Wildflowers by Family F-M
The third largest plant family after asters and orchids, Fabaceae is the commercially and important family that gives us our beans, peas, peanuts, chickpeas, alfalfa, carob and soybeans. Non-edible members include lupines, clover and even palo verde!
There are only eleven members in the oddly shaped and cactus-like ocotillo family (Fouquieriaceae) and all of them are found in the dry, arid deserts between Guatemala and the American Southwest. In the United States, we have only one – the ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens).
Gentians are a very beautiful group of wildflowers with a very unique characteristic. If you taste the leaves and taste a sharp, sudden bitterness, it will cause your digestive system to start releasing fluids which will actually aid in digestion. Gentians inhabit many different habitats from hot, sub-tropical environments like the Florida Everglades to the top of alpine mountains as high as the treeline where it becomes too cold for trees to exist.
This common and easily recognized botanical is found all over the world, and is easily recognized by their five separate petals and five separate sepals. Also known as true geraniums (nursery geraniums belong to the Pelargonium genus) in North America, we only have two genera of native geraniums: Erodium and Geranium.
This botanical family is very important for both wildlife and humans alike. Both currants and gooseberries have been an important source of nutrition across the Northern Hemisphere and South America for time immemorial, and depending on the species, the large, juicy berries of these hardy shrubs are rich in vitamins and carbohydrates.
The most distinctive characteristic of plants in the hydrangea family is the flowers, which grow in large beautiful clusters of star-shaped blooms. Typically found in warmer climates, some species such as the mock orange can be found thriving in places with bitterly cold winters.
Collectively known as the St. John’s wort family, these annual or perennial group of species have clusters of delightful bright yellow flowers are best known around the world for their use as a natural antidepressant. Tiny black spots on the leaves contain the active ingredient.
Named after the Greek goddess, Iris, the iris and gladiolus family is immensely important commercially. Related to lilies and growing from bulbs, corms or rhizome, these perennials grow grass-like foliage and when it is time to bloom, they flower with large, brightly colored, magnificent blooms. Luckily for us, North America has many native species found spread across the continent.
Perhaps the most important culinary family of plants, no cuisine around the world would be the same without it. Members of this worldwide group include mint, lavender, basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage, hyssop and savory. Many species that are not used in food are important medicinally by tribes and cultures around the world.
A favorite of any nature lover, wildflower enthusiast, hiker, and casual observer, lilies have around 705 different species around the world, and have a fossil record dating back roughly 52 million years! They are very easy to recognize in the wild because they come in threes: three petals, three sepals, and have three-chambered capsular fruits when the flower is fertilized and the sepals and petals fall off. Color range goes from expertly camouflaged greens and browns to the brightest colors imaginable.
These mostly (but not always) tropical and sub-tropical plants of the Linaceae botanical family are perhaps most beautiful in the morning when they open up with the sun. They are best known for the flax seeds used in cooking and baking.
The Malaxideae tribe of orchids may not be the most flashy, but they have some of the smallest flowers of all of the world’s native orchids. With roughly 300 species worldwide, less than a dozen are found in the United States and Canada.
Commonly referred to as the mallow or hibiscus family, Malvaceae includes over four thousand species around the world including such commercially important crops as cotton, cacao, okra and durian, and the ornamental/landscape hibiscus favored in so many yards and gardens.
Known as the prayer-plant or arrowroot family, plants in the Marantaceae family live in hot wet habitats, either in wet soil or actually in standing water with their leaves in high stalks above the surface. The most common species we see in North America is the alligator flag, found mostly in Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana.
In North America, the most frequently encountered terrestrial orchids of the Maxillarieae tribe are known as the coralroots. These very pretty, showy small colorful orchids love shady forests, and because they often grow in the deep shade, they feed on other plants in a semi-parasitic manner instead of relying on sunlight. These are called myco-heterotrophs, and behave much more like mushrooms than plants.
Another recent breakaway from the lily family, the bunchflower botanical family includes some of the most dangerous, and beloved plants and wildflowers encountered by avid hikers and naturalists. While death camas have caused innumerable deaths over the years from eating wrongly identified true camas bulbs, there is no one alive who doesn’t love to find a wild trillium in bloom on the forest floor.
Known as the meadow beauties for good reason, these beautiful wetland-loving, tropical and subtropical wildflowers are often seen in bogs, along swamp edges and in pinelands that experience extended seasonal flooding.
These native aquatic plants often have small yet beautiful small flowers that many find attractive enough to use to enhance ornamental water gardens and ponds. Because of this, some of the non-native species have been spread throughout North America and have become naturalized.
Formerly members of the purslane family, the Montiaceae botanical family is comprised of multiple-related edible plants with a high oxalic acid content (giving them a lemony taste) that are often associated with the western part of North America. Many are adapted to a very dry climate and can withstand extended sunlight exposure.