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Tips for Wildflower Identification


My collection of local wildflower books (you can never have too many identification books!)

If you are "florally challenged" and don't know a daisy from a rose or a dandelion from a violet, you need to get a good wildflower identification book! Some are better for beginners, other books are good for those who are more comfortable with flower families. Books with photographs are not quite as intimidating for beginners, but they are not as accurate as those with line drawings. Books that list flowers by color are user-friendly, books that arrange flowers by families are not quite so easy to use. If you get hooked on wildflowers you'll find you need local books from places you visit. I have over 30 books from many areas of the U.S. and Europe,  some are written in German and Norwegian.

Unless you are fluent in words like strigillose, chasmogamous, papilionaceous, pulvinous, or tomentose, do not buy a "professional grade" plant identification book! You know you are over your head when you have to look up the meanings of the words in the glossary in the other listings of the glossary!

Characteristics to aid in identification

When looking at a plant keep these characteristics in mind:

Habitat: Woodlands, fields, aquatic, etc.
Color of flowers
Shape and size of flowers
Number of petals (or sepals in some cases)
Number of stamens and pistils on flowers
Arrangement of flowers on the stem: umbel, spike, raceme, etc.
Leaf  size and shape: simple leaf, compound leaf with pinnate or palmate leaflets
Leaf margins (edges): smooth, pointed, lobed
Leaf arrangement on plant: basal, opposite, alternate, whorled
Stem: Square, round, winged
Smell of flowers or crushed leaves
Size of plant
Soil type: Sandy, humus, clay

There are 20 different leaf shapes, 9 leaf margin types, etc., so I will not even attempt to discribe all of them! A good flower book will cover these.
Lyre-leaf Sage Rosette
Lyre-leaf Sage Rosette (basal leaves in winter)

Take along a sketch book to draw or write down notes on the plants' characteristics; you don't have to be a great artist! The sketchings may help you later identify a flower.

Flower Families

Plants are grouped into families that have similar characteristics. The botanical family term ends in the suffix "-aceae" (pronounced: ay-cee-ee). For example, the family that asters, daisies, and dandelions are in is the Asteraceae or Aster Family. It helps to learn some of the families, don't get intimidated, with a little bit of practice it gets easier! There are many different families of plants in Tennessee.

Families are further broken down into Genera. The Genus name is like a family's last name (i.e. "Violet", as in the floral genus Viola).
The Genus name is always capitalized. For instance, violets are in the Genus Viola, all violets have similar characteristics. The species name is either a description of the plant's charactaristics (rotundifolia - "round-leaved"), it may be named for the person who discovered it or as an honor to an early botanist (rafinesquii), or it might give the location or region of where the plant is found (canadensis). The species name is always written in lower case letters.

Classification for the Common Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale
Phylum Anthophyta

Webpage: ID Tips