I know there’s an app for everything, but I’m trying to be less attached to my phone when I’m in nature. I have thousands of photos of plants I snapped, to try and identify them, but the most effective thing I’ve done recently is take a bit of paper and pencil in my pocket and sit down and draw something, in enough detail, that I can return home and pull open the PLANT ID library, and see if I can discover the identity of my new friend.
I suck at drawing. I should say that first. And yet, the practice has not been a drawing practice, but a practice of noticing… paying deep enough attention to try and sketch out the size of the stem, the markings, the leaf shape. I don’t have the biologist’s language to describe sepals and alternate lance-shaped leaves or creeping stem bases and stolons. but with a pencil, I can attest to those characteristics… and find a match, with my cultivated attention, with the help of these hand guidebooks.
The two bibles of choice as a baby phenologist have been Plants of the Pacific NorthWest Coast, which is incredibly thorough and comprehensive (and uses ALL those unfamiliar words), paired with Gifts of the Land: Lilwat Nation Botanical Resources. Thanks to these two guides, I can learn the common, Latin and Ucwalmicwts names of the plant. I also find the Gifts of the Land helpful because it’s so hyperlocal, so there’s a good chance I will be able to differentiate my plant referencing it, rather than being confused by the plethora of look a likes and variations that might exist across the entire PNW region.
The newest addition to my library is Neil Jennings’ Popular Wildflowers of Coastal British Columbia and Vancouver Island, a slim and absolutely accessible guide designed for “the amateur naturalist” and “the curious traveller who wants to become acquainted with the flowers encountered during outings.” (Thus, I have upgraded my status, from woman-in-need-of-a-slow-down-and-notice-the-flowers intervention, to oblivious bumbler, to curious bumbler and amateur naturalist. Progress!)
This was the book I turned to the other day when a tiny little blue flower peeked its head up from the lawn.
Who might you be? I asked her. And then I turned to Popular Wildflowers – which doesn’t index plants by family (which is a more scientifically common way of grouping plants, but doesn’t help the curious bumbler who doesn’t know her sedge from her buttercup), but BY COLOUR!
“What colour would you say this is?” I asked my sidekick.
“Bluey-purple,” he replied.
Et voila. Under chapter “blue and purple flowers” I scroll through the photographic entries and MAKE MY MATCH.
Forget me not! I have heard of you. I have read about you. I have never laid eyes on you in my life. I did not expect you to be so tiny, or for you to grow randomly on my lawn. How nice to meet you.
Forget-Me-Not Myosotis laxa (Borage family)
This beautiful little flower is easily recognized by its wheel-shaped blue corolla and its prominent yellow eye. The stems are hairy and slender, and week enough for the plant to often be decumbent (lying on the ground). The lower leaves are oblong to lance-shaped, while the middle to upper ones are more elliptical. The flowers appear in clusters at the top of flowering stems. The blue petals are fused at the base into a tube that spreads flat at the top. This plant occurs at lower elevations in moist habitats.
I read the description aloud to my 7 year old, asking him to help me confirm the description, hoping that maybe some of this backyard science will take root in him (and count as homeschooling :)) But also, because he’s a good detective and he’s developing literacy in general right now, so he’s at ease with being able to understand 50% of the words but still being able to decipher meaning… and that feels like the perfect skillset in a companion these days – able to navigate ambiguity, look for clues, keep things fun.
Later, out walking he climbs over downed tree branches and declares our roles: “I am the explorer and you are the one who talks to the plants.” Yes, that fits.
What’s your go-to Plant identification tool/technique or trick?