Monday, April 25, 2011

Observation & Discovery

Spring has arrived in North America. In the cooler areas, spring wildflowers are just starting to show their beautiful faces. On trips to the mountains and forests, hillsides of yellow lupine, lavender phlox, and yellow dog-tooth violets can be seen. It won’t be long until shooting stars and Calypso lady slipper orchids appear in secluded spots. Finding them is like a treasure hunt that a person never tires from. Each year it is exciting to find the first bloom from these special plants. Wandering hillsides and meadows in search for wildflowers is fun without any tools, but if one has a zip-lock bag or field guide, samples of wildflowers can be gathered or identified for more fun and interesting activities. Adding some water to a zip-lock bag of flowers keeps them fresh until home again where they can be put into a vase to enjoy for a few days. Pressing wildflowers between the pages of a catalog and using them to decorate rolled beeswax candles or to glue to a card is a creative way to display wildflowers for months to come. Identifying flowers is an art that can take some time and research. If a regional field guide of wildflowers is used the task can be completed in the field, but sometimes using the Internet is easier. The flowers kept fresh in a zip-lock bag can be used to compare with images found online and descriptions compared with the wildflower in hand. 

As the art of flower identification is explored, interesting discoveries can be made. Sometimes plants are not named with common sense! When discoveries are made that appear inconsistent, time spent in study of how plants are classified can result in families spending time together in the rewarding task of being “plant detectives”. Clues from nature lead the observer through the steps of identification and tell stories of why things are named as they are. For example, right now the dog-tooth violets and the yellow violets can be found growing near one another in forest meadows and woods. Both have the name ‘violet’, yet the differ vastly from one another. One is an actual violet, and the other belongs to a different family altogether! The real name of the dog-tooth violet is Erythronium and it received its name because it grows from a bulb that looks like a dog tooth. On the other hand, the yellow violet really does belong to the Viola family, and is therefore accurately described as a violet. Starting with one picked flower like a dog-tooth violet can direct the the explorer to another flower like the violet, and that can lead to other interesting discoveries about plant families and other facts of nature as the thread of learning continues. Learning about wildflowers by observation and discovery is fun and an interesting way to observe God’s creation!

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