Spring is a great time of year, when the dull brown of winter gives way to fresh grass, soft greens of newly opened leaves and lots of flowers blooming.
One of my favorite hobbies is wildflower identification and photography. It’s an easy, inexpensive and very relaxing pastime. You get to roam the woods and fields for some fresh air, exercise and the mental challenge of figuring out the names of the flowers you run across while exploring.
All it takes to enjoy this hobby is a good field guide of wildflowers, a notebook and an optional camera if you’re so inclined. A car is good for driving to parks and trails, but you don’t really need one, as there are plenty of wildflowers near your home. They are in the woods, grass fields, your lawn, road banks, abandoned lots, cracks the sidewalk and almost any place with enough dirt for a seed to get a toe-hold.
Flower watching is to me easier than birdwatching, another popular hobby, as the flowers don’t fly away and are on the ground and easy to see up close. Trying to identify a wildflower makes you really look at it, the leaves, petals, color, and shape, resulting in a better appreciation of their delicate beauty. Some are so small you may need a hand lens to see the details. There are hundreds of wildflowers growing in our area, so don’t worry about running out of blooms to identify. I keep a life list of the ones I successfully identify, recording the name, location found and date.
Most flowers that grow along roads and other disturbed areas are alien, coming from Europe and Asia long ago with our forefathers. The list of foreigners is long, including red clover, Queen Anne’s lace, spearmint, dandelion, chicory and many others.
If you would like to try your hand at wildflower I.D., here are some good books to consider: A Field Guide to Wildflowers by Roger Troy Peterson is an easy to use picture guide that breaks down the different kinds of wildflowers first by color, then by general flower characteristics, and finally by well-described field marks. Another user friendly book is Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky by Thomas Barnes and S. Wilson Francis. It breaks flowers out by color and season of bloom, which is really nice. Its use range includes our area. There are many other books out there, but be sure to flip through the book before you buy it to be sure the system of identification used makes sense to you.
Most wildflowers are seasonal and short lived, often growing, blooming and fading away within a month’s time. So to catch the parade of flowers that flow through the year you need to get out there often to really enjoy the show.
Steve Roark is the Area Forester in Tazewell, Tenn. for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.