It’s time for one of my favorite outdoor activities: spring wildflower walks! Although we can’t yet meet in person for a communal wildflower walk, we all have the opportunity to get out and spot wildflowers on our own. Whether you venture out to a city or county park, a wilderness area, or your own backyard, if you look closely, you’ll find wildflowers in just about every outdoor setting. You don’t have to be knowledgeable about wildflower identification to enjoy their fresh beauty and their promise of springtime rebirth. Here are some tips for enjoying them to the fullest.
- The blossom. What color is it? Is it a uniform color or does it vary across the petal or have veins of a different color? How many petals does it have? Are they individual petals or are they fused into a tube at the bottom or even cup like? Do the petal all match or are they distinctly different? These characteristics are helpful for identifying wildflowers. But look closely at each flower and you’ll notice more than its petals. Look inside the blossom and you’ll see a pistil and stamens. The pistil is the female part of the flower and you’ll find it in the middle of most blooms. It often is shaped something like a tiny bowling pin. It receives pollen on top, and it produces fruit and/or a seed in the bottom part where the ovary is located. The stamens are the male part of the flower, the part that produces pollen. They usually surround the pistil on filaments of various lengths. As you compare one wildflower to another, notice the differences in the number, length and color of the stamens; notice the different sizes and shapes of pistils.
- Look under the blossom. Is it the same color underneath as it is on top? Do you see its sepals? Sepals are the leafy bracts that encompass the flower’s petals while it is still a bud. How many sepals does the flower have? For some wildflowers, like the sessile trillium, the sepals may be more visible than the petals which could be small and inconspicuous.
- What size are the individual blossoms and how are they arranged? Flowers may be tiny (less than 1/8” across) or large (2”, 3” or even larger). You may find them growing with a single flower on a stem, several flowers on a stem, in a cluster or a spike, or in an umbel (umbrella shaped) arrangement.
Each plant will also have its own unique arrangement and shape of leaves, stems, and veins as well, with plenty of variations in size, color, arrangement and shapes! And each will have its own growing season and terrain preferences, too. The combinations of wildflower characteristics are almost endless! Once you begin to notice the differences, you’ll also begin to understand that when you call your naturalist friend to ask, “I saw a small white flower with four petals in my backyard. Can you tell me what it is?” is an impossible question!
With all that in mind, here are photos of 3 small, white, early spring wildflowers you might see on a walk through any Midwest woodland. Notice the differences, and watch for them on your next walk!