Saturday, March 22, 2014

How to identify wildflowers on a day hike with children

Sunset over spring rhododendrons in the Blue Ridge
Parkway Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina.
Among the great pleasures of day hiking during summer and spring is spotting the splashes of color on the trail from flowers that you likely usually don’t see in a landscaped setting. Oftentimes, you’ll want to know the name of a particularly beautiful wildflower that you’ve spotted or enjoy the scent of.

You can bring field guides on the hike, but spending a long time looking through them to find a flower can be frustrating and for children with you quite dull. To quickly identify wildflowers in a field guide, you’ll want to note several characteristics of the wildflower in question.

Begin by focusing on the flower itself, as many field guides arrange plants by the blossom’s color. Note these traits:
g Flower’s color
g Flower’s width
g Number of petals
g Number of flowers per stem

Next, look at the entire plant itself, noting:
g Plant’s height
g If the plant’s stem creeps/twines, if it’s hairy/spiny, or if it’s square

Then examine the plant’s leaves, noting:
g How leaves are arranged (for example, are the opposite one another or alternating)
g If the leaf’s edge is smooth, toothed or irregular
g If the leaves’ veins are parallel or branched
g If the leaves are simple (one leaf per stem) or compound (two or more leaves per stem)
g If a simple leaf, the ratio of its length to its width
g If compound leaves, if they are trifoliate, pinnate or palmate
g If the leaf has a stalk connecting it to the plant’s stem

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.