Stretching from western Texas and eastern New Mexico up through Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, and into Canada, the vast western plains often appear sparse and dry to the casual observer. But a closer look, especially after spring rains, uncovers flowers of all colors, sizes, shapes, and fragrances. These forgotten flowers, never before the main focus of a field guide, come into bloom in Wildflowers of the Western Plains.
Organized by plant family, the guide presents 186 species of wildflowers, accompanied by vivid color photographs. Each entry includes both the Latin and common names and a description of the plant, flower, fruit, and range.
A special feature of the guide is the inclusion of Native American botanical folklore, legends pertaining to wildflowers, and medicinal uses of native plants. The author's personal observations and occasional recipes round out this delightful array of information.
Twenty-five years ago this started out to be merely a personal collection, "just for fun," of all the different wildflowers that grew on our ranch. Since then, I have reared five< sons, traveled innumerable miles, taken countless photographs, and devoted many years to research and study, in the course of which this book has evolved.
A new book on wildflowers? Do we need yet another? Has the field (pun intended) not been covered? The answers? YES. YES. No. There are many books in the marketplace today on the subject of wildflowers. There are books that cover selected areas such as the Big Bend, the Hill Country, and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. There are books on wildflowers of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, and the Mountainous West to name a few more. But I have noticed that wildflowers have never recognized state lines. They spill over those boundaries and cross the rivers that divide and separate states, growing wherever nature provides suitable conditions. There is not yet one book that adequately addresses the beautiful array of hardy wildflowers that bloom in that huge expanse called the Western Plains; an area which includes the Rolling Plains, Southern High Plains and Panhandle High Plains of Texas as well as the panhandle and western portions of Oklahoma, western Kansas, the plains of southeastern Colorado, and the plains of eastern New Mexico.
The purpose of this book, then, is to provide information on and photographs of the majority of the more common wildflowers that thrive in the relatively high elevations (with severe winters) and the semiarid climate of these Western Plains. I have included mostly herbaceous plants along with a few shrubs and small trees. Some rare specimens are included, even though they may never be seen in their native environment by the layperson. This seems a satisfactory way to share their beauty and existence.
Over the years a wildflower slide program developed which I have presented to thousands of people. The continual requests for a book of these wildflowers prove that there is genuine interest in and a need for a semitechnical, illustrated, informative field-guide publication of this type. With the layperson in mind; as well as the student, I have used technical terms translated into everyday language for easier reading and understanding. This book would be suitable for use by serious students of botany and plant taxonomy along with their more technical textbooks.
Wildflowers of the Western Plains is arranged alphabetically by families and then alphabetically, by genus, within each family. The scientific names are from The Vascular Plants of Texas: A List, Up-dating the Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas, 2d ed., by Marshall C. Johnston (1990). Some names in the Cactaceae were provided by Allan D. Zimmerman.
Modern taxonomists are striving to unify the family names of the Plant Kingdom so that each family ends in -aceae. There are several (eight or nine) families that now have two valid names, the older one being better known and the newer one conforming to the rule for all other plant families by ending in -aceae and having a common genus as the root of the family name. Leguminosae (Fabaceae), Compositae (Asteraceae), Cruciferae (Brassicaceae), and Labiatae (Lamiaceae) are four examples. In this text, the older, more familiar family name is used along with the newer one in the short introduction to each family included in the book.
Common names of wildflowers are an enjoyable and easy way to attempt to remember the hundreds of different species, but these names can change from region to region, being misspelled, mispronounced, and misunderstood. Sometimes a flower has several common names. The only accurate method of identification is to use the Latin name that each species has been given by taxonomists. In this text, I have used both the Latin names and the common names to add flavor and interest.
Occasionally the introduction to a plant family is accompanied by an illustration to aid in visually recognizing some characteristic of that particular family. Phillis Un behagen, talented artist, teacher, and friend, contributed the artwork. Her knowledge and training in the field of botany is clearly evident in her sketches.
The information on each individual flower is written following a format that includes a description of the plant, the flower, the fruit, the approximate range of distribution, and finally a remarks section, in which personal thoughts, observations, recipes, legends, folklore, and medicinal uses are shared. An illustrated glossary, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index conclude the book.
Because of my lifelong interest in Native Americans and their folklore, all manner of legends pertaining to wildflowers, and medicinal uses of native plants, this book contains bits and pieces of all of these plus personal comments and observations, as well as an occasional recipe I have found and/or tried.
While working on this book, I must confess that if the plant was in season, I often stopped, went out, and gathered some specimens. With recipe in hand, I cooked them and offered a new "treat" to my family from time to time—enough times, I admit, that when any of the boys would pass the stove and lift the lid to the pot, I would be asked, "What kind of a 'weed' are we eating tonight?" To date, we have survived each new "weed." There are other comments offered in this book, however, that are not firsthand. I state if we have eaten or otherwise tried the plants in any way. Some of the medicinal uses are merely hearsay and are included more for interesting reading than to take the place of the local pharmacy. I do not encourage the eating or medicinal use of any plant unless one is absolutely, beyond a doubt, positive of its identity.
For those of us who live on the Western Plains, the diversity and loveliness of our part of this country's native flora are real and unmistakable. Although the wildflowers that grow here may not all "shout their presence from afar," their grace and colors are inspiring and the plants are worth searching for and finding. Their tenacity and hardiness are worthy of our admiration, and descriptions and interesting information about them are worth studying and learning. It is my hope that my love of the colorful flora of the area will be apparent in this book and because of it others will benefit and, likewise, appreciate the beauty that abounds here.
Plant: Winter annual with a long, slender taproot and a hollow, leafy stem. It can grow to 5 or 6 feet in height but usually is shorter (10-36 inches) on the Western Plains. The stem is solitary, becoming branched toward the upper portion. It "bleeds" a milky sap when cut. The leaves are prickly on the edges, with large rounded lobes at the ends. They are alternate on the stem and 2-8 inches long. The lower leaves are deeply cleft, lobed, and clasping the stem. The upper leaves are smaller, less lobed, and less prickly.
Flower: There are many flower heads on short stalks near the top of the plant, sometimes so many that they appear to be growing in clusters. They are slightly cup-shaped and 2/3-1 inch across. There are numerous bright yellow ray flowers (in several concentric rows), but no disk flowers. The blooming period is usually in the spring, but can last even up to frost.
Fruit: Achene about 1/12 inch long, flat, ribbed, grayish to red-brown in color, and topped with a tuft of white pappus hairs.
Range: A native of Europe, this plant thrives throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and most temperate and subtropical regions of the United States. It prefers disturbed ground close to inhabited areas and loves lawns, gardens, and cracks in sidewalks.
Remarks: The prickly leaves on this plant are not painful to touch, although they look as if they might be. It is often mistakenly called a Dandelion because the flowers resemble Dandelions and the little puffballs (which are the achenes) look like the sphere of "parachutes" of the Dandelion.
In Europe, Sow Thistle is used as a potherb and in soups and salads. Since this plant grows everywhere, and because I had a recipe, I gathered a large sack of the tender leaves. After washing them several times, I boiled them in salted water for 5 minutes, poured the water off, and seasoned the greens with lemon juice, margarine, salt, and pepper. Maybe it was the lemon juice, but my family found this lowly thistle quite palatable, which was saying a lot for meat-and-potatoes men!