The identification of wildflowers does not simply extend to the flowers themselves. Other aspects of the plant are important when trying to determine the species. By looking at such facets of the plant as its leaves, stem and roots, you can distinguish wildflowers from each other.
Where you find a wildflower plant growing often aids your ability to identify it. For example, common yarrow typically grows in old fields and along roadsides; you would not normally find this plant in a swamp or fertile woodland. Certain wildflowers, such as cardinal flowers, always grow in damp soils, while others, such as goldenrod, can grow in a variety of places.
Studying the leaves on a wildflower plant involves looking at their size, shape and arrangement on the stem. Looking at a specimen of golden ragwort, for instance, you would notice that it has 6-inch-long, heart-shaped basal leaves, while the 3 1/2-inch-long leaves higher up on the stems have an elongated shape with multiple lobes on each side. Look at wildflower leaves and determine if they grow alternately on the stem, opposite from one another or in a circular, whorled pattern surrounding the stem. Examine the veins, stem and the edges of the leaves as well.
Finding a flower already in bloom on a wildflower plant is a huge bonus for anyone trying to identify it. The color of the flower, its shape, the number of petals and its size are all relevant to identification. Another consideration is the time of year you find the wildflower in bloom. Certain species will bloom at specific times of the year, such as swamp rose mallow, a plant that blooms in the summer from July through September, according to “The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers.”
The height of a wildflower plant is another dimension of identification. Many wildflowers, such as goldenrods and joe-pye-weed, can grow to be as tall as a person. Others are much smaller, such as butter-and-eggs. When attempting to identify plants within the same family, height often plays a part. Asters are a wildly diverse group, for example. White wood asters grow between 12 and 48 inches, while New England asters may be 7 feet high.
The stems of a wildflower may be straight, hairy, spiny, creeping, branched or possess other traits. Categorizing the stem makes identification that much easier. The root systems of wildflower plants are another characteristic to look at, if possible. Some have a distinct long taproot, others have a more complex branching network of roots and others will send out roots just under the ground from which new growth will emerge.