Peterson Field Guides), Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1996.
Spellenberg, Richard, North American Wildflowers: Western Region (Audubon Field Guides), Knopf, New York, 2001.
Venning, Frank D., and Manabu C. Saito, Wildflowers of North America (Golden Field Guides), St. Martin's Press, New York, 1984.
The Internet is full of interesting information about wildflowers. Some keywords to use in searches include native plants and wildflowers. You can also find information by searching for a particular state or type of environment, such as prairie or desert. Some good places to start are:
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at http://www.wildflower.org/
Wildflower magazine at http://www.wildflowermag.com/
The EPA's wildflower site at http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/greenacres/
CARDINAL FLOWER(Lobelia cardinalis) This striking plant of rich, moist eastern woodlands and brooksides is the only red Lobelia. Others are blue or white. Over-picking has made the Cardinal Flower so rare it now needs protection. When this plant is grown in gardens, hummingbirds often visit its tube-like flowers. Cardinal Flowers grow 2 to 4 feet tall. — Summer and early fall. Bluebell Family.
BEE BALMS(Monarda) These tall, coarse, aromatic mints are also called Wild Bergamot, Oswego Tea, Horsemint. They vary in color from scarlet red to pale lavender. The brilliant red-flowered Oswego Tea grows in moist places, but the other Bee Balms prefer dry waysides and fencerows. Some are native; others, brought from Europe, have gone wild. Indians and early settlers brewed medicinal tea from the leaves. — Summer and early fall. Mint Family.
TRILLIUMS(Trillium) Trilliums are handsome spring plants of moist eastern woodlands and western mountains. As their name implies, they are constructed on a threefold plan: 3 leaves, 3 green sepals, and 3 petals which vary in color from the deep, purple-red of the common Wake-robin through pink to pure white. There are about 42 species — most grow a foot or so high, usually in rich soil. The fruits ripen into reddish or purple berries. — Spring. Lily Family.
GILIAS(Gilia) About 53 of the 60 kinds of Gilia grow in this country, mainly in western deserts and mountains. Dwarfed species are typical of both these habitats. More commonly, Gilias grow on open slopes and dry hillsides. They are variable and not easily distinguished from one another. All have tubular, funnel- or bell-shaped, 5-petaled flowers. On some the flowers cluster at the top of the plant; in others they scatter along the vertical stem. Gilias vary in color from scarlet to pink, blue, purple, yellow, and white.
Gilias grow from 5 inches to 2 feet tall, with rough or sticky stems. The thin leaves generally alternate along them. The seeds are also sticky when wet. Some are eaten by gamebirds and by desert rodents. One of the best-known Gilias is the Scarlet Gilia or Skyrocket, a plant that covers western hillsides and has a rather disagreeable odor. Other common Gilias include Blue Desert Gilia, Bird's-Eyes, Downy Gilia, and Prickly Gilia. — Spring to fall. Phlox Family.
WILD PINKS(Silene) These are common in both East and West, especially in fields, open woods, and rocky uplands. They range in color from the scarlet Indian Pink of the Northwest and the crimson Wild Pink of the East to the pink Catchfly and the purple to white Moss Campion of alpine regions. Some are low, branching plants with finely divided, prickly leaves. Others have slender, erect stems. — Summer and early fall. Pink Family.
MORNING-GLORIES(Ipomoea) This tropical group of some 40-50 species includes the sweet potato. Morning-glories thrive in good soil under a great variety of conditions, especially in the South. The bell-shaped, pleated flowers on twining and trailing, hairy stems, range from scarlet to pink, white, blue, and purple. The large seeds are occasionally eaten by gamebirds. — Summer and fall. Morning-glory Family.
CLOVERS(Trifolium) Clover grows most abundantly in the East, but 70 of its 85 species are Western. Most of the common kinds have been introduced from Europe. Our honey and bumblebees pollinate the Clovers and help account for their widespread distribution. Clovers grow from 8 inches to 2 feet high in open fields, meadows, lawns, and roadsides. Most have the well-known globular flowerhead, made of many tiny, tubular florets, ranging in color from red to pink, yellow, and creamy white. The leaf has 3 leaflets with toothed edges and is marked in some species with a lighter green triangle on the top. A few western species have as many as 6 or 7 leaflets.
Red, Alsike, and White Clover enrich the soil, are excellent for livestock, and provide our best honey. The small, hard seeds of western Clovers are important foods for quail and other birds. Hop and Bur Clover are related to this true Clover group. — Late spring to early fall. Pea Family.
PAINTED-CUPS(Castillejo) On prairies and hillsides of the West, a common flower is the brilliant Painted-cup or Indian Paintbrush. The red or yellow stain on the cluster of leaf tips near the flower is characteristic. Painted-cups (100 species) usually grow with erect, bunched stems 12 to 20 inches high. Most are red; some are red and yellow or just yellow. One species is the state flower of Wyoming. — Spring and summer. Figwort Family.
CLARKIAS(Clarkia) A number of species of Clarkia are found in meadows, on hillsides, and on mountain slopes throughout the West. One pink-flowered kind is called Farewell-to-spring. The large, 4-petaled flowers, pink to lilac and purple, and the narrow, alternate leaves grow on smooth, branching stems about 2 feet high. Clarkias are showy flowers. Most of them close at night. — Spring and early summer. Evening Primrose Family.
COLUMBINES(Aquilegia) Columbines — among the most graceful and attractive wildflowers — are found in open woods and mountain meadows. The eastern species is scarlet and yellow. One in the Rockies is blue; another is red. The Blue Columbine — sometimes a very pale blue — is the Colorado state flower. The Northwest has a white-flowered species.
Excerpted from Wildflowers by Herbert S. Zim, Alexander C. Martin, Rudolf Freund. Copyright © 2002 St. Martin's Press. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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