We all look forward to springtime flowers. In a few weeks, our hillsides will be covered in yellow balsamroot, blue lupine, light pink phlox and a variety of other colorful wildflowers.
But did you know that there are already wildflowers blooming on the trails? These little treasures can be a great incentive to get out with your kids for a hike.
What are flowers?
We all know a flower when we see it, right? Like a beautiful ball gown, flowers dress up plants. While appreciating the beauty of wildflowers, we sometimes forget they are not just there to bring joy to our spring days. Inside the petals of a flower are the parts that produce seeds.
Flowers look — and smell — the way they do because they are trying to attract pollinators, which do the work of helping a plant produce a seed. In this way, the flowers we see today are here to make sure there are more flowers in the future. For more information about pollinators and seeds, read my Kids & Nature Connections articles from March and May 2017.
Ready to explore wildflowers as a family?
Take a wildflower hike. Head out with your camera or notebook and look for early wildflowers on your local trails. You may have to look very closely to see the first spring wildflowers, as they can be small and low to the ground. They are trying to stay warm by staying close to the sun-warmed earth and out of the wind. Look on warm, sunny, south-facing slopes for the first flowers.
Near the Columbia River in our valleys, you may already be able to see Geyer’s biscuitroot and sagebrush buttercup. Soon, we will see bluebells and yellow bells, as well as barestem biscuitroot, glacier lilies and spring beauty just to name a few. Flowers bloom a little bit later in upper valleys, shaded spots and on the plateau.
Always remember to leave wildflowers where you found them. Animals, plants and insects need them to stay alive, and other humans want to enjoy them, too.
Adopt a flower. On one of your wildflower walks, choose a plant or two that you’d like to watch. Do this in a place you can come back to multiple times over the spring. You may want to choose a plant that isn’t flowering yet. Draw a picture or take a photo of your plant. Make sure you notice exactly where your plant is, so that you don’t lose track of it later. Return to your plant a few more times — maybe even daily — and keep track of where it is in its life cycle. Is it flowering? What plant did it turn out to be?
Flower dissection. Choose a store-bought flower, or a flower from your yard, for this one. Lilies, tulips, daffodils or irises are a good choice for first-time dissection because the parts are large and easy to identify. Have your kids lay their flowers on a clear space and use whatever tools work best — hands, child-safe scissors, tweezers — to take apart the parts of the flower carefully. See if you can find the different parts of a flower: the sepals, petals, pistil (including the sigma, style, ovary, and ovules), the stamen (including the anther and filament), and sometimes the pollen, depending on the flower. There are many good resources online that help label the parts of the flower and explain more, such as the University of Illinois Extension’s Great Plant Escape teacher’s guide.
Hillary Clark, membership and education coordinator for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, writes this monthly column on low-cost and easy ways for families to spend quality time outside with their kids. For more ways to get outside with your children, visit www.cdlandtrust.org/whats-new/events.
(Photos provided/Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. Top photo: Sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus) is often one of the first flowers to be seen at lower elevations. Second photo: Geyer’s biscuitroot (Lomatium geyeri), another early wildflower, starts out very close to the ground. The flowers’ stalks gradually lengthen as we get further into spring.)