Here in North Central Washington, we are surrounded by wildflowers in the spring and early summer. 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.

Some background on wildflowers

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 arrow leaf 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!)

Wildflower activities for kids and families

Whenever we explore wildflowers with kids, we must encourage them to think before they pick.

Picking a wildflower takes away that plant’s ability to make more wildflowers. It also destroys food for wildlife, like butterflies, bees, and birds. Finally, most wildflowers weren’t meant for picking, and they wilt and fade quickly, leaving you with and handful of sad, dead flowers. Much better to leave them on the plant.

Instead of picking them, have kids use a camera and “collect” them that way. You can even print out the pictures later and create a “bouquet” art project with glue and paper or cardboard. Take this one step further and try to identify a flower you didn’t know before.

You can also go on a themed wildflower scavenger hunt. For example, look for wildflowers in all the colors of the rainbow, or find as many different shapes as you can.

Finally, you can create a dandelion stamp. In this case, you do want to pick a flower — but make sure it’s a dandelion (or a flower from your garden works too). You’ll need a washable ink pad and some paper. Just press the flower in the ink, and then press it onto the paper. You may need to roll the flower around to make sure all the petals touch the paper. Voila! You’ve got a dandelion stamp.

Hillary Clark is the membership and education coordinator for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. For more ways to get outside with your children, visit www.cdlandtrust.org/whats-new/events.

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