One of my favorite things about the spring and summer seasons is watching all the wildflowers come into bloom. It’s a little reminder that the seasons are steadily marching on and that every flower gets it’s time to shine. Lisa and I love going on walks and keeping an eye out for which flowers are blooming. It’s a fun activity that’ll help you stay in tune with the natural seasonal cycle, as well as help you appreciate the beauty and diversity of the wildflowers around you. But how are you supposed to know which flowers are blooming when you don’t know how to identify them? Well, fear not! Beneath the Sage is here to help you with our second installment of our Guide to Wildflowers!
Over the last few years, I have made a special effort to hone my wildflower identification skills, and I thought I would share some of my favorite wild flowers with you.
Silphium Integrifolium – Rosin Weed
Silphiums are a special flower for me because I first heard about them when I read the book “A Sand County Almanac” (See our trip to the Aldo Leopold Foundation for more info on this!). After I heard Aldo Leopold so eloquently describe Silphiums and how special they are, I was excited to find one for myself. I got my wish when I first saw them while I was on a job site (left photo) and was pumped once I confirmed they were Silphiums.
The photo on the right is from the trail head at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. The identification took me a while because, it turns out, Sipliums are a group of flowers with a handful of different types of flowers. The ones pictured are called Silphium Integrifolium or Rosin Weed. You can identify them by their large, bright yellow, rounded petals radiating out from a darker yellow center. Their leaves grow on either side of a stiff purplish stalk and are pointed. The leaves are also rough textured which can help you identify them.
Bergamot is another flower that I first found on a job site. I had always seen these flowers but never knew what they were until I saw a post by the @Aldoleopoldnaturecenter. These guys always put out great nature content and are definitely worth following!
Bergamot can be identified by its dense rounded cluster of lavender to purple colored flowers atop a two to four-foot long stem. Bergamot has 2-1/2” long, gray-green leaves that are known for their minty odor. The oil from its leaves were used to treat respiratory ailments.
Goatsbeard is a flower I have always been particularly fond of because it always grew right next to our cabin up north. My dad was the one who taught me how to identify these, so they always remind me of him.
Goatsbeard has a smooth stem bearing pointed, grass-like leaves and a single yellow flower head that opens in the morning and usually closes by noon. The flower has long pointed, yellow petals that radiate out from its center.
Lilacs may not technically be “wild flowers”, since they’re an introduced species, but they make the list because they’re one of my favorite flowers, mostly because of their intoxicating aroma. I have been known to pull over on the side of the road to pick a choice cluster of blooming lilacs just so I can sniff it in the car for the next couple hours… judge me all you want, it’s worth it. Lilacs are a large bushy shrub that is often used as a decorative plant. The flowers are on the outsides of the bush and are elongated clusters of small 4-petaled flowers. The flowers can be anywhere from the traditional lilac purple, to white, or pink. They are easily identifiable by their sweet, heady aroma. Lilacs only bloom for 3-4 weeks in early summer/late spring, so you’ve gotta enjoy them while they last!
I first saw these Virginia Bluebells while hiking around at Pike Lake State Park. It turns out, this makes a lot of sense because they live in floodplains and moist woods, which is exactly the type of environment we were in. Virginia Bluebells are an erect plant with nodding (which means they face downward) clusters of pink buds opening to light-blue trumpet shaped flowers. Their leaves are light-green, soft, smooth and elongated.
I always see Columbine growing in the grass right next to my cabin up north and they’re a wonderful, late spring/early summer sight. Their flowers are a nodding (downward facing), red and yellow flower with upward-spurred petals, with numerous yellow stamens (the little things that look like hairs) hanging below petals. The leaves are compound, light green, and divided into 3 lobes.
Butterfly Weed is actually part of the Milkweed family and is sometimes called Orange Milkweed. It’s a small, bright orange cluster of 5-petaled flowers that sit atop a hairy stem with long, thin green leaves. Unlike the common milkweed, this plant has watery sap rather than milky or thick sap. We found this one was growing in the field up at our cabin and, as the name would suggest, the butterflies loved it.
Wild Geraniums are a flower I usually see in thickets next to the road up at my cabin (can you see a pattern on where I do most of my flower hunting?). They are a perennial plant with small, pink or white flowers at the ends of branches with 5 rounded petals. The leaves of the wild geranium are gray-green colored and divided into deeply toothed lobes.
This flower is a break from my usual pattern because I didn’t find it up at my cabin. We actually saw this one in the pond right next to our house. Water Lilies are a white and yellow, cup-like flower with numerous, radially symmetrical petals. Their leaves are the classic, heart-shaped, floating leaves that you would imagine a frog haning out on.
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Goldenrod. I love it because it’s great for pollinators and it has a beautiful golden color, but it makes my allergies horrible, hence my conflicted feelings. Identifying it isn’t too hard though. Goldenrod is a tall, stiff-stemmed plant with clusters of small yellow flowers along one side of slightly arching branches. Its preferred habitat is dry open fields, so you will often see it along the side of the road.
Hairy Beardtongues sound more like a medical disorder than a flower, but they are actually quite pretty! Beardtongues are a diverse family of flowers with numerous members, but the Hairy Beardtongue is a woolly-stemmed plant with open stalked clusters of lavender, trumpet-shaped, white lipped flowers. The bottom lip of the flower has small hair-like follicles on it which give it its interesting name.
I hope this wildflower guide will help you identify and better appreciate some of the wildflowers you’re seeing around you. Knowing what to call a flower may seem like a trivial thing, but it gives them a unique identity that makes them even more special. Plus, it gives you a great excuse to take copious amounts of flower pictures so you can identify them later! Happy wildflower hunting!