Wildflower Hunter

Anything goes where the wildflower grows. I'm new to the beautiful world of wildflowers. I'd like to share what I've learned and what I hope to learn along the way.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Home Sweet Home

We're back from Colorado and while it's always nice to be home, we sure do miss the Rockies. Despite a bad case of altitude sickness, I really enjoyed hiking and exploring the downtown areas. In addition to hiking, we visited Minturn, Vail Village, Breckenridge, Edwards, Avon, and Beaver Creek while we stayed in Vail. We had a great condo which really made us feel at home. We were even able to cook breakfast almost every day and dinner twice. We purchased some delicious fruit flavored pasta at the Minturn Farmers Market our first morning there and loved it so much we went searching for the vendor at the Vail Farmers Market the next day. Luckily we found him and we purchased some chipotle flavored pasta. As for hikes, we took a few in the Vail area which should have been easy for us but were a bit difficult due to the elevation. Along the trails, we found lots of flowers. We saw Scarlet Gilia (also known as Sky Rocket), Harebells, Cow Parsnip, Fireweed, Mountain Gentian and twice we saw the rare Alpine Gentian. That's just the beginning. I'll post those pictures and there will be more to come in the next few days.

Scarlet Gilia AKA Sky Rocket


Cow Parsnip


Mountain Bog Gentian

Alpine Gentian

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Rocky Mountain High

Patrick and I are off to Colorado early tomorrow morning. We'll be gone for ten days so neither of us will be blogging for a while. We'll be in Vail for a week then off to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park for the last three days. Patrick found a wonderful hiking book geared towards wildflower lovers and he's done some research on Rocky Mountain birds. Check out his most wanted bird at The Hawk Owl's Nest. As for my most wanted wildflower...it's tough. There will be so much to see that I'm already overwhelmed and we're not even there yet! I would like to see Elephant's Head Lousewort. It's a cool and unique plant that really does look like little elephant heads. It should be pretty easy to find since I've read that it's a fairly common plant. Be sure to check back after the 27th for reports and pictures.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Perfect Flower?

Is there such a thing as a perfect flower? I'd like to believe all flowers are perfect but it turns out there is such a thing as a "perfect flower".

A perfect flower is a hermaphrodite, containing both male and female reproductive parts. Typically, a male flower has stamens and a female has a carpel. Hermaphrodites (obviously) have both. Perfect flowers are self-pollinating, therefore, they will survive and reproduce without the help of insects or even wind and rain. Some perfect flowers are lilies, roses, dandelions and (for goodness sake) tomatoes. I've been using a paint brush to help pollinate my tomato flowers. I guess I don't really have to do that (although I have read it still helps).

Below you can see an illustration I found at a great site called Wayne's Word. You can see how a bisexual (perfect) flower pollinates itself.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

A New Field Guide

I was out and about running errands when I spotted a Barnes & Noble. I don't know if it's the teacher in me, the learner, or if it's the smell of the paper, ink and binding but I simply LOVE books. I could spend all my money on books if I didn't need other things to live. Anyway, I found a gift for my aunt, whose birthday we're celebrating this weekend and a Frommer's guide to Rocky Mountain National Park, which will be useful when Patrick and I are there at the tail end of our Colorado vacation. Then I hit the jackpot. I was browsing the nature section when something caught my eye way down on the bottom shelf.

Wildflowers in the Field and Forest by Steven Clemants and Carol Gracie is an amazing new field guide, by the editor of the "Through Binoculars" series of books, with color photographs of all the flowers (not just some like Peterson's and Newcomb's). While I LOVE my Peterson's and Newcomb's guides, and am not ready to give them up, this is going to be my numero uno field guide for flowers. The key is very similar to the other guides with the main difference that you look the flower up by color first, then the leaves. You actually could skip the key altogether if you're more of a visual person. Just simply flip to the color section you need and sift through the photos. I can't wait to use my new guide. If I didn't have to go grocery shopping and cook all day for various events this weekend, I might have considered going out and putting it to use. Oh well. Maybe tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

All in the Family

Patrick and I are leaving for Colorado late next week so we've been reading our Colorado hiking and nature books in preparation for the big trip. We found a great field guide called Plants of the Rocky Mountains by Linda Kershaw, Andy MacKinnon and Jim Pojar. The problem I'm having is that the book is arranged in such a way that it would be helpful to know the family of the flower you're trying to identify (the master key is a list of plant families). I've been going around the past year learning about flowers and simply calling them by their common names but not paying too close attention to the families they belong to and certainly not their Latin names. I can recognize a pea, a carrot, an aster and (most of the time) an orchid and a rose but there are many more families to learn.

In my quest to learn to identify plant families, I've found a few helpful websites. This one was created by a college professor to help his students learn to recognize "60 flowering plant families". This site breaks down the flower parts to help identify which family the plant belongs to. It's a very informative site that I've learned a lot from already.

If anyone knows of other sites or books that would be helpful, please let me know. There's so much to learn. I can only hope to get a basic "gist" of the families commonly found in the Rockies by next week. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Good Books

For anyone just learning about wildflowers (like me), there are a few great books you might be interested in:

The Book of Field and Roadside by John Eastman, illustrated by Amelia Hansen. A highly informative book about plants often found in fields and along the side of the road.

The Secrets of Wildflowers by Jack Sanders. A very cool book about flowers in chronological order from late winter/early spring skunk cabbage through end-of-the-year gentians.

Peterson Field Guides - Wildflowers by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny. My quick and easy go-to book when I want to look up a flower by color.

Newcomb's Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb, illustrated by Gordon Morrison. My absolute FAVORITE field guide! Look up flowers using the excellent key in the beginning and quickly become familiar with flower terms.

John Eastman has other similar books you may find interesting, such as The Book of Forest and Thicket and The Book of Swamp and Bog. Jack Sanders has another book called Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles that I don't own but would like to. The Peterson and Newcomb field guides can be found for other areas of the country. Mine, of course, are for the northeast.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Breakfast Anyone?

Until a year ago I don't think I could identify a single wildflower other than a dandelion. Butter-and-eggs (Common Toadflax) is among one of the first I learned on that eye opening day at Hoffman Park with Patrick. From the Figwort family, the perennial alien butter-and-eggs is commonly found during summer months but has a long life from about June through October. Its name comes from the rich yellow and orange colors that look very much like butter and egg yolks. This coloring made it an easy first flower for me to remember. I did a little research and found out what makes it thrive.

Butter-and-eggs flowers need outside help for pollination and bees love to lend a hand. Bumblebees are the most common pollinators of butter-and-eggs because they have long tongues that can reach into the long, narrow reservoir of the flower. However, other bees have figured out how to get in. The yolk colored spot serves as a landing pad for the bee. When the bee lands on the "yolk", the weight opens the spur, allowing access to the nectar. Another strategy bees have learned is to land on the top of the flower and climb in upside down. You can see pictures of a honey bee climbing in using various techniques here.

A common threat to butter-and-eggs is seedpod weevils, which can deposit their eggs in the flower ovaries. The larvae then feed on the seeds, thus preventing procreation. Other threats include the common buckeye butterfly, toadflax brocade moth caterpillar, twice-stabbed stink bugs, and tree hoppers, which all feed on the foliage while the weevil, Mecinus janthinus, attacks the stem and shoots. Although butter-and-eggs have all these natural control agents it is still a fairly hearty plant due to its easy seed distribution and adaptability (it can survive fires and herbicides). Butter-and-eggs thrives in sandy and rocky soil and is commonly found in fields, waste areas and roadsides. It is native to Europe but is found almost globally now.

As for breakfast, butter-and-eggs is said to have been used as a laxative and a diuretic but I wouldn't suggest tasting it. It has a strong, stinky odor that is sure to make you lose your appetite fast. That must be why the stink bugs love it. I'll stick to my store-bought butter and eggs.

Photographed by Squeezyboy and posted on Flikr