Learning Botanical Families

Like animals are sorted into animal families, plants are sorted into botanical families. These are based on the flowers.

As I struggle to identify the wildflowers I come across, I’ve tried to learn the different botanical families. A few are fairly easy.

botanical families include Asteraceae

A common Asteraceae flower head has a disk of tiny flowers surrounded by ray flowers that look like petals. Not all Asteraceae flower heads have ray flowers. They all do have the tiny disk flowers.

The Asteraceae includes flowers like daisies, dandelions, sunflowers and pussy toes. All have masses of tiny flowers squashed into a single head on a disk.

The Asclepiadaceae have complex flowers with five petals, five hoods and pollinaria (packets of pollen). Common milkweeds are butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, purple milkweed and green milkweed.

botanical families include Asclepiadaceae like butterfly weed milkweed

Butterfly weed milkweed, like most milkweeds, attracts lots of butterflies, beetles, bees and wasps. The flowers have five backswept petals, five wells of nectar and five horns pointing into the wells. The sizes and colors can vary, but all the flowers have this basic pattern putting them into the same botanical family called Asclepiadaceae.

Other families were more difficult for me to recognize. Then a friend loaned me a book “Botany In a Day” by Thomas J. Elpel that goes through most of the families and explains how the flowers are arranged in each family.

Family by botanical family I am plowing my way through this book. It is easy to read and understand, just filled with information that takes time to absorb.

Then I found Elpel includes edibility and medicinal information for plants within each family. It is mostly the medicinal uses and many are ones I would never want to try after reading the descriptions.

Botanical families found in Botany In a Day

The book “Botany In a Day” includes keys to the various botanical families and pages about each family along with edibility and medicinal information. It’s written for Montana but many families occur in the Ozarks too.

The edibility is what I am interested in. I do pick and eat a number of wild greens. Lamb’s quarters is a favorite. Pokeweed, chicory, plantains and chickweed are other tasty treats.

The problem with these plants is where they grow: disturbed ground such as gardens and roadsides. I need to know about edible ravine plants as the Carduans in The Carduan Chronicles will be sampling and eating some of these.

This book is a step to finding plants for the Carduans. The first step is identifying the plants out in the ravines.

Back to poring over “Botany In a Day” and learning the botanical families. Then I can identify the plants and find which ones are not only edible, but tasty.