WILD CHILD: Identifying Plants

I remember, within my first few years of working outside, having the opportunity to walk with an ecologist and learn all about the plant life in the area in which I was working. I was so excited to finally know the names of all the plants I had seen. We walked and talked, and he showed me plants for three hours. The next day I arrived at work, excited to practice my new knowledge, only to discover I could only remember one name.

As time has passed, I have enjoyed introducing children and their parents to many plants, and I've learned a name is only useful as an anchor point. It allows you to learn more about a plant and to categorize the information you learn easily, but it's not the most important part.

If you can observe how the leaves attach to the stem (do they join opposite each other, alternate stepwise up the stem, or surround it radially?). If you can notice the shape of the leaves, their veins, their colour on top and below. If you can notice the flowers, how many petals it has and its colour. If you notice where it likes to grow and how it changes over the season. Now you know much more about the plant. Certainly enough to find it’s name, but also enough to remember it. Any parent and child can work together to observe these things.

So which plant did I recognize? The only one with the feature I noticed: red bark, or the red osier dogwood.

This summer, talk about the plants you see, draw them, be excited when you recognize them, but don't worry about knowing the names. Just have fun outside, and learn together.

Written by Tandy Morton, WILD CHILD Playgroup Facilitator