Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

Volume 2, Number 3 - February 1956

Spring Wildflowers

 Front cover: Spring Wildflowers
 THE COVER PICTURE, photographed by C. R. Shoemaker, appeared in an article on the introduction of resource use planning into the schools, published in The American Biology Teacher in January, 1947. This article was one of a conservation series published in this magazine, which is the official journal of The National Association of Biology Teachers.

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Published by
The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

John E. King, President

Prepared and Issued by
The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Divisions of Education and Social Science

Editor: John Breukelman, Head, Department of Biology

Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Helen M. Douglass, Dixon Smith

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to any citizen of Kansas.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Second-class mail privileges authorized at Emporia, Kansas.


MOST OF THE TEXT for this issue was prepared by H. A. Stephens, Educational Representative of the Forestry, Fish and Game Commission, who formerly taught at Emporia State and was on the editorial committee of The Kansas School Naturalist. Mr. Stephens also took most of the pictures.

Spring Wildflowers


If we were to make a study of rainfall in Kansas, we would find that on the average the eastern part of the state receives about fourteen inches more rain each year than does the western part. This means, of course, that different types of plants would grow in the different sections. The kind of soil also helps determine the plants that grow in any region. Since prairies were the principal original feature of Kansas, it is logical that the state be divided according to the grasses, giving us three divisions. The eastern part is the tall grass prairie; the central part is the mixed grass prairie; and the western part is the short grass prairie.

In the tall grass prairie, the big blue stem and the little blue stem are the dominant grasses. Scattered among these grasses are many wild flowers. Some of these get light and air by growing taller than the grasses, and they get water by sending their roots deeper into the ground. Others accomplish the same result by coming up and flowering before the grasses get started in the spring. The valleys of this area are commonly filled with large trees and many brushes and shrubs. All of these trees and shrubs have some type of flower and produce seeds. The cedar tree, our native evergreen, has no true flower, but it does have a structure that produces seeds. Because of the wider variety of ecological conditions, there is a greater variety of flowers in eastern Kansas than in the western part. Some of the flowers are particular about the soil in which they grow, or about the amount of light or shade they receive and will not grow even fifty feet away from their natural home. This is why it is difficult to grow some wild flowers in our gardens.

In the mixed grass area of central Kansas we find the soil becoming more sandy, fewer steep hills and deep valleys, and less moisture. It is a transition zone, and in it we may find plants characteristic of either eastern or western Kansas.

The short grass region is dominated by buffalo grass or grama grass. Both are able to withstand long periods of drouth, but soon turn green and start growing after a good rain. The wild flowers of this area must be able to do the same thing, or bloom early in the spring while there is still available moisture. A great many of them have water saving devices, such as large thick leaves or stems, like the cactus, or deep bulky roots like the bush morning glory. Such plants either store water, or have devices for preventing it from evaporating. Just one tree is common here - the cottonwood. It is found along streams or around springs where water is available. Since animals depend directly or indirectly on plants, they, too, are affected by these three plant regions.


Several persons, after seeing the Fall Wildflowers issue of The Kansas School Naturalist, made such remarks as "You just described a bunch of weeds" or "Most of the plants listed were weeds." And they may have been right. Some of the wildflowers included, like the smartweed and milkweed, had "weed" as a part of the common name; others, like the sunflower and thistle, are perhaps best known as weeds.

Since this issue again deals with wildflowers, and a summer wildflowers issue is in the planning stage, and since both include several plants that are commonly thought of as weeds, we may do well to explain both the terms "wildflower" and "weed."

Wildflowers are usually thought of as uncultivated plants, growing without any assistance by man, and found in any surroundings suitable to their growth needs. In Kansas most wildflowers grow in woods, pastures, meadows, fields, and the like. But wildflowers are also common in deserts, on high mountains, in tropical forests and in swamps. The distinguishing feature of wildflowers is that they are uncultivated.

Weeds are usually thought of as useless or harmful plants that grow in fields and gardens, and interfere with or cause damage to the desired crop or garden plants. They may, under different circumstances, be considered valuable. For example, Johnson grass, which is a cultivated crop grass in some other states, is a noxious weed in Kansas. Dandelions, which are raised in gardens for greens in some other areas, are considered among the worst lawn weeds in Kansas. The important feature about weeds is that they are growing out of place and are therefore useless or troublesome.

It follows that some wildflowers are weeds and some are not. It all depends on where they grow. Which of the wildflowers described in the October issue and in this issue are weeds in your locality?

WORTH LOOKING UP: Norma Stillwell, Flower Cinderellas, Nature Magazine, August-September, 1955, Vol. 48, No.7. pp. 352-354.


From the broad viewpoint, wildflowers are among our important natural resources. They may not be of much economic importance compared to minerals and crops, but many of them have practical use. Their greatest importance, however, is in providing us with a type of enjoyment which we get from few other things in nature. At one time our country had apparently unlimited numbers and kinds of wildflowers, but the development of agriculture and industry has destroyed many of the best wildflower areas.

Since the appeal of wildflowers is mainly esthetic rather than economic, it is necessary for those interested in their conservation to use unusual judgment and tact. Some people go so far as to decry picking of all kinds of wildflowers, even such abundant ones as goldenrods or coneflowers. Such an attitude makes the whole conservation movement look silly to many people who are highly interested in practical conservation. In most cases, it is not the excessive picking of wildflowers that caused their disappearance. The wildflowers disappeared because of plowing the prairie, clearing the woods, being destroyed by forest and prairie fires, and building of farm homes, cities, highways and railroads. A recent hazard is indiscriminate spraying with so-called weed killers which destroy valuable plants as well as obnoxious ones.

There are still plenty of large areas of wildflower display. It is not uncommon in Kansas to see entire fields or pastures purple with vervain or yellow with broomweed. We may see miles of evening primroses or wild larkspurs along the highway, and walks along a railroad right-of-way reward us with views of many natural flower gardens.

In many states there are large areas of parks and preserves, such as national parks and national forests; these are wildflower conservation areas by their very nature. In such areas there are signs warning the visitors against picking wildflowers. In Kansas there are no such protected areas, so it is up to the people themselves to cooperate in bringing about such conservation measures as they want. There are many things that can be done. An interesting and profitable study for a school or class is to make up a list of wildflower conservation practices applicable to the locality involved.

Some suggestions follow; you can think of many more.

  1. Pick flowers only where there is abundance. If there are only five of a certain kind in view, do not pick all five-better yet, do not pick any of them. If all are left to reproduce, there may be 50 in the same place next year.
  2. Use for bouquets only those flowers that will "keep." If you try to make a bouquet of evening primroses, you will soon conclude that they might better have been left along the roadside, because the petals droop and fade quickly when the flowers are removed from the plants.
  3. Pick the flowers in such a way as not to damage the plant's ability to reproduce. Do not pull up the whole plant when you want only the blossoms. Do not break the stem in such a way as to destroy the plant's ability to manufacture food and transport it to the roots. Do not take all the flowers from a plant; leave a few for seed.
  4. Save some seeds from your favorite wildflowers and plant them in your home or school yard or in other suitable places, where light, moisture\ soil and other environmental conditions are about the same as those where the plant from which yon got the seeds was growing.
  5. Try transplanting your favorite wildflowers in suitable places; this may be difficult because the plants have deep taproots or long underground parts. Or the bulb from which the plant glows may be deep. To transplant a fawn lily, or dogtooth violet, you must dig up the soil almost a foot deep, or you will miss the important part of the root system.
  6. Make a list of wildflowers which are scarce in your area, and try to develop plans of action for increasing their numbers. In what surroundings are these scarce forms found? In what kind of soil? In short grass, tall grass, open woods, along a creek, on rocky hillsides? What steps could be take to provide these plants with their particular needs, so as to help them increase their numbers?


In this issue, The Kansas School Naturalist presents descriptions and pictures of 24 common wildflowers or wildflower groups that bloom during March, April or May. The descriptions are numbered to correspond to the pictures on pages 6, ~, and 9. They are arranged in the order in which they appear in Kansas Wild Flowers, by W. C. Stevens. (University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 1948, $7.50)



Several species of wild onion are found in Kansas. Some of these have little bulbs appearing in the flower heads, but the most common species does not have. Its flowers are in ball-shaped clusters, and are white with varying tints of purple or green. It is found in prairies, pastures, and along roadsides throughout the state. It usually blooms in April and May. There is no question about it being an onion if one either tastes the leaves or digs up the bulb and samples it.




This little flower belongs to the lily family, so its other name - fawn-lily is more appropriate. The two common species in Kansas are the prairie and the woodland fawn-lily. Both grow from a bulb about ten inches underground, producing a single Bower between the two pointed leaves. The outer "petals," which are really sepals, are tinted with purple. The woodland species has reddish spots on the leaves. Both may be in bloom in early March.




This flower is common along roadsides throughout Kansas, although the species may be different in various locations. It grows from six inches to three feet high, topped with a cluster of blue, pink, or white flowers. The flower has three petals, with bright yellow stamens in the center. The buds of the flower head hang down, but as they open the flower turns upward. Flowers first appear in April. If the stem is broken, it gives off a clear stringy liquid.




The part usually called the flower on this plant is really a spathe, or modified leaf which encloses the inconspicuous flowers on a stalk in the center. This spathe is funnel-shaped with one side long and arching over the center stalk. The inner part of the spathe is purple with yellow stripes. The two large leaves are divided into three leaflets. The plant, also known as Indian turnip, grows in wooded areas of eastern Kansas. The bulb is shallow and very biting when tasted. The Calla lily is a relative.




The blue or white flowers of this little plant are found in the pastures over most of Kansas, but more commonly in the east half. It belongs to the iris family. The flower stalks are flattened, and there may be as many as 25 or 30 on one clump of grass-like leaves. The fibrous roots form a heavy mat. This makes it possible to dig up the plant with a supply of soil and transplant it to the garden.




This is a relative of the cultivated larkspur, or Delphinium. The prairie larkspur is the most common of the Kansas forms and is found throughout the state. Its tall stately stems and spikes of white or bluish flowers are well known on the prairies. The spur of the flower is part of one of the sepals, not a petal. The leaves are divided into many fine parts and are most plentiful on the lower part of the stem. The rock larkspur, common only in the east, with purple flowers, is the first to blossom, beginning in April.




There are many species of buttercups, growing on dry prairies, in moist woods, or in water. Most of them have five rich yellow, sometimes waxy, petals. They vary in height from about two inches to two feet, depending on the type of soil in which they are growing. The deeply lobed leaves may be broad or narrow. They may be annual, biennial, or perennial. Most of them begin to blossom in April. The Carolina anemone, or windflower, common throughout the state, is a member of the buttercup family.




This umbrella-leafed plant is found on the woods of eastern Kansas. As the leaves push up through the ground, they are folded like a closed umbrella covering and protecting the tender young flower bud. Usually the plant has two leaves about a foot above ground with a single white flower between them. The flowers, about an inch across, have thick waxy petals. Although the ripened fruits are edible, the underground stems are poisonous.




Two species of poppy mallow are common in Kansas. In the western part, the cherry-red flower is more common, while the pink, or white, one grows in the eastern section. Both grow from a deep heavy taproot, the stems coming from the crown and spreading along the ground. The pink one has finely cut leaves while the red one has coarser, heavier leaves. They are found in open prairies and pastures and often form a colorful mass along the roadside. Indians claimed that this root had medicinal value.




This plant, about a foot high, branches so much that it resembles a small bush. The leaves, which are deeply cut into many parts, turn red in the late summer. The pale pink flowers are small, but only a few of them bloom at a time, so the plant has flowers over a long period, beginning in April and lasting into the summer. The ripened fruits look like small black spikes and, when touched, the base of the spike snaps loose, curling up and throwing the seed away. The cultivated "geranium," a related genus, is a native of South Africa.




There are four species of violets that Kansas school children should know. The blue violet, or butterfly violet, with its heart-shaped leaves and purple flowers is the most common. It grows either in woods or out in the open, a railroad right of way seeming to be a favorite place. The leaves and flower stalks form clusters by growing directly out of the ground from the thick roots talk.

The yellow violet, which grows in the woods, produces a stem with the leaves and flowers growing from it. This species grows higher, up to eight or ten inches. It is sometimes called the woolpod violet because of the fuzz found on the seed pod, and sometimes also along the stem.

Out in the prairies one will find the prairie violet. This grows low and has deeply cut leaves instead of heart-shaped ones. It is similar to the rare bird's foot violet, but the flowers are smaller and not as open.

The pansy violet, also known as field pansy or Johnny-jump-up, grows in the open along roadsides and in moist places in pastures. It has a stem on which are the deeply cut leaves and the small pale blue flowers. The pansy violet is an annual; the other violets are perennials.

Violets sometimes produce seeds without a flower, fertilizing themselves within the pod. These pods may be seen late in the summer after all flowers are gone. All violet flowers have the same shape and structure, usually with a rounded spur at the back to hold the nectar. They are related to the cultivated pansy of our gardens.




In the woods of eastern Kansas one of the earliest flowers is the pink flowered Dutchman's-breeches. These flowers appear on dangling stalks from a main stem about six inches long. Several of them are on each stem, causing the whole thing to look like a miniature clothes line with several pairs of full-legged trousers hanging from it. The leaves are compound, each leaflet being deeply cut creating a fem-like appearance. Both leaves and flower stalks grow directly from a scaly underground bulb. The cultivated bleeding heart is a Japanese relative of the Dutchman's breeches.




Although the name Corydalis is not well known, it is one of the common, low-growing flowers of the spring in all parts of Kansas. The leaves grow close to the ground, and appear somewhat like carrot leaves. Several spikes of yellow flowers are produced on each plant. It is usually an annual, but the seeds may sprout in he summer and produce a plant which flowers the following year. It is found under all
sorts of conditions, in woods, or in the open.




This little flower is common in pastures of the eastern half of the state. It occurs more often in slightly moist areas, but also does well in dry places. The stem comes from a bulb, produces two long slender leaves about half way up, and above them a loose cluster of white flowers with pink lines on the petals. Since it blooms as early as March, it is one of the favorite signs of spring.




The two common species are found in quite different localities. The blue flowered does best in the rich soil of the woods and requires shade. This is the Sweet William of eastern Kansas. It is a perennial, growing about a foot high with a flat cluster of five-petal ed flowers on top of each stem. The prairie phlox grows in the open fields and is usually pink, sometimes with a purplish tint. It is more common in the southeast. Both species produce many tiny seeds and spread rapidly; they also produce rhizomes to form dense clusters.




This plant is commonly known as beard-tongue, or wild foxglove. It is a perennial with a single stem growing erect from a heavy root. At the top is a spike of tubular white flowers, some of which are striped with purple. Some species are only about a foot high, while others grow to three feet, but the vertical spike of white flowers is characteristic. At least one of the species will be found in all parts of Kansas, blooming usually in May.




On the rocky hillsides of eastern Kansas, one is sure to find this low spreading plant with the circular head of rose to pink flowers. Since the outer flowers bloom first, beginning in May, there is usually a center without flowers until late in the season. The branching stems lie on the ground and take root, so may spread to a large clump. The leaves are rough, lobed, toothed and found along the whole length of the stem. It may be dug up even while in bloom and transplanted to the home garden.




This little plant, growing only about four inches high, may be found in woods or in the open. The leaves are compound, each of the three leaflets being toothed along the margin. The five-petalled white flowers are produced on stalks coming directly from tl1e underground stem. The red "berry" which we eat is really the receptacle of the flower and the little spots on it are the true fruits, each with a little seed inside of it. The species is a perennial, and spreads by runners. It is the ancestor of the many kinds of cultivated strawberries now grown throughout the temperate parts of the world.




The three species of this plant produce different colors of flowers: one blue, one yellow, and the other white. The flowers are on long spikes which may be vertical or drooping. If you examine the flower you can easily see that it belongs to the pea family. Most of these plants grow one or two feet high in the open prairies of Kansas, their gray-green leaves causing them to stand out clearly above other plants. It is sometimes called the cowpea; in the fall its black pods with loose seeds give it the name of rattlepod.




The different characteristics of the species of milk vetch give them different local names. One species is the local weed of the west, another slightly poisonous one is called the poison vetch, another harmless one is called the ground plum. They all belong to the genus Astragalus. The plants grow close to the ground, with stems coming from a thick perennial root. The leaves are compound, with small leaflets. Most of the flowers are purple, but one species has yellow flowers. The fruits of most have thick-walled pods which are red in late summer.




This common carrot-like plant is found in rocky prairies in all except the western fourth of Kansas. It is a perennial, with a strong deep taproot. The deeply cut compound leaves grow on a stem from one to three feet tall. The small yellow flowers, which are produced in flattened or rounded clusters, begin to bloom in April.




The two species of bluets in Kansas are quite different in appearance. The annual plant of eastern Kansas grows about three inches high with only one or two blue flowers of four petals. It is delicate looking and seldom seen because of its small size. The perennial bluet grows in clumps, six to twelve inches high, which are usually covered with pink or white flowers. It is hardy and grows on the dry plains of western Kansas as well as the eastern glacial hills. The leaves are small and narrow, growing on stubby, stiff branches.




This "weedy" flower found in fields and pastures throughout the state, is one of the few spring members of the aster family, most of them flowering in the late summer or fall. It grows from one to three feet high, branching at the top and producing a mass of small white flowers, looking somewhat like a daisy. It will take over a dry pasture, but will thrive in moist woods also. The leaves are small and scattered along the stem. Daisy fleabane is an annual, but most of its near relatives are perennials.




No one in Kansas needs to be introduced to this common yard or pasture plant. The deep heavy taproot makes it difficult to eradicate, but you must admit it is a rather pretty flower - if you don't think of the work it may cause. The leaves form a rosette flat on the ground, the flower stalks growing from the extremely short stem at the top of the taproot. After the flowers have finished blooming they fold up, the stalk elongates, and when the sepals fold back they expose a ball of tufted seeds, which may be blown away by the wind.


There are many interesting things to do with wildflowers other than merely looking at them as you drive along the road or walk in the woods or meadows. You can ask yourself questions about them. Where do they grow? What kind of soil seems to be best for them? Are the same species found in the woods and in the pastures? Do pasture species grow the same size as woods species? Do they blossom at the same times of the year? How are the petals arranged? Are all the flowers of a single plant mature at the same time? Are they all the same size? Are the older and younger flowers of a single plant the same color? You can think of dozens of other questions, and then try to answer them, not by finding the information in a book, but by looking at wildflowers.

Following are a few specific suggestions for wildflower activities; it is hoped that these will remind the reader of many others.

1. Plant families. As you become familiar with some of the wildflowers, look them up and find out what others belong; to the same families. This will lead you to the family characteristics, and also to the variations within families. You may find some surprises; for example, the dogtooth violet belongs to the lily family.

2. Growing wildflowers. You can start a wildflower garden, by transplanting entire plants to your home or school yard; or by collecting; seeds and planting; them. The trick is to provide conditions as nearly as possible like those in which the plant normally grows. When transplanting it is well to bring back some of the soil in which the plant was thriving. The writer of these lines has successfully transplanted blue violet, beard tongue, verbena, fleabane, snakeroot, coneflower, aster, and many others. Seeds should be planted under conditions similar to the natural; seeds collected from open pastures should not be planted in shady places, nor seeds collected from the woods be planted in open sun. The cover picture shows some large flowered trillium which were cultivated from seeds. We have also grown poppymallow, beardtongue, wild larkspur, horsemint, and several others from seeds.

3. Pick only flowers that are plentiful. If you find a rare flower leave it for others to enjoy. It may become plentiful if you and others protect it. Never pick flowers in parks or preserve area. Enjoy the flowers where they grow and leave them for others to enjoy. Find out which type of wildflowers are scarce and make special efforts to preserve these. Write to the Wild Flower Preservation SOciety, 3740 Oliver Street, Washington 15, D.C., for leaflets and other information.

4. Seasonal succession. Make a chart of wildflowers, recording the earliest and latest dates on which you find each species in blossom. Some are in bloom for short periods, others throughout most of the growing season. Some blossom only in the spring, others only in the summer or fall.

5. Wildflower photography. If you have a camera and like to take pictures of natural subjects, try wildflower photography. Excellent results are possible either in black-and-white or color. Some of the pictures in this issue were made originally in black-and-white and others are prints made from Kodachromes. If your camera does not focus closely enough to get a fair sized picture, an inexpensive portrait lens will make it possible to take pictures at distances as close as a foot or two.


Zim and Martin. Flowers (A Golden Nature Guide), Simon and Schuster, New York 1950, $1.00.

Jauss, Discovering Nature the Year Round. E. P. Dutton and Co. 1955. $2.50. For boys and girls, ten and up, about what there is to see during different seasons.


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