Here in North Central Washington, we are surrounded by wildflowers in the spring. It truly is a magical time of year.
It’s easy to love being outside when the weather is beautiful and the hills are covered in green velvet, yellow balsamroot and purple-blue lupine. Farther up valley, we may be seeing calypso orchids, or other forest-dwelling flowers.
Let’s explore how to use the beauty of wildflowers to capture your children’s imagination and help them fall in love with nature.
What is a wildflower, anyway? A wildflower is any plant that flowers and can grow on its own in nature without human help (easy, huh?). Wildflowers are essential to keeping nature balanced. They provide food for insects and other wildlife and help keep the soil from washing away in the rain. Plus, they’re just pretty.
That doesn’t mean all our wildflowers have always been here. We call wildflowers that have been in North America for thousands of years “native.” Some of our local native wildflowers are arrowleaf balsamroot, lupine, and those calypso orchids.
Wildflowers that came from some other place originally, like Europe, or Asia, we call “non-native,” “exotic,” “naturalized,” or “introduced.” Many of these came into North America through gardens, or as seeds stuck in the mud on someone’s shoe.
Some non-native plants aren’t aggressive, and have even been around so long that they were used by indigenous peoples and early settlers for medicine (like common mullein). Other non-native plants are aggressive, and outcompete native species, throwing off the balance of nature. We call these species “invasive.” White top, Russian knapweed, and Dalmatian toadflax are all invasive wildflowers.
Sometimes it’s hard to know which plants are native species, what’s naturalized but not invasive, and what’s invasive. You can look up a plant in a wildflower guide, check it on the Burke Herbarium Website, or – my favorite – ask your botanist friend. Don’t have a botanist friend? You’re missing out. (You can also call the Land Trust office and we’ll try to help!)