Wildflower and Grass Facts



Photo of two magenta flowers of a rock pink plant
Rock pink is a succulent perennial with slender, naked flower stalks.
Noppadol Paothong

View wildflowers and grasses in the field guide.

One extremely simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into those that are woody and those that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants, such as wildflowers and grasses, is staggering!

Dividing plants into nonwoody (herbaceous) and woody categories has nothing to do with their true relationships with each other. Many plant families include both nonwoody and woody species. An example is the rose family, which includes woody cherry, apple, hawthorn, and plum trees; rose, blackberry, and dewberry sprawling shrubs; as well as herbaceous strawberries, avens, Indian physic, and cinquefoils.

Our online field guide does not yet include ferns and fern allies in its nonwoody category, though they, too, are vascular and herbaceous. The selection of grasses, sedges, and rushes is currently limited, too. Remember, also, that some nonwoody plants can develop stalks that are fairly woody, and many woody plants are nonwoody when young.

To botanists, categories like "wildflower" and "weed" are also artificial. What blossom is pretty enough to be called a wildflower? What species is undesirable enough to be called a weed? These categories have nothing to do with true plant relationships and are based entirely on human perception.

Learn plant anatomy

When learning to identify plants, it helps to learn the names of the parts of a plant — its anatomy — and the special adjectives that describe those features.

It would be hard to describe a person without knowing the words "hair," "face," "skin," and "nose," and it's the same way with plants. Take the time to learn the difference between petals and sepals, leaves and leaflets, pistils and stamens, and plant identification will be much easier — and fun!

Getting Acquainted With The Green World

A good way to start learning to identify plants is to be aware of the characteristics of some of the major families, so you can tell a grass from a sedge, and a bean from a mustard. Flowers and fruits are often more important for identification than leaves and stems.

Here are some of the large plant families in Missouri, with examples of plants you might know. Think about how the flowers, fruits, and leaves within each family have the same basic forms.

Grasses — big bluestem, fescue, corn, wheat, rice

Lilies — onion, dogtooth violet, hyacinth, daffodil, trillium

Asters — sunflowers, coneflowers, ragweeds, thistles, goldenrods, asters, dandelion, yarrow, crownbeards, thoroughworts, blazing stars, ironweed, marigolds, lettuce

Legumes — beans, clovers, peas, alfalfa, honey and black locust, redbud, vetches, tick trefoils, lespedezas, partridge pea

Mustards — cresses, rockets, alyssum, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish, horseradish

Dogbanes and milkweeds — Indian hemp, butterfly weed, common milkweed, sand vine

Mallows — hibiscus, cotton, hollyhock, okra, rose mallow

Nightshades — jimsonweed, horse nettle, potato, eggplant, tomato, garden peppers, tobacco, ground cherry

Mints — peppermint, henbit, basil, salvia, coleus, skullcap, germander, wild bergamot, horsemint, dittany

Carrots—celery, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, parsnip, fennel, cilantro, golden Alexanders

Human survival depends on plants

Plants of all types are critical for all life on earth. They provide oxygen in our atmosphere and form the basis of food chains. They are the principal food for humanity. The cultivation of plants, especially grains, meant the beginning of human civilization. Plants, flowers, and fruits are beautiful to us. Herbs were humanity’s first medicines, and they are still a source for new drugs.

In This Section

Frost Flowers

Not really flowers at all, these delicate ribbons of ice crystals form on a few species of Missouri native plants in late fall. Learn when and where you might see frost flowers.