Wildflowers and Grasses
One way of thinking about the green world is to divide it into plants that are woody and those that are not. The diversity of nonwoody plants, such as wildflowers and grasses, is staggering!
Not counting mosses, lichens, ferns and their relatives, and conifers, the flowering plants have traditionally been divided into “monocots” and “dicots,” and many guidebooks use those terms.
Single seed leaves and double seed leaves
Monocots have flowers whose parts come in threes (three petals, three stamens and so on), the leaves usually have parallel veins and the seeds have only a single “cotyledon” (the first leaf developed by the embryo in a seed).
Dicots typically have flowers whose parts come in fours or fives; the veins in their leaves are netlike, branching out like a feather or fanning from a single point; and the seeds have two cotyledons (“seed leaves”—for example, the two “halves” of a bean seed).
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.
A good way to start learning to identify plants is to learn 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 plant families in Missouri, with examples of plants you might know. Notice how the flowers and fruits have the same basic forms.
Grasses—big bluestem, fescue, corn, wheat, rice
Lilies—onion, dogtooth violet, hyacinth, daffodil, trillium
Asters—sunflowers, coneflowers, ragweed, thistle, goldenrod, dandelion
Legumes—beans, clover, peas, alfalfa, honey locust, redbud
Mustards—cresses, rockets, alyssum, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish, horseradish
Milkweeds—butterfly weed, common milkweed
Mallows—hibiscus, cotton, hollyhock, okra
Nightshades—potato, eggplant, tomato, garden peppers, tobacco
Mints—peppermint, henbit, basil, salvia, coleus
Carrots—celery, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, parsnip, fennel, cilantro
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 fruit are beautiful to us. Herbs were humanity’s first medicines, and they are still a source for new drugs.