How to Identify Flowers by Color

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Flower color is a simple way to broadly identify a flower. With some plants, color is distinctive and an identifying characteristic. Take the rich, red color of roses; the color alone can help identify the flower. With some plants, color is only one clue in identification. Flower color, however, can provide additional information about pollinators and the habitat, and this information can aid identification. For example, many white flowers such as bladder campion are pollinated at night by pollinators such as moths. Red flowers such as columbine attract hummingbirds. Taken together with color, an understanding of flower physiology is possible.

Things You'll Need

  • Field guide
  • Magnifying glass (optional)

Identification

  • Determine the flower's color. Blue and purple flowers, for example, may look similar. Likewise, environmental conditions can turn aster flowers pink or purple. Examine several examples to determine the true color.

  • Observe the overall shape of the flower. Shape and color can help identify flowers. Are the flowers arranged on a stalk-like structure? Are they arranged in a cluster of stalks radiating outwards like an umbrella?

  • Count the number of petals. With similarly colored flowers like goldenrods, identification based on color alone may not be possible. Distinguishing subtle differences between plants will aid identification.

  • Note the time that the flower is in bloom. Different varieties of flowers may bloom during different times of the year. This can be especially true with wild versus cultivar or domesticated species, which may have a longer growing season.

  • Notice the flower arrangement. Again, subtle difference may exist between cultivars and native species. The flowers may be the same color, yet flowers may grow from the top down or vice versa on a raceme or stalk-like flower.

  • Determine if the color is a natural color. Some cultivars will be found in colors not normally found in nature. If the plant appears to be of a certain variety, but the color is wrong, consider a cultivar species.

  • Examine the stem. Domesticated varieties may have certain characteristics such as thorns or hairs bred out of them. The absence of such traits may make the flower appear different, confusing identification. A magnifying glass may be helpful.

  • Refer to a field guide for final identification. Remember, a field guide presents only limited flower and color variations. Color combined with other characteristics will lead to a positive identification.

Tips & Warnings

  • Be sure to use a field guide that contains cultivar species. This is especially helpful in areas close to developed areas where domesticated varieties can escape into the wild.
  • Refer to local laws and regulations before collecting any flowers.
  • Some flowers may cause allergic reactions. Minimize handling of any unknown species.
  • Whenever observing flowers in the wild, be sure to know how to identify toxic plants such as poison ivy and stinging nettle.

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