Start building your plant-knowledge arsenal yet this summer

This elderberry is infected by a rust fungus that produced a strange growth or “plant antlers.” Some plants can be recognized by diseases that infect them. (Photo by Jerry Davis)

Of the 1,800 plant species in Wisconsin, consider getting to know a half dozen or so this summer and come back to the task next year with a goal of another 10 or so.

Start small, find those six and basically ignore all the other 1,794.

Learn to recognize several different stages of this first handful of plants, just emerging in spring, something about the flower, maybe its color, what the fruit looks like and whether the above portion lives throughout the year or dies back to the ground.

These plants all have names, common and scientific. Do you want to know the white oak as that, its common name, or/and Quercus alba, its species name?

What feature stands out to you? Is it its leaves, leaf shape, leaf size or something else?

How does the plant compare to similar plants, without giving those a name? Black raspberries are not blackberries, but are blackcaps. You don’t have to add to the list – unless you want to – by recognizing both berries, at least not now. Nothing wrong with knowing something is not a black raspberry. Add blackberry to next year’s list.

Maybe concentrate on edible plants. Or autumn plants. Or woodland plants, lowland plants or garden weeds. Or some of each.

Maybe this list could be plants you’ve been misidentifying, misnaming or giving two names to the same plant in different stages. Or maybe just confirm the names of six plants. Water lilies are not lotus plants. Burdock and cocklebur are not the same. Pines and spruces are different species. They are both evergreens, but one has needles (leaves) in clusters, the other has single needles.

Or become the poison ivy specialist for your household – an herb form of the poisonous plant, then the shrub form, and finally the vine poison ivy, and don’t call poison oak, at least not here is the Midwest.

Task accomplished? Call yourself a botanist. Next summer you can be called a plant taxonomist.

Categories: Wisconsin – Jerry Davis

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