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  • Laura Johnson

You don't need to know all the names....

Wildflowers are popping up like mad this time of year, and I've noticed that for many people, it's a favorite time of year to hike. I've also noticed that a good many adults feel like they need to, or should be able to I.D. these beautiful flowers as part of appreciating them - or more importantly, passing down that appreciation to your children. Well, I'm going to put a hard STOP to that idea....


You don't need to know the names.

Observation is the heart of knowing nature.


Here's how to do it.

First, stop moving! Stop, slow down, and get down on the level of the plant you're interested in (don't worry, your kids will do this anyway, no matter how many times you're calling "catch up!" from farther up the trail).


Pull out your phone and start a note, or better yet, a little notebook and pencil.

What do you notice? Color, shape, number of petals, leaf shape, total height.....make your own notes and use your own words! Then observe the plant's environment - is it shady? Damp? Dry? Rocky? Does the plant grow in patches? Snap a photo or draw a sketch (I find sketching helps me slow down, and it doesn't have to be a "good" one!)



Last, make up your own name for the plant! That's right, make up your own. Kids are excellent at doing this. I've found over the years for myself, as well as kids and adults, that making up your own name actually helps the "proper" plant I.D. recall so much easier! It also connects you in a personal way to what you've just observed and might even become part of your family's language - we're forever calling one of our favorite hiking spots the "Swoopy Bird" place because we observed swallows there several years ago.


And I suppose that after all this, if you're itching to I.D. that plant, you'll find it rather easy (and memorable)! As an alternative to or working with field guides, iNaturalist is one of my favorite apps to I.D. nearly anything, as it is crowd-sourced and I learn a ton! You can do this after you get back from the woods if you've taken photos, or you can do it on-the-spot if your cell is working.


The best part? Simple observation skills work for everything - trees, birds, mammals, fungi, fish....once you start observing, it becomes a skill that you cultivate!


Have fun out there, and remember - all the tools you need to share nature with your children are within you.

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