There are a number of reasons why a person should learn to identify plants that grow in the wild. These reasons may range from enhancing one’s enjoyment of nature to more practical reasons, such as safety. Hikers, for example, should be able to detect plants that may be poisonous or irritating to the skin. Certain wild plants may be safe to eat or have medicinal properties. Knowing how to correctly identify what can and cannot be safely used is an important skill for survivalists and anyone with an interest in using wild herbs and other plants.
Having the Right Equipment
There are a few must-have items that should be on hand when identifying plants in the wild. The most important is a book or guide that can be used as a reference to help identify what’s being observed. These books will have pictures and detailed descriptions of what you should look for. A notebook, pen or camera will also be helpful to document details of the plants. If you do not have an identification guide with you, the images or notes can also help when using searchable databases online. Gloves are for protecting your hands from any irritation.
Keep the Seasons and Location In Mind
Even with reference materials in hand, it can be time consuming to accurately identify specific plants. This is because of the vast numbers and varieties that grow in the wild. With that in mind, there are two factors that can make it easier to find and recognize the plants that you find. Keep in mind your geographical location as not all plants grow in every region or country. Seasons also make a difference in that some plants may grow in winter months while others may only thrive during the summer
Take note of the details surrounding the plant. If there are flowers, take note of the color, shape and number of petals. Also on flowering plants, look at the stem. Take notice of the color and texture of it. Is it smooth, hairy or covered with thorns? Are there berries or other type of fruit on the plant? Again, write down as much information about their appearance as possible, such as color, number of berries and shape. The same should be done if the plant has seeds. Care should be taken not to eat or taste any fruit or seeds until it has been positively identified as edible from a reliable source.
For all plants, characteristics of the leaves are a major consideration and an important part of identifying wild plant life. In addition to color, these features include the leaf type, margins, veins, shape, and arrangement. Leaves may grow from the stem on a stalk or they may grow directly from the stem without a stalk. These leaves may be simple in that the blades are undivided, or they may be compound leaves with fragmented blades.
Take note of the veins and the leaf margins. The veins on the leaves should also be documented. Take note if there is a single main vein, if the main vein fingers branch off into three or more veins and if they run parallel. The basic margins of leaves are generally either toothed, lobed or smooth and toothless.
After noting the margins, look at the way the leaves are attached along the plant stem to determine their arrangement. The area where they are attached is called a node. When attached to opposite sides of the same node the arrangement is called opposite. If there is one leaf per node the arrangement is called an alternate one. More than three leaves coming from a single node is known as a whorled. Finally, write down or draw the shape of the leaves.
Once all of the details have been documented, use them to look up the identification of the plants using either a wild plant reference book or databases and guides on the Internet. Identifying wild plants is a valuable skill that is potential beneficial for anyone who spends time outdoors. Although the process may take some time, it is generally worth the effort. Not only can it be an enjoyable experience, but it is also an educational one for people who look to nature for healthy alternatives.