One component of a flowering plant that many people tend to overlook when it comes to attempting to identify the plant is the leaves. While the focus is on the flower, which is certainly reasonable, the leaves can tell you much about a plant. Such facets of a leaf as its arrangement on the stem, shape, texture and color can be the final piece of the puzzle that finally helps you to be absolutely certain what type of flower you have in front of you.
Take a field guide for identifying wildflowers along with you to analyze flowers that you cannot or do not want to pick. If you wish to pick the flowers and it is permitted in the area, pick one or two leaves carefully from a flower and bring them home, where you can compare them to online images. You will find far more samples across the web than can be provided in a printed field guide.
Determine how the leaves of a wildflower exist on the stem. The arrangement of the leaves may be alternate, as in a species of flower known as clarkias, with a single leaf growing from each node on the stem. It may be opposite, like those of meadow beauties, with leaves growing out and away from each other at opposite sides of the same level on a flower’s stem. Others may have multiple leaves at each node, such as the trillium, which has three separate leaves growing from the same place on the stem.
Observe the shape of the leaf closely. This is an important identifying aspect of a flower. For instance, clovers have leaves in the form of three joined leaflets, while hepaticas possess three lobed leaves. Some flowers, such as violets, have species in which the shape of the leaves differ from each other, while others like dayflowers always have heart-shaped ones.
Distinguish flowers by the color of their leaves. While most leaves on flowers are green, they differ in their shades. Some have obvious markings such as those of pipsissewas, which have a mottled appearance in their middle.
Feel the leaf to see if it has an obvious type of texture. Some will feel hairy, like the western wildflowers called creamcups and a large wildflower known as mullein. Others will feel very thick and almost slippery, like that of pickerelweed. Still other leaves will have a rough, course texture, like a wildflower commonly referred to as boneset.
Smell the leaves to identify certain wildflowers such as wintergreen. When you crush a wintergreen leaf, it renders the familiar scent called wintergreen. Other flowers, such as, bugbane have leaves that emit a not-so-aromatic smell. Mayweed has a beautiful flower resembling a daisy, but the leaves smell like rotten meat.
Study flower leaves for any unusual features. Bloodroot has a leaf that seems to wrap itself around the stalk bearing its flower. The leaves of bellwort look as if the stem grows right through them. If you touch the leaves of the partridge pea, they will fold slowly. Noting anything unusual about a leaf will be a definite help in identifying the flower.