How to Identify the Wildflowers in Shenandoah National Park
Every week when I upload photos of wildflowers from Shenandoah National Park, I research what the flower’s name is, it’s family, bloom time, habitat, distribution, and other interesting facts. Sometimes the wildflowers are easily identifiable, and other times not so much.
Here are my go-to resources that help me identify and learn about all the lovely and mysterious wildflowers that I encounter in Shenandoah Valley. You may find these useful as well.
Wildflowers of Shenandoah National Park by Ann and Rob Simpson
This nifty little book (Wildflowers of Shenandoah National Park: A Pocket Field Guide) is a great starting point for anyone interested in identifying the wildflowers in Shenandoah. It has beautiful pictures that take up one-third to one-half of the page, all the essential information you need to know about it (scientific name, bloom season, family, height), and lots of interesting background facts. It includes the most common wildflowers in Shenandoah as well as some others.
I love that in the introduction this book includes tips for how to photograph wildflowers and some of the best wildflower trails in Shenandoah.
Length: 143 pages
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Eastern Region
This book (National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Eastern Region) is a more detailed resource for the identification of a wide variety of wildflowers. The first 300 pages include pictures of wildflowers categorized by color and type (radially symmetrical, rounded clusters, elongated clusters, etc.). Each of these pages has photos of 2-3 different wildflowers. This part has been very helpful for me.
It also includes ~500 pages of descriptions of wildflowers, although not every wildflower included has a corresponding photo in the first 300 pages. Some have drawings, some have nothing. However, you can easily search the internet images for that flower and get an idea that way. The descriptions are informative, including: an explanation of what the plant, flowers, and leaves look like, its height, blooming months, habitat, range, and other comments, such as the origin of its name, its history, and medicinal properties.
I’ve been able to find a large majority of the wildflowers I’ve looked for in this book.
Length: 879 pages
USWildflowers.com is a great resource, especially when I’m stuck after not being able to find the wildflower in either of my books. I go straight to this website. You can search by state and wildflower color. Usually I type into Google “US Wildflowers Virginia blue” or “US Wildflowers Virginia white”, etc. and the page easily comes up.
You can then scan through the pictures with your eye. Once you click on a wildflower page it usually has several pictures of the flower as well as photos of other identifying factors such as leaves that are helpful.
Virginiawildflowers.org is a privately run blog and gallery with many beautiful photos. You can search for flowers based on their color. Their posts are also well-researched with interesting information included.
Virginia Native Plant Society
The Virginia Native Plant Society is a nonprofit organization aimed at conserving Virginia’s native plants and habitats. Their Facebook page often updates photos of plants and wildflowers are are currently blooming and has other information for local nature enthusiasts.
Internet – Government
U.S. Department of Agriculture
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Database is the best place to find information regarding (1) distribution of a wildflower in North America, and (2) whether it is native or non-native to North America. You can even zoom in to the map to see detailed distribution.
I use this website when I already know the name of the wildflower and want to find out this information. I search in Google, for example, “Tall Bellflower distribution” and one of the first links that usually comes up is the USDA plant database.
The USDA Forest Service has a helpful website for wildflower resources. They also have pages with lots of useful and interesting information about wildflowers. I use this website by searching Google with the name and organization, such as, “Goldenrod USDA Forest Service.” They don’t have pages on every wildflower, but for the ones they do, it’s a great resource for scientific and background information on the wildflower.
After all of this research, in the vast majority of cases, you should be able to find the flower you are looking for. So far, I’d say that I’ve not been able to identify about 5% of the wildflowers I’ve encountered. Sometimes it just takes a bit of a different approach, or luck when one of these resources updates with new pictures.
Happy wildflower searching to you all!