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Wildflower Glossary

By Ray Allen, Founder of

To understand and discuss wildflowers, and when using wildflower identification books and other sources, it's necessary to become familiar with a few basic botanical terms which describe flowers and plants.

Parts of a Flower

A flower begins at the top of the plant's stalk and consists of the following parts:

Corolla The petals of a flower (two or more) are known collectively as the corolla.
Sepal The leaf-like base between the top of the stalk and the petals which together form the calyx.
Pistil The ovary of any seed plant required for reproduction.
Stamen The male reproductive organ of a flower typically located between the pistil and the surrounding petals.
Stem The stem of a plant has the purpose of supporting both leaves and flowers in addition to providing a vascular system for the flow of water and other substances necessary to sustain the plant's life.
Roots Roots anchor both the plant and the soil surrounding the plant upon which the plant is dependent for water and other nutrients. There are three primary types of root systems:
Fibrous Root The commonly-seen type of root system made up of fine, branching smaller rootlets which collect moisture.
Tap Root Large, strong, often carrot-shaped root capable of reaching into sub-soil.
Advetious Root Type which often grows perpendicular to the stem. This kind of root is typical of plants with climbing stems.
Leaves Leaves provide the solar collection necessary for photosynthesis -- the process whereby sunlight produces food and molecular building blocks necessary for plant survival. There is an enormous variety of leaf shape in nature but essentially they can be categorized into four general groups:
  • Entire: If a leaf margin is even and unbroken, it can be classified as entire.
  • Toothed: When a leaf's edge is relatively regular with shallow indentations which can be pointed, wavy, or scalloped, the leaf is called toothed.
  • Lobed: Leaves that appear with deep indentations which separate it into several sections are known as lobed.
  • Divided: Refers to a leaf that is actually divided into separate parts known as leaflets.

The three types of Wildflowers

Botanical Drawing Rhododendron

To understand how wildflowers grow and reproduce, it's important to know which type of plant is being discussed. These plant types, of course, apply not only to wildflowers, but to all the thousands of hybrids that have been "made" from them as garden flowers we all enjoy. Remember, every flower is descended from a wildflower (or more than one) that is native somewhere on earth.


Annual wildflowers are the ones which grow quickly from seed, bloom usually for a long period (about two months, on average), and then die with the first hard frost. This means annual wildflowers live only one growing season. They are propagated by dropping their seeds as their flowers fade. This tells you that if you know of an annual that "came back" for a second year after a winter, it simply re-grew the second year from seed it produced the year before. This is called "self-sowing, and usually happens only when annual seed falls on bare ground. Most wild annuals are native to open spaces, rather than areas that are, or were originally, wooded. Popular wild annuals are the European red poppy and North America's plains coreopsis.


Perennial wildflowers are the ones that "come back" each year from the same roots, forming larger and larger clumps with more and more flowers as they age. From seed, they germinate more slowly than most annuals, and make minor above-ground growth during their first growing season. Bloom usually begins their second growing season, and a perennial's season of bloom is usually much shorter than that of an annual. (The average perennial blooms for about two weeks.) Examples of perennials are common daisies, purple coneflower, St. Johnswort, and the goldenrods. Some perennials live to return year after year for decades or even centuries. Others are what botanists call "short-lived", which usually means the plant persists for less than five years.


The third and smallest group of wildflowers are the biennials. These plants have a two-year life-cycle. Like perennials, they normally do not bloom their first year, but bloom and seed profusely-- for a comparatively long period-- their second. Common examples of biennials are our common roadside weed, Queen Anne's lace, and one of North America's most popular native flowers, the black-eyed Susan.

Wildflower Naming and Terminology

Botanical Description Solomon's Seal

The classification system of scientific names applied to plants and animals.

Botanical, Latin, or Scientific Name

The official accepted name of a wildflower, usually based on Latin or Greek. This name consists of a “genus” name followed by a “species” name. Example: Black-eyed Susan’s botanical name is Rudbeckia hirta.
Read all about botanical names here.

Genus Name

The “first name” in a plant’s botanical name. See example in above entry for Rudbeckia.

Species name

The “second name” in a plant’s botanical name. See example in above entries for hirta.

Common Name

The popularly used English name for a North American wildflower. Example: Black-eyed Susan.
Read all about common names here.

Native Wildflower

A wildflower species that occurs naturally in the place it is found.

Naturalized Wildflower

A wildflower that is native elsewhere, but has adapted to the wild where it is found.

Alien Wildflower

A wildflower species that is native to another continent.

Exotic Wildflower

A wildflower species that is native to another continent..

Invasive Species

An agressive wildflower species that tends to dominate others.
Read all about "Problem Plants" here

Pest Species

An invasive wildflower species that causes serious environmental damage.

Noxious Weed

A weedy plant that is considered a pest in a particular place.