WILDFLOWER SAFARI

I know where you can trap a tiger lily, fetch a foxglove, or stalk a dandelion. There's a floral jungle just beyond our noses, right under our toes - waiting to be discovered. Come with me on a wildflower safari.

Wildflowers grow almost everywhere: in the city, in parks and empty lots; and out in the country, in meadows, fields, marshlands, and woods. And they bloom every month of the year in some part of the world.

A good way to get ready for a wildflower adventure is to visit the library. There you can find books on wildflowers called field guides. These guide books will have colorful photographs or drawings of wildflowers. Usually the flowers are grouped by color. Look under yellow for buttercups, orange and red for poppies, and try blue for bluebells and forget-me-nots.

Some books will list flowers by how many petals they have. Look under three for the iris and lily, four for primroses, and five for the delicate columbine.

Looking at pictures and learning the names of wildflowers will help you know them. And it's fun. See how many kinds there are. Have you ever heard of a pussy's ears? The guide book tells me these tiny critters are found purring in moist meadows by the sea.

Some wildflowers have names like games: Johnny-jump-up. Others sound like something you read about in fairy tales: lady-slippers, brownies, and mist-maidens. Some are pure poetry: shooting star, ocean spray, blue-eyed Mary. And tasty, too: cream-cups, butter-and-eggs, and the popcorn flower.

People everywhere love the flowers that grow by their homes and often give them names. The word daisy comes from two old-English words: daeges and eage, which means day's eye. When the happy daisy opens wide its petals, there is a yellow center like the sun or the eye of the day.

Some states and countries have wildflower ambassadors to represent them. In my state of California, it's the orange poppy, and in the European country of Austria the national wildflower is the edelweiss. Do you know which wildflowers are the symbols of your state or country?

Already you see that you could spend days looking up wildflowers and still not know them all. Some are so special they only bloom in one place. Rare wildflowers often grow in parks or other protected areas. It's a good idea to find out which ones these are and not to pick them.

When you do pick a flower for study, be sure that others are growing nearby. If the places where wildflowers grow are left undisturbed, they will reseed or continue to spread underground by stems or bulbs. And as we all enjoy wildflowers as something to be shared with others, we'll help to keep our flowers safe.

There's a few safari things you might like to bring: a sketchpad to draw with (this is my favorite; you really have to look at your subject when you draw); a field guide for identifying your flowers; a magnifying glass (to help you see the parts of a flower and tinier wildflowers); and, if you have a camera with a close-up lens, you may wish to capture your flower beauties on film.

Well, it will never do to spend all your time inside reading about wildflowers - not while there are monkey flowers somersaulting in the meadows, alpine stars sparkling along high mountain paths, and a confetti of poppies and lupine exploding on the hillsides. Happy hunting!

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