I take quite a few pictures of wildflowers, but I haven’t had much success finding out the names of the flowers. It gets awkward referring to the “yellow flower at the beach,” and it definitely undercuts one’s air of expertise. Looking up the names poses challenges.
I tried looking them up on the web. There are web sites with maybe 50 or a hundred pictures of flowers, and whatever I’m looking for is usually not there. To remedy the situation I bought two guide books for my home area. Introduction to Shore Wildflowers of California, Oregon, and Washington has about 400 hundred species, and the “A Field Guide to Pacific States Wildflowers: Washington, Oregon, California and adjacent areas” has about 2500 species! I soon discovered that the books do not completely overlap. The smaller book has entries not in the larger one.
Shore Wildflowers is published by the University of California and takes pride in identifying each flower by its official name. I don’t know how official names are determined, but they are. This has some shocking consequences. Everyone in California knows what ice plant it is, because it is a striking ground cover with yellow or purple flowers, and is common near the coast. Even though I’ve never heard it called anything but ice plant, it is not ice plant. It is really an import from South Africa called Hottentot Fig. There is an ice plant, but it is unrelated.
Hottentot Fig, know to many as ice plant.
Pressing on, I identified the red flower at Zmudowski Beach featured in a previous post. Hmmm. It might be Woolly Indian Paintbrush or Monterey Indian Paintbrush. (I suspect that it is the Paintbrush rather than the Indian who is woolly.) The difference is in the leaves much more than the flowers. I had encountered Monterey Indian Paintbrush.
Monterey Indian Paintbrush
Yellow flowers are more difficult because there are about a thousand of them. To make the identification, the number of petals, the shape of the leaves, and the location come into play. The distinctive clusters of yellow sand verbana, also at Zmudowski Beach, made it one of the easier ones to pick out.
Yellow Sand Verbana
Puzzling through more photos, I learned: (1) photograph a side view of the flower as well as the front view, (2) photograph the blossom very close up to show the detailed structure, and (3) photograph the leaves as well as the flower. Flowers of different types grow together, so one must take pains to show what leaves belong to what flowers. Having the multiple photos makes it much easier to identify the flower from the guidebooks. With a digital camera, extra photos cost about nothing, so this practice is up there with photographing the sign next to the flower in a botanical garden.
The name of the flower can be made into a tag under a Flowers category in Adobe Photoshop Organizer™. You can also make comments when you show your photos, like “The yellow sand verbana was a high point of Zmudowski Beach.” That’s much better than “Cool little flowers, don’t ya think?”
It might be best to stop short of correcting people when then say ice plant. “Oh, do you mean the Hottentot fig?”