A Guide to Wild Flowers Between the Capes

Plant Families

Apiaceae - The Carrot Famil
The flowers of the carrot family are arranged in a simple or compound umbel, a flat-topped inflorescence with the flowers arising from a single point.

Araceae - The Arum Family
The familiar calla lily and Philodendron belong to this family. Our local native representative is skunk cabbage. Small flowers are crowded onto a club-like spadix that is partly surrounded by a large modified bract, the spathe, often brightly colored. Any perianth present on the flowers is highly reduced.

Araliaceae - The Ginsing Family
The only plant listed here for our area is English ivy, an introduced pestiferous plant that escaped cultivation. Flowers are usually in umbels, each with flower parts in fives. Sepals may be small or absent. Devil’s Club, found in the Cascades, is also a member of this family.

Asteraceae - The Sunflower Family
This is the largest of the plant families. Though Asteraceae is preferred, the older name Compositae, I think, better describes its inflorescence or ‘flowers’, which are actually composites of individual flowers, often in two forms, the central disk flowers and the lateral ray flowers. Imagine a sunflower of daisy. The central part of the “flower”, the disk, is made of tubular disk flowers. Surrounding the disk are strap-shaped ray flowers, the so-called ‘petals’ of a daisy. An inflorescence may consist of only disk flowers, only ray flowers, or both.

Boraginaceae – The Borage Family
Flowers are often arranged in a curled cyme, like the head of a violin. Flowers are regular with their parts in fives. Ovaries have four locules. Leaves are alternate and usually entire. Plants are often hairy. The family includes herbs, bushes, and trees.

Brassicaceae - The Mustard Family
Formerly called the Cruciferae, Brassicaceae is now the preferred name of this family. This large family is characterized by flowers with four petals, four sepals, and usually six stamens, four long and two short. Members of the mustard family are often called “crusifers” because the four petals form a cross and thus are “cross bearers”.

Caprifoliaceae - The Honeysuckle Family
The honeysuckle family in our area includes small trees, shrubs, and vines. They are perennials with opposite leaves, flowers that have a four-to-five-lobed calyx and a regular or irregular corolla usually with five lobes. The corolla often forms a tube. The number of stamens often equals the number of corolla lobes.

Caryophyllaceae - Pink Family
Leaves in pink family are opposite and originate from stem nodes that are swollen. Flowers are regular, usually with petals and five sepals.

Chenopodiaceae - The Goosefoot Family
The Goose-Foot family consists mostly of herbs with clusters of small flowers lacking petals. Leaves are generally alternate. The family contains edibles such as beets, spinach, and kale.

Convolvulaceae - The Morning Gloriy Family
Trailing or twining herbs with alternate leaves. Flowers have five sepals, a five-lobed, funnel-shaped corolla that is twisted in the bud stage. Five stamens alternate with the corolla lobes.

Crassulaceae – The Stonecrop Family
Mostly succulents. Flowers are regular in cymes or panicles with parts usually in fives with the number of stamens equal to the number of sepals or sometimes twice the number of petals. The genus Crassula has flower parts in fours.

Cucurbitaceae - The Cucumber Family
The cucumber or gourd family consists of plants that are trailing or climbing vines with grasping tendrils. The tendrils originate at leaf axils and are coiled, allowing them to flex in the wind without breaking. Flowers are either male of female, the male flowers growing in clusters, female flowers growing singly in leaf axils. This family includes cucumbers, many of our melons, squashes and pumpkins.

Cuscutaceae - The Dodder Family
Dodders are mostly annual, rootless parasites that twine among and penetrate their hosts. They lack chlorophyll (except for a little in the calyx). Leaves are tiny and scale-like. Flowers are regular with five corolla and calyx lobes and five stamens.

Cyperaceae - The Sedge Family (monocot)
Sedges are flowering monocots with solid stems (not hollow like grasses) that are often, but not always, triangular. The old botanical axiom, “sedges have edges and rushes are round” has exceptions. There are some round-stemmed sedges. Leaves are spirally arranged in three rows. Flowers are subtended by a single bract.

Equisetaceae – The Horsetail Family
There is only one genus in this family, Equisetum, the horsetail or scouring rush. All species are perennials and have hollow, jointed, stems that branch upright from the underground rhizomes. The stems are ribbed lengthwise, with a whorl of reduced branches at the joint nodes, and reduced leaves that are united to form a sheath surrounding the stem at each joint. Plants can be either sterile or vegetative. The latter produce spores from a terminal strobilus that resembles a cone from a conifer.

Ericaceae - The Heath Family
The Heath family contains a variety perennial herbs, shrubs, or trees, often with regular bell-shaped flowers. Sepals are united and lobed; petals are usually united and lobed. Stamens number five or ten. Fruits are berries or drupes. The family has many familiar members such as rhododendrons, blueberries, huckleberries, salal, and manzanita.

Fabaceae - The Pea Family
Plants are usually herbaceous; some are shrubs or small trees. Flowers are irregular (bilaterally symmetrical) with five sepals and five petals. The lower petals are partly fused to form the “keel”, like the keel of a boat. The side petals are called the “wings”, and the upper petal is called the “banner”. The family was formerly named Leguminosae, hence members are often called legumes.

Fumariaceae - The Bleeding-Heart Family
These plants are closely related to poppies, but the flowers are irregular with two petals different form the others instead of having petals all the same. Flowers also have one or two of the petals developed into sac-like spurs. Each flower has six stamens.

Gentianaceae – The Gentian Family
Gentians are herbs with opposite or whorled and usually sessile leaves. Flowers are regular and perfect (having both stamens and pistils). Petals, four to five, are fused to form a funnel-like, lobed tube. Sepals are also fused. Stamens are attached to the corolla tube.

Geraniaceae – The Geranium Family
Flowers are usually regular with five petals, five sepals, and ten to fifteen stamens, and a superior ovary. Seeds retain the stiles of the pistil, which coil and uncoil with changes in humidity, helping to drive seed into the soil. Leaves are lobed or compound. There are many cultivars.

Hydrophyllaceae - The Waterleaf Family
Flowers are regular have five calyx and five corolla lobes. Five stamens are attached to the inside of the corolla tube and alternate with the lobes. Pistils are divided into two parts. the ovary is superior.

Iridaceae - The Iris Family (monocot)
Irises and their relatives have long, strap-like leaves with parallel veins, irregular flowers with three petals and three sepals. The ovary is inferior, that is below the petals and sepals.

Juncaceae - The Rush Family (monocot)
Rushes resemble grasses except that they have distinct flowers with three sepals, three petals, two to six stamens, and a pistil with three styles. The inflorescence often appears to project from the side of the stem, although the “stem” extending beyond the flowers is actually a bract.

Juncaginaceae - The Arrow-Grass Family (a monocot)
Arrow grasses, which are not grasses, live in wet places, such as salt marshes. Leaves are basal and fleshy, the inflorescence (in Triglochin) is arranged as a terminal raceme or spike on an unbranched stem, and flowers have three or six sepals and stamens.

Lamiaceae – The Mint Family
Formerly called the Labiatae, members of the mint family are herbs or shrubs with four angled (square in cross section) stems and simple opposite leaves. Flowers are irregular with a five-lobed corolla that form two lips, two lobes on the upper lip and three on the lower, and are borne in leaf axils. Flowers can be solitary or in cymes or dense spikes where the leaves become bract-like. Many mints are aromatic and are used in flavors and fragrances.

Liliaceae - The Lily Family (monocot)
Liliaceae is a large perennial family whose flowers typically have three petals, three sepals and six stamens. Petals and sepals in some species are difficult to distinguish, so together they are simply called tepals. Most temperate species die back in the winter to bulbs, corms or rhizomes. The ovary is superior and three-chambered.

Myricaceae - The Wax-Myrtle Family
Members of the Myricaceae are shrubs to small trees, often fragrant, that may be monoecious or dioecious, with flowers in catkin-like clusters stemming from leaf axils.

Nyctaginaceae - The Four O’clock Family
In our area members of the four o’clock family are succulent herbs with simple, opposite leaves. The flowers have no corolla, but the calyx, often tubular, is colored and showy. Flowers are grouped into either an auxiliary or terminal head.

Onagraceae - The Evening Primrose Family
Members of this family, like the Brassicaceae, have a flower with four petals, but the ovary is inferior - it is located below the other flower parts.

Orchidaceae – The Orchid Family (monocot)
Orchids, perennial herbs that are members one of the largest flowering plant families, have irregular flowers with the lower lip larger and often modified to form a sac-like spur on its lower side. The ovary is inferior. Leaves have parallel veins and are often sheathing. Most members live in the tropics.

Orobanchaceae - the Broomrape Family
Broomrapes lack chlorophyll and are parasitic on the roots of other vascular plants. Leaves are reduced to bract-like scales. The calyx is five-lobed and the corolla is tubular and two-lobed. Each flower has four stamens, two long and two short, attached to the corolla tube.

Oxalidaceae – The Oxalis Family
All local members of the Oxalidaceae belong to the genus Oxalis, and all taste sour because they contain oxalic acid. Flowers are regular with five separate petals, a five-lobe calyx, and ten stamens. Leaves are compound with three leaflets resembling those of clover.

Pinaceae – The Pine Family
The pine family is comprised of trees and shrubs that have leaves that are needlelike and alternate or in bundles, male and female cones, the seed cones consisting of woody scales and a pair of ovules. Members are gymnosperms – non-flowering plants. They include in our area Pinus, Abies, Picea, Pseudotsuga, and Tsuga.

Plantaginaceae - The Plantain Family
All plantains in our area belong to the genus Plantago. Except in one species, all leaves are in a rosette around the base of the plant. Inflorescences are dense, terminal spikes, positioned on the ends of long peduncles that arise from the base of the plant. Flowers are small, with four lobed petals and four sepals. Many plants now in the snapdragon family may be soon moved to the plantain family.

Plumbaginaceae - The Leadwort Family
Annuals and perennials with five-part (calyx, corolla, and stamens) regular flowers, the thin petals fused into a shallow tube with five lobes. The pistil has five styles. Leaves are usually basal.

Poaceae – The Grass Family (monocot)
Also called the Gramineae, grasses are a unique family of flowering plants that have their own describing terms. The basic unit of the inflorescence is called a spiklet, that is, the grass head. It consists of a pair of sterile bracts called glumes, above which are florets, the flowers. Each floret has a pistil, usually three stamens, and a pair of bracts, the upper palea and the lower lemma. The lemma is usually well developed, but the palea may be reduced or absent. The stems are hollow at the internodes and solid at the nodes. Leaves are on each side of the stem and each composed of a blade and a sheath. Grasses are a very large family, and many in North America have been introduced from elsewhere.

Polygonaceae - The Buckwheat Family
Most of the members of the buckwheat family have stems with swollen nodes, sheathed by a pair of thin tubular stipules called the nodal ocreae. Two common groups in this family are the docks and the knotweeds. There are many species of docks and knot weeds in the United States, a lot of them native, some are introduced, and some are pests. 

Portulacaceae – The Purslane Family
Each flower in our area that is a member of the purslane family has only two sepals. There are usually five petals, but some genera (e.g., Lewisia) may have up to fifteen. Leaves are opposite, simple, and sometimes succulent.

Primulaceae – The Primrose Family
Herbs with regular flowers, each with parts in fours or fives, the petals forming a lobed tube or cup. Stamens are attached to the corolla tube. The ovary is inferior. Leaves are simple.

Ranunculaceae – The Buttercup Family
Most members have regular flowers (exceptions are Aconitum and Delphinium), with five petals, numerous stamens, and superior ovaries. Leaves are usually compound, alternate, or basal. Petals in the genus Ranunculus are usually shiny on top

Rhamnaceae – The Buckthorn Family
Members of the buckthorn family in our area are either shrubs or small trees. Flowers are small, either solitary or in clusters; flower parts are in fours or fives. Leaves are simple.

Rosaceae - The Rose Family
Included are annual and perennial herbs, shrubs, or trees. Flowers are regular, usually with five petals and many stamens. Leaves are alternate, often with stipules.

Rubiaceae – The Madder Family
Members in our area are herbs with opposite or whorled leaves on rough (sometimes with hooks), square stems. Flower parts are usually in fours, usually with fused but lobed corolla and calyx. 

Salicaceae – The Willow Family
Members are deciduous shrubs or small trees. Flowers are on staminate (male) and pistilate (female) catkins. Flowers have no petals or sepals, but are subtended by a bract. Plants are dioecious (male and female catkins are on separate plants).  Leaves are alternate.

Saxifragaceae – The Saxifrage Family
Plants are herbs or small shrubs, with flowers in terminal clusters. Flowers are regular with four to five sepals and petals (petals sometimes smaller than sepals). Leave are usually simple, often maple-like in shape. Plants are usually hairy.

Scrophulariaceae - The Figwort or Snapdragon Family
This large family has flowers that are typically bilaterally symmetrical, each with a two-lipped corolla. The upper lip usually has two lobes; the lower lip usually has three lobes. The lower part of the corolla is often fused into a tube. But there are many exceptions, and it is suggested that many members of this family belong elsewhere.

Typhaceae – The Cattail Family (monocot)
There is only one genus of cattails – Thyphus. They are perennial, rhizomatous, aquatic herbs, with cylindrical stems, strap-like, linear leaves, and minute flowers packed into a dense terminal inflorescence, with staminate flowers positioned above the pistilate flowers.

Violaceae – The Violet Family
The violet family includes annuals, perennials, herbs, and shrubs. Flowers are five-petaled and irregular, with two upper petals, two lateral petals, and a large lower petal that has a sac-like basal spur. The five sepals may also be unequal. There are five stamens, the two lower ones with projecting nectarines that extend into the spurs. Leaves may be basal or on the stem.